MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative
Investing in a Clean Energy Future
Yancan "Lydia" Li believes in the double bottom line.
Written by: Tracey Palmer
To her mind, successful investments should generate strong financial returns and positive social or environmental impact. This belief is one reason why she has decided to pursue a career in sustainable infrastructure investments. And why Forbes named her to its "Energy" 30 Under 30 List for 2021.
"Clean energy is a sector that provides for the public good, Lydia says. "But for early-stage startups, there’s a finance gap between the research phase and commercialization phase. There are no enough investments in sustainable infrastructure."
Forbes added Lydia to its list of energy stars noting her innovative work at Generate Capital to solve that problem. Since joining the firm, she’s evaluated and executed on investments across the power, transport, and waste sectors totaling more than $200 million. Her technical research and financial analyses allowed Generate to underwrite first-of-its-kind hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell projects that could not raise capital from traditional financiers.
Clean energy is a sector that provides for the public good. But for early-stage startups, there’s a finance gap between the research phase and commercialization phase.
When Lydia was considering MIT Sloan, she was working in the finance sector, part of an energy private equity team investing in oil and gas. Sitting in on a sustainability class taught by Jason Jay, Lydia says, changed her life. And inspired her to focus on clean energy and impact investing.
“Jason takes a business approach, but talks about how sustainability touches everybody’s life in a significant way–how it’s fundamentally about caring for other people’s well-being.”
This approach resonated deeply with Lydia. As a student, she served as MIT Energy Club co-president, vice president of the MIT Impact Investing Initiative, team leader of the MBA Impact Investing Network & Training (MIINT) Program, and an organizer of the 2018 Sustainability Summit. Lydia was also a Prime Impact Fund fellow and assisted with the Sustainability Initiative’s Renewable Energy Finance roundtable. After graduation, she joined the Class of 2019 Siebel Scholars.
As a woman in finance and clean energy –typically male-dominated fields–Lydia says it’s been important to find female role models, like Professor Gita Rao of MIT’s Impact Investing Initiative.“I’m very grateful for the time I’ve had at Sloan,” Lydia says. “My social and professional work circles weren’t very gender-diversified, and if it wasn’t for my time at Sloan, I never would have met so many great women.”
As Lydia brings her passion, education, and experience to the sector, she has turned into a role-model herself, aiming to support and find the industry's top talent. At Generate, she is leading efforts to promote diversity & inclusion in recruiting and training, and helps young professionals network to better understand how clean energy project finance works in practice.