State of the Planet

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Energy Expert Rory Christian Joins Sustainability Management Faculty

Rory Christian headshot
Rory Christian is a new faculty member in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program.

Rory Christian, a new faculty member in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management (SUMA) program will begin teaching our Analysis for Energy Efficiency course in Spring 2021. Christian brings a wealth of experience from across the energy industry to the program and its offerings in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Christian began his career in the energy industry with KeySpan Energy (2002-2007) where he served as a senior account executive to the government agencies operating in Long Island and New York City. In this role, he was responsible for coordinating activities between KeySpan and government organizations, negotiating contracts, developing contingency plans and streamlining operations to satisfy both organizations’ operational needs.

Building on that experience, Christian transitioned to the role of senior business development manager with the public sector group of Exelon Energy, where he helped build Exelon’s business relationships at all levels within the public sector. While in this role, he developed new products targeting public sector clientele and helped facilitate the creation of multiple partnerships and alliances.

Christian was then recruited by the New York City Housing Authority as director of energy. He was charged with managing the Authority’s $500+ million energy portfolio with the aim of reducing annual energy expenditures while achieving city, state and federally mandated greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements. His work established the foundation for many of NYCHA’s current energy and sustainability efforts.

During his five years with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), he provided strategy management, programming, business development and stakeholder collaboration for the Clean Energy program in NY. He oversaw a multidisciplinary team (economists, lawyers and engineers) to design, implement, and manage legislative and policy campaigns and solutions to lower the environmental impact of electricity production.

Christian successfully grew and expanded the EDF Climate Corps program in NYC, placing graduate students in multiple roles within state and city government agencies; helped support the passage of increased renewable energy and efficiency goals in NY State and NYC; and was instrumental in expanding the use of smart meters to residential customers throughout NY State by steering EDF policies related to the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiatives.

In the Spring 2021 semester, Christian will bring all of this knowledge to SUMA’s Analysis for Energy Efficiency, which examines best practices in energy management. In the interview below, Christian offers some additional insights into his experience and upcoming course.

If you consider energy to be the lifeblood of our society, then how efficient we are with the use of energy is an indicator of its strength and resilience.

What is your background in the energy industry?

I’ve spent my entire career in the industry in a number of roles. First as a civil engineer, building and maintaining the infrastructure needed by utilities to support electric and natural gas systems. Then as an energy marketer, developing and selling electricity products and services to large energy users throughout the country, often with the goal of reducing their environmental footprint. I then “switched sides,” leaving the utility space to manage the New York City Housing Authorities’ $500 million utility portfolio before helping develop energy efficiency policy with the Environmental Defense Fund. Today, I run my own consulting service, providing guidance and support to public and private sector clients exploring options for minimizing climate impact through targeted, cost effective initiatives.

Why do you think it is important for sustainability professionals to learn about energy efficiency?

If you consider energy to be the lifeblood of our society, then how efficient we are with the use of energy is an indicator of its strength and resilience. The more efficient we are with the energy we need to maintain our quality of life, the less oil and natural gas is extracted, fewer power plants constructed, and fewer transmission lines built through our communities.

Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to reduce energy use and lower emissions. Properly done, energy efficiency benefits building occupants, building owners, surrounding communities, and society as a whole. Understanding the effectiveness of energy efficiency in the past and the role it can play in the future will prepare future sustainability professionals for a wide array of roles.

Is there any specific work you’re involved in that’s related to developing more energy efficient buildings?

I am currently working with the government of the City of New York to determine regulatory and policy strategies, as well as incentives and penalties, to accelerate action from building owners. I’m also working with a federal agency investigating metering as a strategy for motivating energy efficient behavior among tenants and investments by landlords. Beyond energy efficiency in buildings, as an active member of the Power Generation Advisory Group of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, I’m helping shape NY State policy to significantly reduce the use of natural gas. I also on the board of We Act for Environmental Justice and work closely with environmental groups throughout the state.

With increasing environmental concerns at the forefront of public dialogue, in what ways may buildings and operations change in order to reduce environmental impact?

For most commercial and residential buildings, electrification — using electricity for needs traditionally fulfilled by the onsite combustion of fossil fuels like natural gas and oil (e.g. heating, hot water), is considered the best path forward. For buildings in most of the U.S., emissions from the electric grid are low enough that electrification of buildings will reduce emissions. As the role of renewable energy in the grid increases, emissions will decline further, driving even greater emissions reductions for those that have electrified.

Are there any extra details that you would like to add about your course that might interest students in enrolling?

The course will examine how buildings use and lose energy, adapting a topic normally the focus of engineers for a broader audience. At the end of the course, students will understand the factors building owners consider when pursuing energy efficiency projects, what to consider when developing energy efficiency policies affecting buildings and the impacts of energy efficiency throughout the energy value chain.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2020, the M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. Visit the website to learn more.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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