Stanford University already spends $30 million per year on energy research, making it one of the leading cleantech institutions in the US. But a new $100 million grant (funded by just a handful of wealthy donors) will almost certainly make Stanford a global energy super-power. The lead funder is Jay Precourt, who funded the university's Institute for Energy Efficiency and was inspired to commit the rather huge amount of money ($50 million) out of a sense of urgency for solving the growing energy crisis.

Precourt, who made his fortune in gas and oil, now sees the need for clean, renewable sources of energy both to help reduce future impacts of global warming and as a means to strengthen national security. As he said in a recent interview:

I'm quite concerned, having been in the energy business my whole life, with the fact that we are importing energy from insecure, unreliable sources who are, in many cases, not friends of the United States.
Precourt was joined by the husband and wife team of Kat Taylor and Thomas Steyer (who gave $40 million). These are the largest gifts ever given to the university for research and teaching programs, and will be used to bring together over 21 departments covering a wide range of research fields -- from efficiency to nanotechnology, climate science to public policy -- and fund new faculty positions and research fellowships. The goal is to attract the brightest talent available to work collaboratively towards one very ambitious goal -- to make renewable energy cheaper than coal. So cheap in fact that "...we could sell it to China."

According to the Stanford press release, Taylor and Steyer (who will have a TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy named after them) believe energy is at the core of all of our biggest problems -- environmental, economic and political. Their gift was precipitated by the financial meltdown. As Taylor says, 

...we will (not) transform our economy and also address serious foreign policy and national security issues, as well as obvious environmental concerns, unless we address energy. We really need a new paradigm about energy...(and) a way to change energy policy while avoiding the political distortion created by campaign contributions.
Lynn Orr, the director of the Institute stated 5 main research areas that will be pursued through inter-disciplinary teams:
  1. new materials (using nano-technolgy)
  2. hi-energy batteries and storage
  3. a smart grid for handling intermittent energy (like wind)
  4. public policy and carbon markets
  5. energy efficiency in buildings

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