Professor Biggart is at the forefront of sustainable energy trends

Q&A with Research Professor Nicole Biggart
Academic Coordinator, Sustainable Energy Industry Immersion

An internationally renowned economic sociologist and thought leader in the energy business, Research Professor Nicole Biggart is tapping into her expertise and network to lead the new Sustainable Energy Industry Immersion this winter quarter.

Herself a UC Davis alumna, Biggart is an icon at the Graduate School of Management. She is a founding faculty member who helped to craft the School’s curriculum when it opened its doors in 1981.

She led the School as dean for six years starting in 2003—serving as an ambassador to the Northern California business community. During that time she oversaw the construction of the School’s new campus home, Gallagher Hall—the first LEED Platinum certified building for a business school in the nation. It’s an area she is very familiar with, as one of her research lines examines the adoption of energy efficiency technologies in the construction industry.

“The problems that face energy-intensive industries are complex and multi-faceted. Science and management both play critical roles in getting the best solutions.”

Under Biggart’s leadership, the Graduate School of Management began to play a major role in promoting a culture of entrepreneurship at UC Davis. She was instrumental in establishing the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship, now the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She also spearheaded the launch of the Bay Area MBA program and held the Jerome J. and Elsie Suran Chair in Technology Management.

Later, as the Chevron Chair in Energy Efficiency, she served as faculty director of the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center, the leading university center in the world on energy and energy efficiency.

“I’m excited about the Immersion,” says Biggart. “Students have been asking for this for years and we have a number of alums in energy-related industries. And best of all, UC Davis has a lot of connections with top industry executives who will participate in our class.”

We asked her about her plans for the course:

What can students expect from the Sustainable Energy Industry Immersion?

Energy is really a bundle of industries. Some source energy, others distribute it and others finance this capital-intensive commodity. Yet others develop novel technologies to measure and efficiently use energy resources. There are also major environmental conditions that must be met to sustainably produce and deliver energy. It is a turbulent industry with much change, and also a highly controlled industry. Policy and regulation, including legal issues, require analysis and a thoughtful balance of different public and environmental needs. It’s a fascinating time to be involved in energy.

“Students have been asking for this for years and we have a number of alums in energy-related industries.” 

How does this Immersion experience draw on UC Davis’ strengths in energy?

UC Davis has been involved in transportation research and energy use by the transportation sector for three decades—the Institute for Transportation Studies is well-known globally. Its partner organization the Energy Efficiency Center (EEC) similarly does work on energy use in the built environment, including lighting, heating and cooling, and has strong relations with all of the major utilities in California that provide electricity and natural gas to our economy. The EEC has a powerful Board of Advisors, not only from the energy industry, but from large organizations whose use of energy is a critical strategic input, including Microsoft and Walmart.

Our campus reputation as a center for environmental research also brings many people to the campus whose ideas and influence are important in dealing with energy issues, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council.

What gets you excited about teaching this Immersion?

I am excited to have a collaborative learning experience between our Ph.D. students and MBAs. The problems that face energy-intensive industries are complex and multi-faceted. Science and management both play critical roles in getting the best solutions.

What opportunities do you envision this opening up for students and the campus?

It’s hard to imagine a better way to get an overview of energy issues than the broad introduction (EEC director and Immersion co-lead) Ben Finkelor and I have planned. We hope that students will have a good grasp on some of the issues and can begin to target internships and career directions. I write about energy and I plan to learn as much as the students.