Learning energy basics

seidenfeldby Josh Seidenfeld, MEM/MBA ’15

Last week, EDGE co-sponsored one of the year’s most popular Duke student-organized events: Energy Industry Fundamentals. This two-day seminar featured sessions by Duke faculty and alumni playing leading roles in the today’s energy transformation.  The audience included students from business, environment, engineering, and public policy all eager to learn more about how they might fit into the energy industry.  Launched in 2010 with 45 students, the EIF this year attracted over 230 students, with strong attendance across the entire event.

Eric Toone, a professor at the Department of Chemistry and deputy director of technology for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) gave one of the most entertaining and engaging talks. From his work at ARPA-E, Dr. Toone tracks the most exciting energy developments of our day, from harvesting useful sugars from macroalgae biomass to redesigning tanks to allow natural gas to penetrate more as a transportation fuel. Dr. Toone displays a remarkable ability to distill complex information into compelling stories ­– check out the #EIF2012 hashtag for a few of his unforgettable one-liners.

Professor Richard Newell, former head of the US Energy Information Administration and director of the Duke Energy Initiative, also shared his perspective on international energy use, and it was clear why he is regarded as a world leader on the topic. It was especially interesting to hear Dr. Newell reflect on the difficulties of forecasting. Most people in the energy world will admit it is just about impossible to predict prices. But quantities of energy use are a different matter. According to Dr. Newell, major projections about quantities of energy use have been much more accurate. He closed with a stark view of the energy challenge: the issue in global energy is not about scarce resources – we have plenty of oil, gas and other fuels for the foreseeable future. The limiting factor is whether the environment can handle our use of those resources.

In addition to the great sessions led by Duke faculty, the EIF also hosted a reception featuring David Brewster, CEO of the innovative energy company EnerNOC and Duke alum.  David shared his personal story of EnerNOC’s evolution to operate as a “virtual power plant”, strategically reducing energy use from a portfolio of companies to limit overall peak demand to utilities.  Companies like EnerNOC demonstrate the powerful potential to use cutting edge technology and creative business models to transform our energy system.

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