Changing the Energy Balance – Our Energy Future

Club led symposiums successfully kicked off last weekend with the Energy and Environment club’s Energy Symposium.

An impressive array of key note speakers covering a broad spectrum of topics brought together over 300 participants including fellow HBS students and faculty, colleagues from rival institutions and a noticeably strong contingent of industry professionals. This diversity in attendance was yet another reminder of the depth and breadth of the many pertinent issues we face in the fields of energy and cleantech – described in one panel as the great opportunity of this generation.

During the course of the two day event that started with Friday’s open reception there were 4 key note addresses and 8 fully packed panel discussions. Everyone’s tastes and interests were catered for as panelists dived deep into their areas of expertise. Topics ranged from leading the nuclear renaissance and the electrification of the transportation sector to investing in conventional oil and gas. The hard part was choosing which panels not to attend. The event ended late Saturday afternoon with cocktails in the William’s room where participants got to interact with our gracious speakers and all, but one, shed tears for not winning the right to test drive the new Tesla Roadster.

From my perspective, one of the key takeaways of the conference is how much is still up for grabs. Some addresses were essentially a sales pitch for the “right” way to a better future. You would leave one event convinced the answer was nuclear and another that it was solar. This multitude of technologies and business models being passionately promoted speaks to one of the great challenges facing the sector; the lack of policy and strategy in the US was consistently raised across the panels and is probably the single issue for which there is near universal agreement. The resulting uncertainty is thought to be crippling the development of a critical sector traditionally characterized by long lag-times and big bucks.

It was also highlighted that some companies were finding refuge from this legislative standstill overseas. More receptive markets and investors are being found in the many other countries that have opted to take charge in transforming the sector and prepare it for the expected surge in demand. In light of this reality, the lack of international representation on the panels was for me the one flaw in an otherwise flawless event and one that we should aspire to overcome next year.

The inspirational closing speech given by Thomas Farrell, CEO of Dominion, applauded the club’s initiative, recognizing it as an example of what needs to be done in order to help define policy for the sector – that is, discussion and education. In his view a pivotal step to getting things going is educating consumers about the difficult choices and trade-offs that are inherent to keeping the light switch operational – something they have so far taken for granted and seldom think about.

A sincere round of applause is due to the organizing team, who passionately and energetically went above and beyond the call of duty to make this happen. Our many thanks to the conference chair, Lyn Lewis, the executive team, Blake Houghton, Emi Yoshikawa, Frederik Nellemann, John Roby, Kent Foster, Lara Dolan, Louis Beryl, Trivikram Arun, and the many EC and RC leaders who gave their support.

On a final note, I would like to graciously thank on behalf of the club all of you who attended. We know the decision to forfeit possibly one of the last great autumn days of 2010 and most importantly, the Head of the Charles, was no easy matter. We look forward to welcoming you again in future as the many more events in the pipeline come to be. The symposium has most certainly set the bar high.

November 1, 2010
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