By Margaret Brown, The Cleanie Awards®
Headlines about clean energy innovation usually center around advancements in policy, delivery and technology. Susan Nickey, The Cleanie Awards® 2020 Woman of the Year and executive vice president and chief client officer at Hannon Armstrong (2019 The Cleanie Awards Winner for Investment Company of the Year), looks at clean energy innovation through the lens of the financial markets. Recently, we spoke with Susan to get her thoughts on the energy transition and what winning the Woman of the Year Award meant to her.
The Cleanie Awards® (TCA): Why is a clean energy transition important to Hannon Armstrong’s mission?
Susan Nickey (SN): We’ve been investing in clean energy for decades and that dedication drove our decision to become a public company in 2013 – when we saw an opportunity to scale our investments and focus solely on climate change, the largest existential threat that humanity faces.
Undoubtably, accelerating the transition is core to what we do, and we view capital as a key driver. To mitigate climate change, we need to quickly move capital towards energy efficiency infrastructure, renewable energy options, electric vehicles and continue to find innovative ways to decarbonize harder to abate sectors.
TCA: With the new Administration, the chatter around clean energy and sustainability is growing. Do you see real progress being made? If so, where do you see the most advancement?
SN: It’s been tremendous to see the Biden Administration bring in new teams with relevant climate expertise and even create climate-focused positions, such as the Climate Czars, who include Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, who sits in the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), and Gina McCarthy, who serves as the White House National Climate Advisor.
The Administration was very thorough in vetting the talent they brought in to make needed changes across the whole government. They considered how their staff’s understanding will help them implement legislation and create new policies and funding opportunities.
Now, we see a lot of headlines about infrastructure and clean energy targets, but its vitally important that the layers of change happen across the board. When we make climate front and center every day, everywhere, all the time, we will start to experience the momentum necessary to carry us forward, into a climate-cognizant future. Maybe not at as fast a pace some of us would like, but certainly with tremendous force.
TCA: What are some the most impactful climate related policies you’re hoping Congress will pass during this Administration?
SN: We think a price on carbon offers the best policy path and most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed necessary to combat climate change.
There is a range of complementary renewable energy and energy efficiency policies that also are critical to cost-effectively drive down emissions, but if we want to meet our net-zero trajectory then carbon pricing must be the cornerstone. We are doing our part to remind policymakers of the importance of this policy, and we hope that Congress and the White House will find the political will to move on it.
TCA: Is there any specific clean energy innovation from Hannon Armstrong that is game-changing for the industry?
SN: For us, it’s not about a specific clean energy innovation, but instead about demonstrating that investing on the right side of climate change will produce superior risk-adjusted returns. And to help quantify that, we developed a CarbonCount® metric in 2013 to quantitatively measure how much each dollar we invest actually reduces the emissions that are exacerbating climate change.
It’s good to see that more companies are trying to create metrics to quantify their efforts to reduce GHG emissions through investments, but it’s still rare for companies to measure every single investment and then transparently report them. That’s why we publish an annual sustainability report card that lets our investors see exactly what our CarbonCount® is for every investment.
TCA: Why do you think winning a Woman of the Year from The Cleanie Awards is something to which others should aspire? What did winning the awards mean to you?
SN: Women bring a unique compassion to thinking about climate change and protecting the planet for the next generation and beyond. I think they can have a very special impact; and now is the time, particularly in the environmental field, for women to aspire to be leaders.