Trailblazer: Audrey Lee

The San Franciscan has found her passion in promoting sustainable-energy policy.

audrey lee

In the mid-2000s, Audrey Lee was pursuing her PhD in electrical engineering, toiling alone in a dark lab. But she wanted to work on something more tangible. She found her passion in public policy. “I’m interested in infrastructure and the basic needs that it provides to society—energy, transportation, water, agriculture, and buildings,” says Lee, who lives in San Francisco. She’s worked to mitigate the effects of climate change in the public sector (she helped shape the Clean Energy Standard at the U.S. Department of Energy) and the private sector (she served as VP of energy services at Sunrun, the largest U.S. residential solar panel company). She also volunteered as a cochair of Clean Energy for Biden.

On the government’s role in transitioning the United States to sustainable energy: “Even in states like California where you have ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, the work ahead is figuring out, What are the technologies? What are the policies? You can have market mechanisms do a lot of this, but there are market failures, where certain disadvantaged communities are not benefiting. How does public policy step in to help low- and medium-income communities while we make this massive transition? How do we help people in the oil and gas industry make this transition?”

On designing a better energy grid: “The investment decisions we make now, we live with for decades. How do we design this grid to take advantage of the private sector putting a lot of investment into clean energy? How do we make it more dynamic and allow customers to participate? That’s what’s exciting—our investment decisions now and how we set them up to address climate change. We have so much technology and computational capability to model that grid, to understand it in a way that we didn’t decades before.”

On what’s next: “It’s very exciting with the Biden-Harris administration. A part of me feels the draw to go back into government and public policy. [But] there’s so much to be done on the private-sector side, too.”•

Julia Herbst is a senior staff editor at Fast Company.
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