Jigar Shah on why hybrid cars are overrated
FORTUNE — Jigar Shah is an entrepreneur who focuses on the growth of energy innovations. He is a board member and former CEO of the Carbon War Room, an organization that finds business solutions to reducing carbon emissions. He is also author of
Creating Climate Wealth
: Unlocking the Impact Economy. In 2003, he founded the company SunEdison, which provides global solar energy services.
Today, as chief executive of Jigar Shah Consulting, he works with global companies in a multitude of industries to deploy existing clean energy solutions fueled by new business models. As a former speaker for Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference, he answered 10 questions for us about overrated energy projects, his accomplishments, his goals, and why he keeps a running log of what he orders at restaurants.
1. What alternative energy projects are you most excited about?
Originally my inspiration came from solar energy. While that is still near and dear to my heart, my work at the Carbon War Room showed me that there were more opportunities — in fact, trillions of dollars of opportunities — elsewhere. I got equally excited about heavy truck efficiency, industrial efficiency, ship efficiency, biomass, solar thermal, storage, and many other areas.
2. What alternative energy projects are most overrated?
Hybrid vehicle technologies. In general, they just don’t get us very far. It is like trying to make coal plants more efficient: interesting opportunity, but like a Band-Aid on cancer. We need to drive industries that will be here for the long term that stave off the effects of climate change and drive economic growth.
3. What green business or person do you admire most? Why?
There are just so many. I would have to say the car-sharing folks, like SideCar’s Sunil Paul. What they are doing is hard and their persistence will usher in an entire generation of people that will never own a car. I got rid of my car; it was liberating.
4. What is your greatest achievement?
Unlocking the global solar PV [photovoltaics] industry by popularizing the “no money down” business model. It has helped companies save billions. And because it is a real sustainable solution, it has struck fear into the hearts of the fossil fuel industry. They found out they had vulnerabilities.
5. What is one characteristic that every leader should possess?
Humility. No one got there alone.
6. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?
I would like to empower everyone in the world to determine their own future by giving them access to electricity, clean drinking water, clean cooking fuels, and a mobile phone — while making a profit.
7. What do you do to live a balanced life?
I have never achieved balance! My wife is a saint, and 2014 is the year I try to finally achieve some balance. I am falling over as I speak.
8. What was the most important thing you learned in school?
How to make friends and understand why people teased me.
9. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?
I don’t have one. But each year, I pick an offbeat project that is actually fun and a conversation starter. This year, when I go out with friends, I pick a specialty food or drink unique to the menu from a restaurant. I have kept a running log. Everyone loves to talk about food and drink!
10. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I try everyday to have one superpower: kindness. It is usually returned 10 times.