Hope for a cleaner future at MIT Energy Conference

Fifth annual conference brings Bingaman, Rowe and Tanaka to talk clean power

2817 energy
At the MIT Energy Conference on Saturday, United States Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) speaks about the steps that the U.S. must take to achieve energy independence. The annual student-run conference focuses on technology- and policy-based solutions to global energy problems.
Courtesy of the MIT Energy Conference

The fifth annual MIT Energy Conference took place at the Boston Sheraton Hotel last weekend. The two-day event brought 800 professionals from areas of energy technology, policy, finance, and industry to Boston, up from the 650 last year. The Saturday conference featured John Rowe, CEO of Exelon Corporation; Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka of the International Energy Agency; and Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who is also the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

On Friday, MIT hosted energy-related workshops on campus, as the Boston Sheraton hosted the Energy Showcase, which featured the University of Warwick’s Formula 3 racing car, the first to be made entirely from renewable materials (including chocolate, carrots, and potatoes). Also on display was the MIT Electric Vehicle Team’s Battery Electric Vehicle “BEV,” a retrofitted Porsche 914. A group from Northeastern University presented a method for using plastic as fuel via vaporization. About 2,000 people attended the showcase, which was open to the public.

Professor Richard K. Lester PhD ’80, head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, introduced Rowe, whose energy company operates the most nuclear plants in the U.S. Rowe spoke about the importance of low cost electricity, and articulated the link between reducing the price of electricity and ramping up the “renewables market and generation,” as he called for innovation in the area.

Bingaman delivered the closing keynote address about clean energy. President Susan J. Hockfield, in her introduction for Bingaman, stressed the importance of student leadership as a key factor in facing the challenges of energy. Bingaman highlighted the steps that the United States needs to take in order to create a long lasting clean energy solution, which would take America one step closer to being energy independent:

Further support excellence in R&D in clean energy

Aggressively increase the manufacturing capacity for clean energy

Create a better domestic market for clean energy

Use increased tax credits as a method to accomplish these goals

According to Bingaman, the recent $2.3 billion in tax credits given to 183 “green” manufacturing projects is a great start to this approach; the Obama administration is pushing for an additional $5 billion in funding, he said. Bingaman’s last visit to MIT was to deliver the 2008 Karl Taylor Compton lecture on “Forging a Clean Energy Future,” when he also visited many of the labs at MIT.

The conference was organized by the ten-month-long efforts of about 90 MIT students. An estimated total of 150 MIT students attended the conference. Marketing director Rahul Kar G said he thought this was the most successful conference yet. “Over the last 5 years, the MIT Energy Conference has become a brand,” he said.

The topics, panels, and speakers were all researched and chosen by the organizing committee of students.

Some of the new topics covered in this year’s conference included the water constraints in energy generation. “Water availability and use is a very constraining factor in especially renewable energy like biofuel, but it rarely gets talked about,” said Kar. Another new topic was the “energy race between the U.S. and China”: Ning Li, the Dean of the School of Energy Research at Xiamen University in China, as well as Hongmei Zhang She, the appointed Expert for Strategic Research of China’s 12th “Five-Year Plan” were among the invited speakers.

When asked what could be improved next year, Kar said, “We can work to increase the scope of the content to be more global and to have more speakers from around the world.”

Paul J. Murphy G, managing director of the conference, said he thought the best part of the day was “[d]efinitely the community. There are so many different professionals who come here to form breakthrough relationships and have conversations across fields. The community formed around the challenges of energy at this conference is invaluable.”

Topics of discussion at the conference ranged from the efforts of Tampa Electric to create a joint public-private sector partnership to use reclaimed water to the role of large corporations like GE Capital in clean-energy investment. The vice president of sustainability at Recology, a waste disposal and resource recovery firm, Chris Choate, said he was pleasantly surprised to find so many people who were interested in alternative uses for waste: “I found researchers who were dedicated to new concepts embedded carbon and energy that I wasn’t aware of. We will definitely follow that research now.”

Overall, the MIT Energy Conference received positive reviews. Steve Taub of GE Capital, who has been attending the conference for the last five years, said “It has definitely gotten better over time.” David Lukcic, Tampa Electric Manager of Environmental Capital Projects commented at the reception “There was lots of good information, it was very enjoyable… I was impressed with the selection of the topics as well as the panels.”