Alumna Helps to Launch Stanford Energy Research Center

The Global Financial Crisis is leaving more than foreclosed homes and depleted 401Ks in its wake. Once the darling of venture capitalists and investment banks, green energy development is facing steep challenges in the current credit-leery environment. But Kat Taylor, JD/MBA ’86, and her husband Thomas Steyer (MBA ’83) are determined to ensure this shortsightedness doesn’t stall advancements in green technology. Taylor and Steyer together donated $40 million to help fund a renewable energy research venture at Stanford.

Alumna Helps to Launch Stanford Energy Research Center

The gift will establish the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, which will be a key part of a larger university initiative, the newly launched Precourt Institute for Energy. The TomKat Center will focus specifically on development of affordable renewable energy technologies and promotion of public policies that make renewable energy more accessible.

“We really need a new paradigm about energy,” says Taylor, a philanthropist who is an active member of several local foundation boards and also helped found OneCalifornia Bank, a community development bank that helps low-income clients to navigate through the banking system and to realize their personal and entrepreneurial goals. Part of that paradigm, she says, is finding a way to change energy policy while avoiding political distortion. “If the real cost of gas were included in our market—for example, environmental damage, foreign policy implications, foreign wars— if all of those things were fully included into the price of a gallon of gas, it would have already made alternative fuels more attractive.”

While still in its infancy (the initiative only officially launched in January) the TomKat Center is expected to tackle vital renewable energy projects such as the creation of lighter, less toxic, and more durable batteries that would be used to power cars and the analysis of the current power grid’s ability to support future renewable energy technologies.

In addition to opening doors for sustainable energy development, the Precourt Institute for Energy, and by extension the TomKat Center, is expected to create avenues for new multidisciplinary collaborations at Stanford. Already the Precourt Institute for Energy is partnering with the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (of which Thomas Heller, Lewis Talbot and Nadine Hearn Shelton Professor of International Legal Studies, is a senior fellow and David Victor, professor of law, is director) to develop alternatives to coal.