Energy Policy Entrepreneur

A 40-year career dedicated to sustainable energy policy and programs started when a young man took his interest in environmental sciences to Griffith, joining the University’s first PhD cohort.

David Crossley initially replied to a newspaper advert for a Griffith University PhD scholarship.

His scholarship application said he wanted to establish a household in Brisbane implementing energy conservation and renewable energy. And to his surprise, the university accepted, inviting him to join the new School of Australian Environmental Studies where he began his PhD research.

In 1975, Griffith was the perfect incubator for a budding energy policy entrepreneur like Dr Crossley, giving him the freedom to follow his research wherever it led, eventually culminating in his thesis, Social Aspects of Energy Use and Conservation and Energy Policy.

Dr Crossley says the political climate around energy conservation was not particularly receptive when he first started his research.

“I went to Canberra to find out what the attitude was in the federal government towards energy conservation,” he says.

“I met the only person in the Commonwealth public service involved to any extent in energy conservation and he said, ‘we have 600 years-worth of coal, why should we bother?’”

Despite this initial conversation, a groundswell of action on energy conservation had begun overseas, particularly in the wake of the 1970s “energy crises” driven by skyrocketing oil prices.

Dr Crossley followed these international developments closely and eventually found people and groups in Australia interested in bringing overseas ideas and actions here.

Griffith gave him the academic independence to explore the way forward, culminating in five years of research.

“Griffith was just starting and there were many opportunities,” he says.

“I like new institutions, there’s a lot of freedom to do things without the weight of tradition or history.

“My PhD degree was awarded in 1982 and was very useful because it gave me professional credibility and opened many doors enabling me to do ground breaking work in energy policy and programs.”

Dr Crossley’s expertise gained at Griffith came at time when Australian governments were thinking about energy conservation as an issue to be considered when developing energy policy.

In 1983, the political climate and his personal entrepreneurial drive catapulted Dr Crossley into the upper echelons of government policy-making when he was appointed as the first Director of Energy Planning for the Victorian Government.

“In Victoria, I initiated and established a state-wide energy planning program, including developing energy policy and programs across all types of energy,” he says.

“One of my objectives was to use government policy to persuade energy suppliers to assist their customers to use energy more efficiently.

“I was also involved in government programs providing energy efficiency information directly to ordinary householders, including carrying out the first household energy audits in Australia.”

In 1988, Dr Crossley moved to New South Wales where he held various roles and contributed to major projects, including:

  • establishing the National Electricity Market;
  • planning and establishing the NSW Sustainable Energy Development Authority as the first government agency in the world dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
  • corporatising the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority;
  • establishing the NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme as one of the world’s earliest emissions trading schemes.

He also started his own consultancy firm, Energy Futures Australia. This enabled him to take on international work providing advice on sustainable energy policy and programs to governments, regulators, energy companies, industry associations and NGOs across five continents.

Dr Crossley’s international work included:

  • directing multi-national research projects for the International Energy Agency;
  • leading peer reviews of government energy efficiency policies in Chile and New Zealand for APEC.

From 2009 to 2015, Dr Crossley was a regular visitor to China where he managed the provision of technical assistance on demand-side management and energy efficiency to governments, regulators and the electricity industry.

Dr Crossley retired from full-time work in 2015 and moved to Brisbane.

He recently completed a Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Knowledges at Charles Darwin University. He also volunteers at the Mount Gravatt Men’s Shed in Brisbane where he pursues his interest in woodworking and is a member of the Management Committee.

Reflecting on his career and time at Griffith, Dr Crossley has this advice for prospective PhD students.

“Work on something that you are passionate about,” he says.

“Listen to your academic advisors but follow your own intuition about what to do.

“If you find yourself working on something you’re not passionate about, change what you’re doing – or go and do something else.”

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