‘Change’ Is Theme At 4th MIT Energy Summit

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: Due to an editing error, Tuesday's article about the MIT Energy Conference incorrectly stated that the Honorable Jay Inslee represents Washington D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives. He actually represents the 1st congressional district of Washington State.

The Fourth Annual MIT Energy Conference brought together over 1000 people this past weekend to talk about the future of energy, how technology is involved, and how MIT can help.

The student-run conference, held at the Marriott in Kendall Square, featured keynote speeches by MIT President Susan J. Hockfield, European energy company CEO Lars G. Josefsson, and US Representative Jay Inslee from Washington, D.C.

Change was the focus this year. The theme of the conference, “Accelerating Change in Global Energy,” reflected an interest in bringing innovations from labs to widespread use.

The two-day event began with public workshops and poster presentation on Friday. Saturday was filled with speakers and panelists on various topics ranging from the future of biomass to scaling up wind energy.

On Friday night, over 1300 attendees packed the Grand Ballroom at the Marriott to visit the student and industry presentations. As a live jazz band serenaded the crowd, students shared their research projects, and company representatives talked up their green technologies. Many projects involved alternative energy such as solar panels and biodiesel.

The Museum of Science had one of the more popular booths. It featured a tasty demonstration of thermal energy. A metallic dish focused light from a lamp to toast a marshmallow, which was used to make s’mores for the audience.

Another booth, called “How Green is Your Lunch?” diagrammed for the audience the carbon footprint of transporting their produce.

Saturday’s events began with an address by Hockfield, who emphasized that the conference was completely organized and run by students of the MIT Energy Club. Hockfield said that energy technology innovation was important to energy demand, security, and global climate change, as well as economic growth.

Her remarks also hinted at the idea that innovation through alternative energy research would help solve our energy challenge, naming various professors and their research across the Institute. “A great deal of people at MIT are making sure innovations like these don’t just look promising in the lab but carry through successfully to the marketplace and the policy arena as well,” Hockfield said.

The keynote speaker in the morning was Lars G. Josefsson, CEO of Swedish national energy company Vattenfall, one of Europe’s biggest providers of electricity and heating. Josefsson spoke about actions underway by Vattenfall to make electricity generation clean. He said their goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050. “If we can do it, anyone can do it,” he added.

He said that most of Vattenfall’s carbon dioxide emissions come from using fossil fuels. He cited carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as essential to his plan to reduce emissions, despite the procedure’s high cost.

The final cost comes out to 200-350 billion euros, Josefsson said. He tried to put that number in perspective, explaining that it is only about 0.5% of Sweden’s projected 2030 GDP.

Josefsson asked the audience if they thought electricity today was too cheap, too expensive or just right. The vast majority of the audience raised their hands to indicate they thought electricity was too cheap.

“I should raise the prices then,” Josefsson joked.

The rest of the conference included panel sessions such as “Advancing Bioenergy,” in which panelists Blake Simmons, Eric Larson, and William Jorgenson talked about creating market for liquid biofuels and how it compares to burning biomass gas. The lunch keynote speaker was the Honorable Jay Inslee, Congressman from Washington.

Phech Colatat G, attended the conference and the panel sessions to see “how people are talking about energy issues, what people know and don’t know.” He said he liked getting the chance to meet people in the energy sector, and to see what everyone is working on.

In between the panel sessions were “networking breaks” which allowed attendees at the conference to mingle. Duncan Mcintrye, an associate from Polaris Venture Partners, said that Polaris’ interest in being a sponsor is to “get exposure to budding entrepreneurs.”

This is the 4th year that MIT’s Energy Club has organized this conference, and attendance was strong. An overflow room had to be used to accommodate 70 more guests on Saturday.

Ilissa Schild G, marketing director for the conference, said that conference’s main purpose was “creating a forum for people to come together and have an open, honest discussion.”