An IUPUI Student’s Journey to the MIT Energy Conference
April 8, 2011
On March 4-5, I had the opportunity to attend the MIT Energy Conference (http://www.mitenergyconference.com/) on behalf of the IUPUI Energy Club, Lugar Center for Renewable Energy, and School of Engineering and Technology. This experience proved to be extremely beneficial to my academic growth and professional development. It was also a lot of fun.
The goal of the MIT Energy Conference is to bring together students, faculty, and leaders in the fields of technology, policy, industry, and finance to inform and develop solutions for the tremendous energy and sustainability challenges present on our global society. The Conference included participation from students and professors, but also included numerous industry executives and government leaders. For example, we had the opportunity hear from Ray Mabus, Secretary of the U.S. Navy, James E. Rogers Chairman, President and CEO of Duke Energy, R James Woolsey, Venture Partner and Senior Advisor of VantagePoint, Steve Isakowitz, Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Department of Energy, Jack Baron, CEO of Sweetwater Ethanol, Azad Mohammadi, Energy, Power & Water Team Leader at USAID HRLS-II Program, just to name a few!
The MIT Energy Conference also showcased experts in foreign policy and foreign innovation from India, China, and Brazil, and the United States. It was this group of speakers that discussed whether the “Silicon Valley” of Clean Technology will form in a developing nation instead of the United States, the longtime leader of innovation and technology. It was particularly encouraging when this panel confirmed that the chances of the U.S. in maintaining a dominant position (or at least one of the main global leaders) in innovation are very good.
Another area of emphasis at the MIT Energy Conference was venture capital and the issues facing start-up companies. There were numerous energy-related start-up companies attending the conference. In fact, there was a special session called the “Start-up Clinic”, where these companies were able to network and consult with angel investors, venture capital firms, investment firms, and legal firms. Many start-up companies that presented at this conference have already received considerable funding from investors and are becoming “game changers” in the energy technology marketplace.
The MIT Energy Conference also showcased promising technology and policy approaches that have the potential to achieve critical scale success in addressing our energy challenges. In addition to presenting the latest and greatest “up and coming” technologies, these sessions highlighted environmental and security concerns that also create an opportunity for fundamental change in the way the world produces and consumes energy. The Secretary of the Navy said that the Navy has been on the forefront of using alternative energies in the military, and will continue to do so by being a leader and driving U.S. energy innovation. The primary goal of this effort is to end our reliance on imported fossil fuels that threaten our national security.
Lastly, one of the most surprising tidbits of information gleaned from this conference was provided by the CEO of Duke Energy, Jim Rodgers. According to Mr. Rodgers, the U.S. energy market is going to drastically change in the future because 60% of our electricity comes from coal fired power plants, 80% of which will need to be replaced by 2050 due to aging infrastructure. Moreover, 80% of that number will need to be replaced by 2030 due to more immediate, short-term problems. Regardless of your geographical location in the U.S., consumers will likely experience an increase in their energy bills because of the critical need to replace or retrofit these plants. This increase in cost will make it easier for renewable and alternative energy projects to compete with fossil fuels. Utility companies will have to make a choice when building new plants, which includes whether or not to use renewable or alternative energy. Furthermore, U.S. energy policies will factor into their decisions in the future, an area where much uncertainty still remains.
Regardless, the U.S. energy market is slowly being forced to change for those reasons mentioned above. However, this also presents a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. to become a leader in clean energy technology, innovation, and showcase its entrepreneurial spirit. This message was especially inspiring to a college student looking toward the future and ready to make a difference!
Vice President, IUPUI Energy Club