Andrew (Drew) Johnston is the first person to win the Austin Under 40 (AU40) award in Energy & Clean Technology. Drew is Project Manager at Austin Energy’s Central Texas Fuel Independence Project (CTFIP), a public-private partnership supporting market adoption of plug-in electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles. Congratulations Drew!

The AU40 recognizes emerging Austinites who both lead their respective industries and exhibit a solid commitment to serving their community. Now in its sixteenth year, Austin Under 40’s profile has risen year over year with sold-out events for the past five consecutive years. Individuals are recognized in 14 categories with Energy & CleanTech added for the first time this year. After the event we caught up with Drew and asked him a little about himself…

CleanTechies: Prior to living in Austin you were Chief of Staff to the economist, Jeremy Rifkin, where you advised on energy and climate policy at the highest levels of the European Union, and worked on large projects in grid modernization, renewable energy, energy efficiency, research and development, and technology commercialization. What inspired you to come to Austin?

Drew:  I was initiating huge leaps of technology and human capital taking place across Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, and the rest of the EU.  Meanwhile in DC, no one I knew even understood what a “grid” was.  This was 2005-2007, and I would wonder why I was helping the EU surpass the US day after day, year after year.  I realized I needed to shut down my executive level work and produce meaningful results in the US as quickly as possible.

I approached the decision both objectively and instinctively. On the objective side, I was accepted into UPenn, UNC, Ohio State and UT for grad school.  Only Austin offered the worlds’ best utility, top-flight research institution, and the open hearted, creative and collaborative spirit that makes this place so special.  I knew that I could find meaningful employment here after grad school, and help my community be a model for the rest of the country.  On the instinctive side, I moved to Austin to get back to my grassroots, activist nature.  I think people would be very surprised if they knew how legislation is passed, how other utilities identify their goals, and how Fortune 500 companies scuttlebutt good innovation that changes peoples’ lives.  Working at the top of the decision making chain in the EU opened my eyes a lot.

And Austin is different. My neighbor says, “People don’t know how weird Austin is, until they move somewhere else.” My influence circle includes everyone from college-aged skaters to boardroom executives – I can’t get that exposure to the full range of real people that make up a community any better anywhere else.

CleanTechies:  The oil and gas industry was the fastest growing industry in Austin from 2007 to 2012 bringing 16,000 jobs and adding $2.7B to the local economy. Now clean technology is taking the lead in Austin bringing 18,000 jobs and adding $3.2B to the Austin economy. How is the work you are doing at Austin Energy’s Central Texas Fuel Independence Project helping achieve Austin’s clean technology industry’s growth?

Drew:  Let me ask you, if Tesla chooses Central Texas as the home of the worlds’ first Battery GigaFactory, how important will it be for our region to be masterfully proficient in advanced vehicle technologies? That’s billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a promise that families across our region that have a better future in store.  We need human capital – training, tools, and resources that adequately equip our regional workforce, academic groups, and industry with the skills and abilities to drive the next generation of advanced energy and vehicle technology. Austin Energy measures a lot of things, but we don’t have a measure for “lives touched”, but if we can work together and get our region proficient in working with electric batteries and natural gas tanks, we have a leg up on every region that doesn’t.

That’s my cause right now.

I’ll add this: In working with academia, auto industry, electric and natural gas utilities, chambers of commerce, governments, state regulators in transportation & energy and public safety interests, CTFIP is building our regional proficiency in advanced vehicle technology.  We have established a model of leadership for US communities to create actionable and forward-thinking EV and NGV policies and initiatives.  In one year of existence, CTFIP is emerging as the go-to source of education, training and resources for car owners, dealers, fleet managers, property owners, first responders and policy influencers shaping the future of EV and NGVs in a 10 county region surrounding Austin and San Antonio, and serving over four million people.

CleanTechies:  People hear about many ideas but what are practical first steps people can take to begin to utilize this technology?

Drew:

  • Test-drive an electric vehicle.  Understand why EVs have the highest customer satisfaction ratings.  The most forceful, fact-based defense of EVs I can give is to simply say – try it yourself.
  • The biggest deterrents to natural gas vehicle adoption for fleets is training, renovation of the maintenance and fueling site, and cost. 
- training: CTFIP is partnering with local community colleges and training associations to develop curriculum and continuing education programs that address the specific needs and requirements for EVs and NGVs. Look for new course offerings from Austin Community College in the upcoming 2014/2015 school year.  
- renovation of maintenance and fueling site: Railroad Commission and State Fire Marshalls are more than glad to speak with fleets on how to adequately prepare there fleet yards for conversion to Natural Gas vehicles.
- cost: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is offering $400k-$600k incentives to support the construction of NGV fueling stations.
  • If you rent but you want an EV, contact your property owner. CTFIP is partnering with local multi-family properties to accelerate the installation of public EV charging for this rapidly growing market.
  • Visit the APP or site for Chargepoint – the national EV charging network – is advertising that Austin Energy has the best rebates program in the country.  Check out our website and learn why!

CleanTechies:  How are you making it real in your own life? What is your favorite clean tech tool in your toolbox at home, at work or app on your phone?

Drew:  Allow me to promote some technologies and companies that I admire, and I personally am inspired by.

  • I am very active in our own clean energy community – we have an organization called CleanTX Foundation that is the glue that keeps our community close – across academia, government and industry.
  • Groundswell is a group based in DC that have worked with faith-based organizations to aggregate avoided load, and sell those ‘negawatts’ on the grid.  This revenue is then divvied up among the faith-based organizations and that money is put toward energy efficiency and weatherization efforts, thereby reducing costs and increasing comfort at places of worship.
  • If I hear a good idea, I will work to help that idea achieve success.  New ideas need friends.  Some ideas that have influenced me recently:
    • Spark Clean Energy – a growing network of communities, academia and industry collaborating to develop meaningful innovations in clean energy
    • Meter Genius – a real-time meter-date driven information portal that enables customers to manage energy better (‘you can’t improve what you can’t measure’)
    • HEVO Power – a company that is developing in-motion wireless charging technology that can be installed in roads.  Such technology would eradicate the need to stop to refuel… that’s a game-changer.
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