Faces of CELI: Nate Kinsey, Director of San Francisco Programs

“I asked: ‘What can I spend my life working on that will have a positive multiplier effect across the range of environmental and social topics I care about?’ That answer was, and still is to this day, clean energy.“

Nate pitching Cozee during the SF Spring 2017 Fellowship Business Pitch Night

Nate pitching Cozee during the SF Spring 2017 Fellowship Business Pitch Night

What inspired you to pursue a career in clean energy? What have been some challenges along the way and how did you overcome them?

“Clean Energy” was a subject matter, amongst a range of environmental and sustainability topics, I studied during college. But like many people looking back, I realize I didn't really study it --  I didn't know what wholesale power markets were, I didn't understand the role of PUCs in the 50 fiefdoms across the US we like to call States. And I definitely didn't grasp the opportunity of decarbonizing the energy economy. So upon graduating, I moved to Washington, DC to pursue big, bold, impactful federal legislation. If only our representatives could see that a price on carbon was the silver bullet, surely they'd pass a bill right away, and who better than me to help them understand it? Well like many who arrive in DC, you quickly learn things around the Beltway are slow, take time, and that major federal legislation often requires a crisis of sorts to pass. So feeling frustrated with my day to day work on Capitol Hill, and not willing to waiting for a crises I asked: "What can I spend my life working on that will have a positive multiplier effect across the range of environmental and social topics I care about?" That answer was, and still is to this day, clean energy.

After this LED lightbulb moment, I spent the next 6 months trying to crack into the industry in DC. I interviewed for political appointee positions at the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. I applied for internships and jobs at Sol Systems, Customer First Renewables, ICF and others. I even tried to sneak my way into this new education & leadership non-profit called the Clean Energy Leadership Institute, twice, with no luck. But eventually, I found my open door with a small energy efficiency startup called Citizen Energy, where I helped launch a new Lighting As A Service financing product for multi-family and commercial properties throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia. That has led to a series of doors opening to where I am today: working as a Regulatory Affairs Manager with the California Efficiency and Demand Management Council, shaping the future of energy efficiency and demand response policy and regulations in California (as well as proudly serving as Director of CELI's SF Chapter).

How did you become involved in CELI? Why?


I first attempted to join CELI while I was still living in DC. At the time, I viewed CELI as my entry point into the clean energy industry, but I didn’t understand the vision or mission of CELI. I am actually grateful I was rejected. These rejections provided me with the opportunity to reflect inward on how to be a better applicant, the drive to continue to improve, and to better the understand the organization. So after moving back to San Francisco in August 2015, I always said if CELI ever expanded west, I would apply again and be in a better position to help the organization accomplish its mission of creating the next generation of clean energy leaders. Fortunately, the third time was the charm, and I have been enjoying opportunity ever since.

Nate and CELIons at the Global Climate Action Summit

Nate and CELIons at the Global Climate Action Summit

What did you learn along the way? How has your career evolved via CELI?

“Most of all, I have grown to understand that being part of CELI is about more than just personal growth and development. It's about being a member of a diverse Fellowship class of amazing people, all excited to learn and grow… It's about being part of a generation of leaders who understand the importance of ensuring this clean energy transition is just and equitable.”

I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to be involved in CELI’s SF program since its launch in Spring 2017, and I have learned so much about the clean energy industry, leadership, and most recently team management.

Coming into the Spring 2017 Fellowship program I understood the fundamentals of the energy efficiency industry (the real silver bullet of achieving emissions reductions), but I knew very little about the electricity sector or fundamentally how the grid worked. The Fellowship curriculum not only taught me this and much more, but, more importantly, provided me with a confidence that I can walk into any room in the industry and understand the conversation. Nowadays as SF Director, I attend each session still with an appetite to learn from our speakers (some of whom I have heard multiple times) and at the end of every session, I still have learned something new. Additionally, being able to plan, coordinate and direct the Fellowship programs over the last year and a half has continually put in me in positions to engage, learn, and earn the respect of my peers and industry experts. This broad knowledge base and industry connections were vital in the transition to my current role and will continue to empower me to scale my positive impact.

Most of all, I have grown to understand that being part of CELI is about more than just personal growth and development. It's about being a member of a diverse Fellowship class of amazing people, all excited to learn and grow. It's about being part of a supportive nationwide network of alumni who are willing to, within in minutes, help another CELION with a question or provide a place to sleep while attending a conference. It's about being part of a generation of leaders who understand the importance of ensuring this clean energy transition is just and equitable. And it's about being part of a community of passionate individuals who want to be known as the industry leaders driving innovative programs, financing, policies, regulations, and creating companies that will ensure we achieve the emission reductions needed to stabilize the climate.

SF CELIon Camping Trip 2018

SF CELIon Camping Trip 2018

What were some of your favorite moments?

CELI has provided me the opportunity to create many fond memories. As a Fellow, I distinctly remember receiving feedback from Abe Yokell, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Congruent Ventures, that my business pitch for a residential comfort as a service company called Cozee was a better idea than a company he had lost millions on. From Turkish Dinners to Tahoe Trips, there have been multiple social events within the community hat provided me with laughs and stories I will never forget. It somehow found me as a Youth Delegate for the Global Climate Action Summit alongside other CELIONs and global climate leaders. And it was an absolute blast to participate in CELI ’s emPOWER conference, bringing the DC & SF programs together for the first time.

Also, having the title of Maven amongst your peers is never a bad thing.  


As SF Director, you played a big role in shaping the next chapter of CELI -- what are some of the things you are most excited about:

2019 is going to be a transformational year for CELI. The CELI leadership team and Board of Directors have gone to the whiteboard and revamped the organization's programmatic offerings to ensure that Fellows, Alumni, and the broader clean energy communities in DC and SF have the opportunity to engage in the clean energy transition, and grow as leaders.

Personally, I am excited to continue to build upon the educational events CELI has offered in the past and to expand our focus to achieving decarbonization beyond the power sector. In 2019, CELI will offer multiple educational opportunities for recent graduates, and individuals interested in transitioning into clean energy. From the fundamentals of the clean energy industry to achieving deep decarbonization across the economy, our Alumni will be teaching sessions that showcase the incredible contributions they are already making in our communities.


So regardless of where people are in their careers, and clean energy adventure, the next chapter of CELI will be an exciting time to get involved. I hope everyone interested will take the opportunity, and please let me know how I can be of help to you in your clean energy journey.

Be sure to register for our 2019 Recruitment Event on January 9th in San Francisco here. Hope to see you there!

Liz Dalton