Contact, Biography, and Career Story

Contact, Location, and Schedule

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Location:  Eric is based in Beijing and spends parts of the year
in San Francisco. His location calendar shows his schedule.

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Eric Martinot is director of the Global Initiative for Distributed and Local Energy. He is also professor of management and economics at the Beijing Institute of Technology, senior fellow with the World Resources Institute China, senior fellow with the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, and visiting fellow with the California Public Utilities Commission. He is based in Beijing and also spends parts of the year in San Francisco.

Eric is widely recognized around the world for his 25 years of leadership and dedication to renewable energy, his public speaking and teaching, his information web site, and his scholarship as author of 75 publications. Many of his publications are considered pioneering and innovative, in synthesizing information about renewable energy into concise “big pictures,” in putting forth new ways of thinking about renewable energy, and in providing "experience and lessons" from practice.

Eric's career has spanned several different phases. During the 1990s he worked as a consultant to the World Bank and UN agencies on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. He then focused on renewable energy markets and investments in developing countries and "barrier removal" strategies for the Global Environment Facility at the World Bank, where he became a senior energy expert and renewable energy program manager, and was responsible for recommending board approval of $80 million in annual GEF “barrier removal” project grants, as well as developing strategic guidance for the GEF and its partner agencies.

He then worked with the REN21 Renewable Energy Policy Network from 2004-2013 to write two pioneering REN21 publications that have reached hundreds of thousands of readers. In 2005, with the Worldwatch Institute, he created and wrote as lead author and research director the highly-regarded REN21 Renewables Global Status Report, a first-of-its-kind synthesis of the state of markets, policies, investment, and industry that continues to be published annually. He continued as lead author through 2010, and then followed in 2011-2013 by creating and writing a sister publication, the REN21 Renewables Global Futures Report. For this sister report he interviewed 150 leading thinkers, practitioners, and managers globally, on how they saw the future of renewable energy, and he concisely synthesized the most prominent visions and published scenarios at international, national, and local/city levels.

During 2008-2012, he also focused on city-level action and policies for renewable energy, as research director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Tokyo, and authored the collaborative report with REN21 and ICLEI, Global Status Report on Local Renewable Energy Policies (2011).

Since 2014, he has focused on the topics of grid integration of renewable energy into power grids and distributed generation, working with several organizations and producing a comprehensive synthesis and review of the state of practice and options for grid integration, published by Annual Reviews in 2016 (link). And most recently he has devoted his attention to creating and launching the Global Initiative for Distributed and Local Energy.

Past associations have also included scientist of the Stockholm Environment Institute--Boston; research director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Tokyo; fellow of the Worldwatch Institute, China National Renewable Energy Center, and Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies; advisor to the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation; consultant to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; visiting scholar at Tsinghua University (Beijing); and adjunct professor at Tufts University, University of Maryland, and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Eric holds a Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley in Energy and Resources and a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Electrical Engineering. His 1995 Ph.D. dissertation was on renewable energy and energy efficiency in Russia and the prospects for international cooperation and technology transfer.

Some consider Eric a "free-floating thinker" at the global level, although he likes to say that everything he knows or writes comes from talking with other people, more akin to journalism than research. He has always played to his strengths, which lie in several areas: in synthesis of vast and disparate information into a coherent easy-to-grasp whole; in facilitating action and understanding and connecting people; in interviewing practitioners and thinkers to gain insights, cases, and lessons; in helping people and organizations "think through" and develop effective actions and strategies; in educating (including an award for outstanding university teaching); and in remaining resolutely committed to a renewable energy future.

While he has been a prolific and highly-regarded writer in the past, he is currently not engaged in any further researching or writing projects. “Its time to direct myself to facilitating real-world outcomes,” he says, "enough with reports!"

During his work in renewable energy over the past 25 years, Eric has lived in 6 countries beyond the U.S. (Russia, Estonia, Germany, China, Japan, and New Zealand), traveled professionally in 37 countries, worked for several different organizations in a variety of positions, interviewed in person over 600 experts and business leaders over the course of many projects, created and taught courses on sustainable energy at 6 universities, delivered hundreds of seminars and speeches for both public audiences and a variety of organizations, reached hundreds of thousands of readers with his REN21 publications, and seen his renewable energy information web site exceed 600,000 visits cumulatively since 2005 (with 80,000 visits in 2016).

His work has always been interdisciplinary, blending policy, markets, finance, institutions, technology, and geography. This interdisciplinary focus, along with real-world and interview-based perspectives, has distinguished him in the field. In particular, his publications have become known for providing a unique and pioneering contribution to knowledge and thinking. Many of his writings are still being regularly downloaded 10-20 years after publication.

All of Eric's efforts are directed towards educating, inspiring, and facilitating the global transition (and transformation) to renewable energy in the coming decades. He believes we must take a long-term (and patient) view even if our problems seem more immediate.

Eric's Career Inspiration, Story, and Impacts

Eric's original engineering degree led him to work first for Hewlett-Packard, and then for Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in San Francisco. At PG&E from 1985-1988, he learned power systems engineering for transmission, distribution, and generation, and also worked on the design of one of California's first utility-scale solar power plants, PVUSA in Davis.

His transition from engineering to interdisciplinary research on renewable energy involving policy, economics, markets, and institutions was inspired by a public lecture given by Professor John Holdren, then of UC Berkeley, in the ballroom of a hotel in San Francisco in 1989. Holden told the audience that we were "running out" of time, of political will, of resources, and of the environment's capacity to absorb human insults. That lecture inspired Eric's return to graduate school and the start of his renewable energy career. (And Holdren became Eric's mentor and dissertation chairman for his graduate work in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley.)

Eric was also inspired by the late Buckminster Fuller and his writings, especially his books "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" and "Critical Path," as well as a lecture delivered at MIT in the early 1980s. And Eric continues to be inspired by two quotes from "Bucky." Fuller asked of all of us: "If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be? What would I do?" And Fuller also asserted: "if humanity does not opt for integrity we are through completely. It is absolutely touch and go. Each one of us could make the difference."

Eric has also been motivated by his deep concern about the long-term dangers and burdens on future generations of radioactive nuclear waste from nuclear power. This waste must be kept separated from the environment and actively managed for hundreds of thousands of years before it becomes safe and no longer threatens ground water and oceans. "We owe it to our children," said Eric in a 2013 TEDx Tokyo talk, to transition to renewable energy instead.

Since 1990, Eric's work has spanned five distinct phases. The first of these focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency in Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union, the subject of his 1995 PhD dissertation. For this, he learned to speak Russian, was awarded a Fulbright fellowship, lived in both Moscow and Tallinn, Estonia, and was a consultant to the World Bank over a 3-year period on a major $300 million project for energy efficiency investments in residential buildings in eight Russian cities, a pioneering project for Russia at the time. This phase culminated in his authoring a 1997 book published by the World Bank, based on the knowledge generated from project development, including the institutional, policy, investment, and technology dimensions. Together these activities helped facilitate greater understanding on these topics, as well as technically and institutionally successful investments in energy efficiency that helped eight Russian cities.

This phase also led Eric to spend three years as a convening lead author for two chapters of the IPCC Special Report on Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer (2000).

In his second phase, he focused on renewable energy in developing countries, particularly the lessons and experience to be gained from "barrier-removal" projects by multilateral agencies like the World Bank and UN, and how best to assess the impacts of those projects on the development of renewable energy markets, policies, and financing in developing countries. He worked first as consultant to the UN Development Program and as senior scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute--Boston, and then as senior energy and environment specialist for the World Bank in Washington DC.

At the World Bank, he served for four years in the role of renewable energy program manager of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), where he was responsible for recommending board approval of $80 million per year in grants for renewable energy projects in developing countries--projects whose "barrier removal" strategies were primarily directed at market, finance, and policy development. While at the GEF, he created new strategic directions for the GEF's renewable energy program for the years to come, and published a large number of papers on "experience and lessons" with renewable energy market development and barrier-removal in developing countries. The knowledge base that he generated helped to improve the strategies and effectiveness of future generations of GEF and World Bank projects.

In his third phase, he relocated to Beijing in 2005, as senior visiting scholar at Tsinghua University and as senior research fellow of the Worldwatch Institute. In 2005, he created and wrote as lead author the first 30-page edition of the REN21 Renewables Global Status Report. This report, published annually since then, and reaching hundreds of thousands of readers, provides a concise and educational overview of market, industry, policy, and investment trends, and helps readers align their thinking and perceptions about renewable energy with the current real-world reality. That first year in 2005, Eric built a network of over 100 contributors and reviewers from around the world based on his contacts established while at the World Bank. The report quickly became an internationally-known reference that today has grown to 200 pages and involves a cadre of over 500 contributors through the REN21 network. For several years, Eric continued to lead and develop this report, serving as the lead author from 2005-2008, and as co-lead author in 2009-2010 with Janet Sawin (who remains the current lead author). This type of "annual global trends" report for clean energy now appears from a variety of organizations as the field has grown enormously, but back in 2005 the REN21 report was the first of its kind.

Also during his time resident in Beijing 2005-2008, Eric created a web page on renewable energy in China and began to provide regular updates on the market and policy situation, culminating in the 2007 Worldwatch publication with Li Junfeng, "Powering China's Development: the Role of Renewable Energy."

In middle of this third phase, in 2008, Eric moved to Tokyo as senior research director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP). Over the ensuing years, he conducted research and case studies on renewable energy policies and support strategies at the local/city level, by local governments and other stakeholders. This work culminated in the 2011 publication of the joint REN21/ISEP/ICLEI report, Global Status Report on Local Renewable Energy Policies. That report was a sister to the REN21 Renewables Global Status Report, and showed how hundreds of local governments around the world are already supporting renewable energy in a wide variety of ways, and provided a framework for thinking about the possibilities of local policy and action. That work has helped other cities think productively about what they can do to support renewables.

Following the end of his work on the REN21 Renewables Global Status Report in 2010, he initiated another sister report, the REN21 Renewables Global Futures Report (GFR). He then spent the next two years full-time formulating, researching and writing this report. He considers it among his best work ever. The report provides a crowd-sourced view of the future based on 170 expert and business interviews, along with a synthesis of 50 prominent published scenarios from the full range of international organizations. The GFR was published in 2013 and has received widespread acclaim for providing a concise 45-page snapshot (mosaic) that covers the full range of global thinking on the future of renewable energy.

During 2013, he spent much of the year delivering dedicated seminars on the GFR at more than 50 organizations in Europe, the US, and Japan, including universities, international agencies, and business groups, and also gave a TEDx talk. By the end of 2014, there were over 100,000 cumulative downloads of the GFR.

In his fourth phase, beginning in 2014, he pursued the topic of "grid integration" of renewable energy into power grids. This is a topic that the GFR clearly showed needs more attention, in terms of policy, practice, and long-term strategies, and in terms of dissipating misconceptions and myths of the past about the difficulties of reaching high shares of renewable energy. His approach to power-sector integration was to compile all the leading examples and cases from around the world of how renewable energy is already being integrated today at high shares in power systems, looking at leading examples like Germany, Denmark, and California. This resulted in several publications during 2015-2016 on grid integration, including a comprehensive synthesis of all the ways grid flexibility and balancing can be achieved, published by Annual Reviews in 2016. These publications also help to bust the myth of renewable energy as "intermittent" and unreliable, and show how high shares of renewable energy are already being accommodated with little difficulty. (For those who want the very short version, Eric offers it this way: "renewable energy is variable, yes, but also very predictable; day-ahead weather forecasting has revolutionized the integration of renewables, with power systems able to routinely predict and dispatch high shares of renewables in the day-ahead markets, and with operators able to keep the lights on without expensive energy storage, due to the many available ways to create power system flexibility.")

In this fourth phase, Eric also worked as a visiting fellow with the California Public Utilities Commission on the subject of grid integration for California, work which resulted in a CPUC-published white paper he co-authored with senior policy analyst Meredith Younghein on future strategies and policies for California. This white paper is helping inform and educate CPUC regulators and other California stakeholders on achieving grid integration of renewables as California moves towards its target of 50% of all electricity from renewable energy by 2030.

Eric's fifth career phase began in 2016 with the formulation of the Global Initiative for Distributed and Local Energy, being launched in 2017. He intends to spend the next several years developing this initiative and focusing on facilitating distributed and local energy, drawing upon all his relevant experience from the first four phases, as well as his existing global networks of contacts in research, business, advocacy, and policy.

Throughout all of these career phases, Eric has held parallel part-time positions as adjunct professor at a number of universities, where he created and taught new courses on sustainable energy, first at Tufts University (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy), then at the Unviersity of Maryland (School of Public Policy), then at Tsinghua University in Beijing (Tsinghua-BP Clean Energy Research and Education Center), and then at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand (School of Geography and Environmental Studies). He also has co-taught courses at Tokyo University and the United Nations University in Tokyo.

Also, since 2003, Eric has created, edited and published the renewable energy information web site, which has received 80,000-120,000 visits annually in recent years, and provides links and information on a wide range of renewable energy topics. The site also provides free access to all of Eric's publications, including those mentioned above.

Beyond the Professional

Beyond his professional work, Eric has been an avid long-distance hiker. During a 5-month sabbatical in 2003-2004, he hiked the entire length of New Zealand, a total of 1600 miles (2600 km). Over the period 1997-2013, he hiked (section-by-section) the entire 2650 mile (4400 km) length of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PCT spans the entire distance from the Mexican border of the U.S. through California, Oregon, and Washington to the Canadian border, continuously along high mountain crests at elevations mostly between 5,000 and 12,000 feet (1500-4000 meters). This achievement distinguishes Eric as one of only 4,100 people to have ever hiked the entire trail, as reported on the Pacific Crest Trail Association's "2600-Miler" list. His own entry on that list includes his trail name "Double Zero," which explains a propensity to take two "zero" (rest) days in a row during multi-week sections. (And he also derives a small thrill from knowing that the number of people on the PCT 2600-Miler list is roughly the same number of people who have ever reached the summit of Mt. Everest.)

Page updated April 12, 2017