Tufts Energy Conference
This past Saturday, I went to the Tufts Energy Conference. TEC was started in 2006 and has tackled energy topics such as international development, security, geopolitical and now clean energy issues. And of course, like all things that I do for my career and interests, I had to get up at 7am.
Session 1: Deployment & Innovation: “Any Access” Now or Better Access in the Future
People want to build renewable energy now. But people also want to build the newest and latest. So what’s the solution? Do you build what’s available and get locked in to a certain technology? Or you do wait and continue to produce dirty energy until the new technology is ready?
The main answer from the panelists was “design for culture”. Do what’s right for the community. Sure, here in the US, we can sit and make high minded decisions but if you really want to help, figure out what the developing community needs. Live among them, understand their struggles, and design solutions that are innovative and sustainable.
The big takeaway from this session was this
R&D was us a decade of so before. Technically we’re still there because the U.S. spends more on potato chips than energy research every year. But universities, government grants, and private labs have created and improved upon renewable energy technology. We know how to harness energy from our sun that isn’t hidden in dinosaur bits.
Right now we’re in the Engineering phase. Specifically at that star. Renewable energy prices are falling and are nearing grid parity (that horizontal line), even without subsidies in some places around the world. As startup ventures begin pushing clean energy and make incremental improvements, the cost of every MWh falls.
Now we push for commercialization. Policy wise, stringent Renewable Portfolio Standards and high Production Tax Credits and other government support is needed. Clean energy must no longer be an alternative energy. It is an energy source, period.
Afterwards, I met Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation, or as I referred to him, “drawing guy!” Very cool insights, and a great speaker. Recommend checking out their website.
Session Lunch: Burritos with Energy Rockstars (It wasn’t really called this but that’s what I’m calling it.)
I had lunch with Teryn Norris, Director at PIRA Group and a Forbes 30 Under 30 lister. He’s worked under the Secretary of Energy, and worked on Obama’s Energy Investment Initiative, and written a paper that Bill Gates called “one of the best arguments I’ve seen for why the U.S. should invest in a clean energy revolutions.” But you know, these 30 Under 30 people, they’re just like you or me. Just a lot more accomplished. And better looking. And successful.
Lots of talks on the new administration and the future of clean tech. Meeting these experts always makes me feel better because their outlooks are always cautiously optimistic and they seem united under the theme that Trump can’t stop the clean energy revolution.
Session 2: Renewable Energy Projects in Indigenous Communities
Indigenous peoples are investing in clean energy projects throughout North America and embracing their deeply rooted values of sustainability. What are the challenges in public-private partnerships while upholding local decision making and collective ownership?
This panel was one that I didn’t think I would enjoy but I met one person who was key in the denial of the Cape Wind project on the basis that it encroached on sacred land. And it really just hit me how strong traditions are and how they need to be preserved. Also met a Clean Energy Advisor to Aboriginal communities in Canada. He’s an honorary member of several Aboriginal communities and has been named “Lightning”, “Point of the Spear”, and “On Indian Time”. How cool is that?!
But the coolest part was that idea of returning to and honoring the connection with the land. These natives had a mutual understanding with the land and a lot of that was forced away from them when Columbus came and decided “You’re all Indians now.” What a guy.
Session 3: Distributed Energy Solutions Driving Electrification
The biggest bottleneck to the clean tech revolution is storage and this session addressed how we can bring reliable energy to millions living in developing countries. Where are we with our research and how can we create sustainable solutions as quickly as possible?
Three really cool lessons from this: One, good batteries are coming. We could just use lead acid and charge ahead but lithium ion is going to be the long term solution and we’re seeing huge money pouring into this research.
Two, fractal grids. Higher reliability, more connections, and a great way to maintain our reliability while building upon existing infrastructure.
Three, countries around the world have amazing projects happening. And it’s not just Europe. India, the Philippines, Bhutan, Nigeria, and hundreds of other cities around the world are pulling together to meet and exceed sustainable development goals. And the expertise is also coming from everywhere. Policy reform, technology, social science, manufacturing, community engagement, no one country is the leader in all these. So we’re seeing global scale collaboration and I think that really is an important part of all this. The issues we’re dealing with are global issues, so let’s solve them together.
All in all, it was incredible to be surrounded by so many people passionate and curious about the energy innovation and the role of clean tech. I have a lot to learn but I know I’m moving in the right direction. New life goal: come back to TEC one year as a panelist or speaker.
If you’d like to learn more about TEC, click here.
If you’d like to give me advice or support in pursuing a clean tech career, please reach out!
If you’d like to hear about how I called an Uber to go .3 miles because I found a snow pile I couldn’t get over… maybe next time.