Stephen Piscotty’s career is on the rise. In 2016, his first full major league season, the 25 year old St. Louis Cardinals right fielder batted .273 with 22 home runs and 85 RBIs. Much is expected of the Stanford grad this season as he tries to help lead the Redbirds back to the playoffs.
Off the field, Piscotty, who graduated in 2015 with a degree in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering, is very interested in an industry on the rise—clean tech—specifically solar and smart grid. GreenSportsBlog recently spoke to Piscotty about his journey to renewable energy, being an eco-athlete and more.
GreenSportsBlog: Stephen, we don’t see too many major league baseball players who major in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering—in fact I don’t know of any, other than you. How did you come to your interest in renewable energy and climate change?
Stephen Piscotty: For me, it began at Stanford.
I started out as a Management Sciences and Engineering major, which was really a business program of sorts. It didn’t interest me much. I stumbled upon Atmosphere and Energy Engineering by accident, while browsing through course catalogues. I had learned a bit about climate change and wind power while in high school and thought renewable energy was going to be a big, important industry going forward. It sparked an interest and then, once I started taking classes, I realized I had found my passion.
GSB: Were there any unique difficulties in balancing what sounds like a challenging major with playing college baseball at the highest level on the way to a pro career?
Stephen: I was lucky in that I had great advisors. Lynne Hildemann was particularly helpful—she was flexible, understanding the challenges of my baseball schedule, and she also paid a lot of attention. Marc Jacobson, the director of the Atmosphere and Energy program at Stanford…
GSB:…Oh, I know of Jacobson! He’s one of the lead spokespeople for The Solutions Project. Their goal is to show how it is realistic to get the US and the rest of the world to 100 percent clean energy in an economically feasible way by, I believe, 2050. I saw him talking about this with David Letterman a few years back!…
Stephen: That sounds like Marc! He really was a great mentor and is a true visionary in this space. I was fortunate to have him as my professor.
GSB: You got that right: Jacobson is a true visionary, and an inspiring one at that.
You left Stanford without graduating to start your professional baseball career, came back and got your Atmosphere and Energy Engineering degree in 2015, just as you about to make it to the big leagues with the Cardinals. To get that degree you must’ve studied the wide swath of clean tech, from solar to wind, energy efficiency to nuclear. And more. What areas of clean tech interest you most?
Stephen: Solar energy is intriguing for sure. The technology is improving and the cost is dropping, both at a rapid pace. In fact, I’m sure the technology advancements have been significant even since I graduated last year.
GSB: No doubt about it. And there’s been great strides made in solving the intermittency (i.e. the sun doesn’t shine at night) and storage problems since then with great advances made in battery storage from companies like Tesla.
Stephen: Very exciting…I’m also interested in the business possibilities surrounding smart grid technology, the dynamics of a 2-way system, from home to grid, grid to home.
I also do my own personal investing and am looking closely at solar and smart grid as investment options. And then, and this is a long-term technology—we’re talking a 30 to 50 year horizon—but fusion is something that holds great promise. The clean energy generation potential is almost limitless—the only by-product is water. Key, of course, to get us from here to there, are stability, safety, and cost.
GSB: Fusion rarely gets discussed amongst the climate change mitigation/clean energy generation options. Solar, wind, biomass, hydro, nuclear, efficiency? Yes. Fusion, likely because of its long term development time horizon, not yet…
Stephen: I know, but I really do think that’s where the long term future is.
My interest in fusion is certainly due, in part, the fact my dad and uncle work at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in Northern California…My dad worked on the first fusion sustained burn back 6-7 years ago. The burn lasted a very short time, but there was a fusion reaction. Yes, it’s long term but there’s huge potential there.
GSB: That is incredible! The apple doesn’t fall far from the clean tech tree! Switching gears, how have your Cardinals teammates reacted to your academic background, and interest in renewable energy? Is it something that’s even discussed?
Stephen: Yes we definitely talk about it. The announcers mention it all the time on our broadcasts. It’s interesting—there’s about a 50-50 split. I’m challenged on it—renewable energy, climate change—as much I’m told how cool it is…by players, staff.
GSB: 50-50? That’s disappointing if not surprising. Is there any tension around it?
Stephen: Not at all! There’s no mean spiritedness, nothing personal. It’s all cool—hey, our clubhouse basically is a reflection of the society and the world—we’re no different. I will tell you one kind of bizarre story.
There’s one guy on our club—he’ll remain nameless—anyway, we get to talking about climate change. He says ‘It’s a hoax, it’s fake. What’s really causing global warming is the planetary influence from Mars.’
GSB: Whoa; I’ve never heard that one before!
Stephen: Me neither! It caught me completely off guard. I really didn’t know what to say back to the guy.
GSB: I wouldn’t have either…Probably the best way to go if something like that happens again—although I doubt you’ll get the Mars influence thing any time soon—is to direct the person to Skeptical Science, which gets “skeptical about global warming skepticism.” How much do you think climate change skepticism and denial is politically driven?
Stephen: Oh, that’s a huge factor, along with geography and cultural differences.
For me, when I came to Stanford, I had an open mind about climate change. Then I read about it, studied it and came to the simple conclusion that the reality of climate change’s existence and its human cause is obvious. There’s really no denying it.
GSB: Of course that’s true. And of course, many people are still denying it. You, as a St. Louis Cardinal, have a tremendous platform to speak out on the reality of climate change and give your your thoughts on combatting it. What kind of environmental actions have you taken in your personal life?
Stephen: I really take note of efficiencies. So I’ve started out by changing out light bulbs, making sure appliances that don’t need to be running aren’t, lights are turned off…
GSB: That’s a good start. Somehow I’m seeing an electric vehicle (EV) in your not too distant future!
Will you speak out on climate change issues? I mean, the green-sports movement and climate change fight needs people like you—eco-athletes at or approaching their prime—to lend their voices to the cause. Yet I know you have to balance any activism with focusing on getting better on the field.
Stephen: I will speak out on climate change when the right opportunities present themselves. I can’t be distracted from baseball but I’ll do what I can.
Climate change and clean tech are huge passions, my interest in them is a core part of who I am now and will likely be where I focus my professional energies once my playing career is finished.
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