Axios Pro Exclusive Content

DOE's David Crane on urgency and the IRA

an illustration of DOE undersecretary David Crane next to abstract shapes and solar panels

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios; Photo: Department of Energy

David Crane, the Department of Energy's undersecretary for infrastructure, says to corporate leaders moving too slowly toward climate goals: "Get on the front of the bus so you don't get run over by the bus."

Why he matters: A year ago, when the Inflation Reduction Act was passed into law, Crane was still in the private sector. Today, the business leader and prior CEO of NRG Energy is bringing a sense of private sector urgency to federal energy policy.

  • That means helping the DOE implement its aggressive climate agenda on "a private-sector timetable, rather than a traditional government timetable," as he puts it.
  • On the one-year anniversary of the passing of the IRA, Axios chatted with Crane on what that legislation has done, newer technologies like direct air capture, and convincing the hard-to-abate sectors to move more quickly.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On the power of the IRA:

  • The Inflation Reduction Act has shifted the private sector mindset about the transition from brown to green in a way that the bipartisan infrastructure law did not.
  • That's because it's mainly tax credits, and tax credits are much more immediate in their impact than big infrastructure projects. Everyone can access them.

On bringing his private sector experience to a government role:

  • To achieve results we have to execute here at the Department of Energy across something like 90 different programs, and do it in a timely fashion.
  • The big thing about the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure law are that they extended the scope of what the DOE was supposed to take into account.
  • It's very much about worrying about offtake and things like that. That's a new area [for the DOE] and that's an area where I've been heavily involved personally with the private sector background.

On DAC technology:

  • We announced two big awards, one based on Carbon Engineering technology, the other based on Climeworks technology. The team here identified early on the main challenge is scaling.
  • You have these two companies where I think the biggest unit in existence is 5,000 tons [of carbon removal] a year, and the statute says we have to get a million tons. So we fashioned that program to recognize that the technology has a big scale-up risk.

On decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors: One of the programs that we haven't talked about is the $6 billion we have for industrial decarbonization. It's a pot of money that no other government on the face of the earth has.

  • Environmentalists did them [concrete, steel and aluminum companies) the favor of putting them in this hard-to-abate category.
  • I meet these CEOs and they want to do the right thing, but they've got this plan to do the right thing in the 2030s. Our role of government is to tell them, no, the time is now.
  • The United States government, the most powerful institution on the face of the earth, now armed with all this money from the IRA, is here to tell you it's going to happen a lot faster than you thought it was going to happen.
Go deeper