An Interview with Retired Rear Admiral Len Hering, Executive Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy
On October 27, Orison executives and representatives will attend and sponsor the Center for Sustainable Energy’s (CSE) 20th anniversary celebration. Headquartered in San Diego, CSE is one of the nation’s most trusted nonprofit organizations leading the way for a clean energy future. In light of CSE’s milestone, we sat down with Executive Director—Retired Rear Admiral Len Hering, who recently joined the Orison Advisory Board.
What sparked your passion for sustainability?
A little bit was from my youth in the Boy Scouts. The scout wilderness motto was to leave no trace. As I got older and went into the Navy, I realized that we needed to do a better job of protecting the environment. When I got further along in my career and more senior, I had the ability to influence and make some changes.
I was drawn toward sustainability, in part by a passion for our planet, but also by the challenge of better managing Navy resources under my command, and be more conscious of how we were spending taxpayer dollars. I started looking at my largest bills: water, energy and, believe it or not, waste. I started to recognize that we could be more responsible and do things significantly different that would lessen our impact on the environment. I coined the phrase that “operations and environmental compliance are not mutually exclusive, it just requires good planning.” Lastly, my four, soon to be five, grandchildren are the biggest reasons for my passion in sustainability. It’s my responsibility to leave them a world that affords them the same opportunities that I had.
Why do you think energy sustainability is a cause worth fighting for?
From two perspectives. As a meteorologist and oceanographer, I understand the impacts the introduction of carbon has on a global scale. Secondly, I’ve spent close to 34 years defending the country and recognize the significance of how fossil fuels have driven specific events of our nation’s history. In the past century, international conflicts have been predicated around the capitalistic need to control resources. The ever-diminishing fossil fuel environment as we know it will continue to be a driving cause for conflict as the world develops further. Changes in the global environment combined with climate change tells us we need to change the way we do business and become more sustainable or conflict will ensue
What about your work do you enjoy most?
Working with the people. One of the reasons I joined and stayed in the military is the people. We were all there to do a job and were committed to what we were doing. The same is true at the Center for Sustainable Energy. Working with a group of individuals who are passionate about advancing clean energy keeps you motivated to find new ways to move the needle.
What do you see as some of the primary ways CSE is directly contributing to a sustainably powered world?
CSE has delivered over $770 million in clean energy incentives, which is responsible for helping thousands of people get into electric cars, rather than traditional gas-powered vehicles; install hundreds of megawatts of solar; and keep millions of tons of greenhouse gasses from entering our atmosphere. Virtually everything CSE does every day helps in this transition. From working with policy and commenting on legislation and regulation to the implementation of sound programs that afford us the opportunity to use our market transformation experience, we are accelerating the transition to a sustainable world powered by clean energy.
How does CSE help serve companies who want to be more environmentally responsible in their energy usage?
By informing, educating and connecting. I believe when individuals are informed and provided an opportunity, they will make sustainable decisions. When a nonprofit, like us, provides the beneficial analysis, those individuals will be more likely to engage in the transformation process and encourage others to do the same. People want to protect our resources and the more empowered they are to take action, the more impact they will have in changing the way we interact with our environment. When businesses take advantage of clean energy, they realize benefits ‒ both financially and in their human capital – it’s the triple bottom-line.
What does CSE excel at and what differentiates it from other organizations?
One is passion. We also are very mission-oriented and consistent with high-quality program delivery. We remain objective, a trusted agent, not attached to one particular solution. We’re able to work in all aspects of the renewable energy space and support elements that may not always be popular, but are seen by our research and data analysis to be the road ahead. Many of the things we do are built on the tremendous amount of data we collect. As market transformation occurs, our data informs the next steps ahead.
What are some of the key changes that need to be made in our world for sustainable energy to reach its potential?
The technology is critical. If I could, I would create a new national project solely dedicated to energy storage and smart grid development. The solution set for the future is not the creation of energy, but what to do with that energy once it’s created. We know the renewable energy portfolio exists sufficient enough to supply every energy need we’ll ever require. The problem we have today is how to store that energy and call on it when we need it. We can have an argument that says a wind farm is an unreliable energy source, but it can produce 20 times more energy than any fossil fuel plant. The problem we have is we just don’t know how to store all the power when it’s available.
What simple action step can the everyday individual take to support a sustainable energy future?
Become informed. Be willing to take the steps necessary to change your behavior and influence the outcome for a more sustainable future. It’s the seemingly small things in life from the waste we produce to the lights we use in our homes. For instance, just switching to LED lights will have an immediate effect on your energy bill and reduce tons of greenhouse gasses used to generate the energy that flows to your home.
Another step is rethinking transportation. Driving accounts for the majority of the emissions in our air. Electric cars perform so well and are only getting better. When the time comes for a new car, take time to look at an EV or a fuel-efficient hybrid. I used to have a 5.7 liter hemi, and I absolutely loved the car, but I wouldn’t go back. I now have a 1.5 L Toyota Avalon hybrid, and it has never disappointed me. You can take other actions like reducing shower times to five minutes or less and look at ways to reduce your water use overall. In addition to saving water, we often don’t think about the immense amount of energy used to purify and deliver water to sources like our homes, offices and public facilities. Simple personal steps like these make a difference.
San Diego has the goal of becoming 100% renewable by 2035; how can San Diegans partner with the city to achieve that goal?
Recognize that there is no single solution and that significant changes need to be made. Building performance, energy efficiency, distributed generation and storage become critical elements to successfully completing the task. And all these parts translate and relate to one another in creating success. Check out Zero Net Energy Building – it is exciting to see what we can accomplish in designing buildings that can be virtually energy independent. Looking at how we can all reduce the amount of energy we draw, or reduce the load, will help us get to 100 percent renewables faster.
You recently became a member of the Orison Advisory board. What role do you see Orison playing in energy sustainability?
Orison can basically make the demand load condition created by increased renewables, known as the duck curve, fly away. The plug-and-play solution makes it easy for people to start saving without the need for an electrician or more costly devices. It’s cutting-edge technology that affords us the opportunity to store energy when it’s created, whether it’s at the source or through the grid, and store it for later use. Imagine thousands of small batteries distributed and capable of storing that energy I mentioned earlier.
What was it about Orison that drew your interest?
The fact that individuals who don’t have solar can play in the storage game. And individuals that do have solar can use storage and maximize their production for their own use. Solutions like
Orison are the answer. I can charge my batteries that I plug into my wall before I put anything on the grid and then take from those batteries before I take anything from the grid. It’s high time we are able to control our own energy choices.
Who is someone you look to for encouragement and inspiration?
My grandchildren. I look and I see what’s happening on a global scale and I recognize that the world is not going to look the same for them and their children. It’s our job to leave them the best, most sustainable world that we can.
To attend CSE’s 20th Anniversary Celebration or donate to support the cause, register here. Be sure to drop by the Orison Energy Storage Lounge while you’re there, we’d love to meet you!