White House to Honor Seattle Vet for Advancing Clean Energy

Nov 4, 2013

Avi Jacobson was serving his first tour in Iraq in 2007 when he noticed his own unit's heavy reliance on a single generator. 

Jacobson’s Air Force base ran almost solely on the generator, which was overworked with computers and air conditioners almost daily. When the usage hit the generator’s tipping point, Jacobson said, “everything would die," triggering an eerie silence.

A few of the weather-monitoring devices were powered by solar cells, and the essential computers ran on backup batteries. Still, Jacobson was amazed by the impact when that diesel engine fell silent. And he saw the huge expense, even at the risk of troops' lives, of the constant need to fuel and maintain the generator. 

He couldn't help but wonder why the Pentagon wasn’t harnessing more of the sun and wind to power its remote bases.

"And we’re in the middle of the desert. It’s sunny most of the time. There’s even predictable winds, especially in Iraq," Jacobson said. "It’s not that everything could have been done differently, but a lot could have been done much differently.”

These days, Jacobson works on the front lines of public policy as a sustainable energy coordinator for the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. He helps put together funding for energy projects that otherwise might not pencil out—things like super-efficient homes and wind farms.

For his work, Jacobson is being honored as a "Champion of Change" at the White House Tuesday.

Jacobson says he’s excited to represent Washington as one of 12 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan working on sustainable energy. But more important to him is the connections it might provide.

“The Department of Defense is the world number-one buyer and consumer of energy. So, looking at how their needs are and what types of solutions they’re looking to purchase now—bring some of that back to our innovators and entrepreneurs in Washington,” he said.

Jacobson says being recognized as a Champion of Change is nice, but the chance to learn and put that knowledge to use in real life is what really excites him.