Beyond U.S. Borders: RMI Alumna Anna Shpitsberg Works at the Nexus of Energy and Foreign Policy

This is the 5th post in a series highlighting the work of Rocky Mountain Institute alumni.

""Regular readers of this blog are probably familiar with any number of energy-related federal agencies—the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and perhaps even DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE). It’s enough to make one big pot of alphabet soup. But here’s an organization you may not have heard of: the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR).

ENR is an office within the U.S. Department of State and it first came to my attention through Anna Shpitsberg, an RMI alumna who served as an intern in 2010. Following her stint at RMI, Shpitsberg earned a Master’s at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, then moved on to work at the DOE, where she was a Presidential Management Fellow. More recently, though, she’s served as Power Sector Advisor at ENR.

The bureau leads the Department of State’s diplomatic efforts on energy. According to a press release, the bureau was established in late 2011, under the direction of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton said then, as Amory Lovins has been saying since 1976, “You can’t talk about our economy or foreign policy without talking about energy. With a growing global population and a finite supply of fossil fuels, the need to diversify our supply is urgent.” According to ENR, the bureau is responsible for ensuring that, “our diplomatic relationships advance our interests in having access to secure, reliable, and ever cleaner sources of energy,” through energy diplomacy, energy transformation, and energy transparency and access.

Shpitsberg adds: “The bureau’s role is to support the United States through diplomatic engagement by promoting stable fuel markets, sustainable energy projects, transparent economies, and commercial business models. These goals not only create an optimal environment for U.S. companies investing abroad, but also contribute to resource diversification.”

""One example of the bureau’s work is the Connecting the Americas 2022 initiative, which aims to provide universal access to electricity through power sector reform, electrical interconnections, and clean energy investment. Thirty percent of the world’s electricity is produced in the Western Hemisphere, but the region is growing and its generation capacity will have to increase to keep up with the population. “In order to address this challenge, countries will need to work together to ensure the investment environment is attractive to private generators,” Shpitsberg explains. “A regional electrical interconnection, if properly managed, can provide ample market opportunities because a regional market lowers the risk that any one country may impose on an investor and increases the upside potential through scale. In addition to creating regional markets, countries must establish stable power sectors with strong regulatory frameworks, which allow investors to recoup cost and invest in sustainable energy projects.”

When I asked Shpitsberg why she was interested in energy, she described a world in which power sectors are weak and therefore citizens are unable to access reliable energy. Unreliable power supply and generation makes it difficult for businesses to prosper and grow, for households to run, and for nations to improve their citizens’ prospects in a competitive and challenging world, she says. “Governments unable to establish efficient power sectors end up subsidizing much of the cost of electricity, which takes funds away from health, education, and security.” Given her extensive travel as part of her job at ENR, Shpitsberg knows this firsthand.

The Department of State knows that a stable region and a stable globe require reliable and secure energy resources. National security is a key tenet of RMI’s Reinventing Fire vision as well. Energy insecurity disrupts business and growth; by providing efficient, renewable, homegrown generation, we can cut our reliance on volatile energy resources at home and abroad.

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Headshot image courtesy of Anna Shpitsberg.
Map image courtesy of Shutterstock.