Veterans in Solar: Q&A with Nat Kreamer, CEO, Clean Power Finance

This article is a Q&A between Jaclyn Houser, Advocacy Director of Operation Free, and Nat Kreamer, CEO of Clean Power Finance and former Intelligence Officer, Special Forces, United States Navy

Jaclyn Houser: Can you tell me about your military experience?

Nat Kreamer: I joined the Army during business school as an officer candidate because the country was at war and I wanted to serve. The Army ‘branched’ me Field Artillery. After training at Fort Sill, I learned that the Navy was looking to grow its Special Forces intelligence capabilities, which sounded exciting to me, so I branch transferred to the Navy. As a junior officer, I served at the Office of Naval Intelligence, leading counter-terrorism analysts, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and the US Third Fleet, where I was the Senior Targeting Officer in the Combat Air Operations Center (CAOC).  I fought with JSOC in Afghanistan in 2006, where I was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

Jaclyn Houser: What was your “ah-ha” moment, when you saw first-hand the national security impacts of our energy use?

Nat Kreamer: In Afghanistan, my commander, Colonel Joseph Hartman, who knew I was an energy strategy consultant in the civilian world, asked me, “Kreamer, You know we’ve spent half a trillion dollars in this war (i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan). If we had invested that money in clean energy back home instead, would we be fighting in Iraq today?”  After some calculations, I answered him, “No, we would not be fighting this war.  With half a trillion dollars invested back home in renewable energy we could redefine the energy landscape and be able to cut off the petro-dollars financing our enemies (i.e. terrorists) in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Gulf.”

Jaclyn Houser: So with your experience, how did this guide your career in clean energy when you returned from Afghanistan?

Nat Kreamer: Before deploying to Afghanistan I worked on a power market analysis project to determine if California would have enough power generation capacity. During that project I figured out that there was a big business opportunity in distributed solar—building solar generation on homes and businesses—and came up with the idea to create a company that owned solar systems on consumer’s homes and sold them clean, affordable electricity.

I volunteered for deployment and went to Afghanistan after the project ended. In Afghanistan, I realized that we had to cut off funding sources to terrorists and insurgents to permanently win the war. The two best ways to permanently cut off funding to AFPAK terrorists and insurgents are: a) wheat-for-poppy crop-substitution in Afghanistan that eliminates the protection money farmers paid to the Taliban; and b) renewable energy use at home to deny the jihad our petro-dollars.  I got ‘religion’ about renewable energy fighting in Afghanistan.

Returning home in 2007, I turned the idea for a residential solar power generation company into SunRun and sold the first residential solar purchase agreement. This kick-started a multi-billion-dollar residential solar industry, making clean electricity cost-saving for average Americans. Today, you can buy solar electricity and use it to power an electric car for fewer than ten cents per mile versus running on gasoline at twenty cents or more per mile. The compelling home economics of solar electricity and electric cars will cut off the petro-dollar supply to our enemies.

Jaclyn Houser: In your opinion, why are veterans – particularly returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – ideal candidates for a career in the solar industry?

Nat Kreamer: The United States military is the best training institution in the country – and it’s an institution that instills a level of discipline and work ethic. Given their training and backgrounds, veterans are great candidates for work in solar for three reasons:

First, solar is an industry that is growing really fast, and we don’t have the time to be on the training ground. We need disciplined, motivated, and skilled workers – and we need to them to come ready. Veterans are used to being dropped into unpredictable situations and forced to pick up skills quickly, which makes them ideally suited to the rapid expansion and changing nature of this industry.

Second, the solar industry is filled with people who are passionate about the job and who work together to help people, the environment, and national security.  Solar, like the military, is not just about the paycheck; it’s also about working for something larger than oneself.

Third, in a fast growing industry, you need people who can take charge. One of the challenges in start-ups is building a team of people who know how to lead. We need the person who was doing the task yesterday to be the person teaching someone else to lead today.

Jaclyn Houser:  Is there a need of the industry that veterans are particularly adapted to fill?

Nat Kreamer: The solar industry is currently underinvested in the supply chain, which imposes a  limit on scalability and capacity building of the industry as a whole. Former military come ready-made for supply chain development and execution. They have both the skill set and talent to manage large-scale operations in part because the logistics for an industry like solar is comparable in many ways to how logistics are managed in the military – all the way from the warehouse to the field.