Strong Corporate Influence in Energy-Efficiency Research at UC Davis

Share:
imageUC Davis

This week UC Davis announced that the Chevron Corporation has given UC Davis $2.5 million to create a permanent leadership position for the campus’s Energy Efficiency Center.

According to a January 13, 2009 release from the University:

“The person appointed to the Chevron Chair in Energy Efficiency will direct the center, which was established in 2006. The world’s first university center of excellence in energy efficiency, its primary objective is to speed the transfer of energy-saving products and services into the homes, businesses and lives of Californians.
The new Chevron gift brings the center’s funding total to more than $7.5 million. The center’s start-up funding of $1 million came from the California Clean Energy Fund, a public benefit corporation dedicated to making equity investments in clean energy companies. UC Davis matched the CalCEF grant with $1.3 million in operating and research funds, faculty time, and office and laboratory space. Other key funders include Pacific Gas and Electric Corp., Edison International, Sempra Energy, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Goldman Sachs.”

Speaking today at an event announcing the new Chevron gift, UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef said: “Chevron’s endowment will ensure long-term strategic leadership for the Energy Efficiency Center. By bridging long-term research with real-world applications, the director will guide the center in its goal of commercializing groundbreaking technologies, powering economic progress and helping to conserve resources.”

The campus will conduct a national search for the person to hold the Chevron Chair, who will expand the impact of the center’s research programs through interdisciplinary collaboration, education, outreach and commercialization of technologies. He or she also will continue developing strong links with state and federal government, as well as with international programs.

“Advancing energy efficiency, which is the cheapest, cleanest and most abundant form of new energy, is critical to the challenge of meeting the world’s growing energy needs,” said John McDonald, Chevron vice president and chief technology officer.

“California has been a pacesetter in energy efficiency, so it’s fitting that one of the state’s leading universities and California’s largest company should partner on the next generation of energy efficiency.”

The endowment for the Chevron Chair complements Chevron’s ongoing support for UC Davis, which includes a $500,000 gift in 2008 for the Energy Efficiency Center and a $25 million biofuels research collaboration begun in 2006 to develop technology to convert nonfood agricultural waste into next-generation transportation fuels.

Sounds good right? The university getting millions of money from a large variety of huge corporations to fund research on energy-efficiency. One question that immediately arose was a seeming contradiction in a company like Chevron, that makes the bulk of its money selling oil, funding research for energy efficiency, a rising new field that would eventually imperil oil sales.

Indeed, as the background on the press stated:

“Chevron explores for, produces and transports crude oil and natural gas; refines, markets and distributes transportation fuels and other energy products; manufactures and sells petrochemical products; generates power and produces geothermal energy; provides energy efficiency solutions; and develops the energy resources of the future, including biofuels and other renewables.”

The Vanguard spoke with Ben Finkelor of the Energy Efficiency Center. He strongly defended the contribution. First he explained that Chevron has created a separate endowment specifically to support energy efficiency. He believes that Chevron and other large companies have as much to gain by energy efficiency as any one else.

He also suggested that such donations have never come with any strings attached. They have never been told what to do by Chevron or any other company. This is simply a new market for the future.

While Ben Finkelor certainly gave an impassioned defense of the reliance on corporate funding for academic research, there still seems to be glaring contradictions in such policies. After all the development of fuel efficient technologies would seem to inherently need to focus on the reduction of the use of oil companies. Is this simply a way for Chevron to earn positive process? Is there a hope that they can somehow make these research centers beholden to their interests among many corporate interests? Or is it as Ben Finkelor suggests, a matter that Chevron has a separate wing devoted to the development of new fuels and fuel efficiency?

It is hard to know for certain. It will be interesting to see who is eventually hired as Chair as the result of this gift. However, one does have to question companies particularly like PG&E and Edison pumping money into fuel efficiency programs.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Share:

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

12 thoughts on “Strong Corporate Influence in Energy-Efficiency Research at UC Davis”

  1. Rich Rifkin

    There have been problems in the past associated with companies funding academic research. Notably when tobacco companies have paid for research into smoking related illnesses, I’ve read that the results of those studies have skewed in favor of the needs of the funders. Same with pharmaceuticals, where university research they’ve paid for has sometimes produced results overstating the effectiveness or safety of their products.However, I think your expression of doubt here — Is there a hope that they can somehow make these research centers beholden to their interests among many corporate interests? — might be misplaced.For a company with revenues north of $200 billion a year — that’s billion with a B — a $2.5 million gift to a university simply doesn’t mean much to them. It’s a form of advertising, creating positive press by associating their brand name with a …product… everyone thinks is good. (If Chevron did not already have a relationship with UCD, I doubt they would have funded this particular program.)The more substantial …gift… from Chevron was the $25 million one announced two years ago: …to develop affordable, renewable transportation fuels from farm and forest residues, urban wastes and crops grown specifically for energy….Keep in mind, Chevron is not in the oil business because of an emotional attachment to oil. Chevron is in the oil business because it makes money. If there is reason to think down the road that new technologies will come along which will replace oil or make extracting, processing and selling oil less profitable, Chevron has good reason to want to be a part of the new profit centers, whatever they may be. As such, it’s probable that Chevron hopes to use the UCD research to get ahead of its competitors as a provider of the fuels which replace oil.

  2. Anonymous

    I am very familiar with the Chevron …grant… of $25M and it is nothing more than Greenwash…UCD let Chevron get away with murder, they claim some sort of leadership when what they really did was buy some cheap advertising.Chevron has all the controls on what kind of reasearch can be done, and only promotes that which helps their business lines. Plus, they demand all the patents for anything that is developed.In short, it isn’t a grant at all… UCD should have told Chevron to keep their money and gone out looking for another MAJOR grant program that came with far fewer strings attached. There are actually a lot of major energy companies that would be delighted for the opportunity. Take a look at some of the similar grants other universities have garnered.In short, Chevron took advantage of UCD’s naivete on this one.

  3. Skeptical

    DPD, like you I have reservations about this grant, but UCD cannot afford to look a gift horse in the mouth and say no. It is possible that Chevron wants to diversify beyond oil, in case it becomes obsolete in years to come. If alternative fuels really take hold, Chevron wants to be in on the ground floor. What is more problematic is UCD’s pentient for taking a relatively small donation of one or two million dollars, and then spending gobs of University money to create some new school – as in the Mondavi donation and the new Food Institute, or the new music hall (can’t remember the name of it).

  4. Don Shor

    …What is more problematic is UCD’s pentient for taking a relatively small donation of one or two million dollars, and then spending gobs of University money to create some new school – as in the Mondavi donation and the new Food Institute, or the new music hall (can’t remember the name of it)….I guess that depends on your definition of …relatively small….Robert and Magrit Mondavi donated $25 million for the Food and Wine Institute, and $10 million for the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.Barbara Jackson donated $5 million for the performing arts center.

  5. Jes Unruh

    California would make a lot more money if we got rid of the prop 13 tax benefits for companies like Chevron who are paying property taxes at 1976 rates plus 2% compounded annually on commercial property. Additionally a wellhead tax on oil pumped out of the ground in California as being proposed in Sacramento and opposed by the Chevron funded California Chamber of Commerce, although such taxes are common in other states and throughout the world would generate much more money. You’re barking up the wrong tree once again by thinking small and provencially instead of looking at the big picture of how Chevron underpays its taxes in California.I’m sure they are glad you are looking at this instead of what they are paying in taxes that support education in California. Oh yeah and we should raise gas taxes while the price is down too.

  6. Skeptical

    …I guess that depends on your definition of …relatively small….Robert and Magrit Mondavi donated $25 million for the Food and Wine Institute, and $10 million for the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Barbara Jackson donated $5 million for the performing arts center….My understanding is the Mondavi center cost nearly $60 million to build, yet the Mondavi’s donated less than a sixth of that. The Mondavi’s may have donated $10 million for the Food and Wine Institute, but how much did it cost the University? I heard somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million. Same thing is true of performing arts center as well.

  7. Robin Green

    Indeed I would be very suspicious of the research done by a center on energy efficiency whose funding is provided by a company that makes most of its income from selling fossil fuels.While $2.5 million may be a drop in the bucket for Chevron, it certainly isn’t a drop in the bucket for the center, which means they are likely to be influenced – even if only subconsciously – by the need to please the funding parties. They will have academic freedom, but they will also risk losing funding if the outcome of their research doesn’t please Chevron.I have seen tons of greenwashing ads from Chevron. This is a cheap way for them to have themselves associated with the notion of energy efficiency. Robin from Green Energy Efficient Homes.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for