Energy Maven Jackalyne Pfannenstiel on Biofuels and Women in Energy

When Jackalyne “Jackie” Pfannenstiel speaks about energy, people listen.

It’s easy to see why. In 1987, she became the first female corporate officer at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. In 2006, she was the first female chair of the California Energy Commission.

In 2010, Pfannenstiel was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment, becoming the first woman to hold such a post at the U.S. Department of the Navy.

In that role she was in charge of developing the department’s energy strategy, including managing the 75,000 buildings that support Navy and Marine operations around the world, as well as base relocations and closure.

Pfannenstiel left that post in 2012 and co-founded with Susan Kennedy, the four-year-old San Francisco start-up Advanced Microgrid Solutions.

Pfannenstiel recently returned to the Energy Commission to talk about her career and the future of energy.

“I think the two big game changers in energy are going to be biofuels and batteries,” she said.

In particular, she believes biofuels will be an important option for the Navy’s many ships, planes and tactical vehicles. Pfannenstiel said that the Navy has already used biofuels in that capacity, but its adoption has challenges. “The problem is it’s not scalable yet,” Pfannenstiel said. “If the military can prove how this can work then commercial airliners and everyone else can use it.”

Her Oct. 20 talk came a week after the Energy Commission and the Navy signed a memorandum of understanding that will help the state and the Navy and Marine Corps continue to pursue innovative renewable energy initiatives.

The agreement formalized a partnership that supports Navy and Marine Corps installation efforts to develop alternative energy resources and increase energy security and reliability.

Pfannenstiel also talked about the status of women in the energy field, saying opportunities for women are far greater now than when she first entered the field.

“I think there’s a growing line at the ladies room in energy conferences now,” she said.

However, the change came “painfully slow” for women who entered the energy sector in the 1970 and 1980’s. The rise of new energy start-ups recently is hastening the growth opportunities for women in the energy sector, Pfannenstiel said. “I was the first woman vice president at PG&E and the only one for a long time,” she said. “I don’t know how many vice presidents there are now at PG&E now, but there are a lot.”

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California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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