Savannah International Clean Energy Conference: The 7 Take-Aways

Why not just publish the take-aways for the conference rather than a three-part summary of the event? We thought the notes were too important to omit AND the take-aways greatly benefit from the context provided by the two earlier summaries. So, here are the big ideas…

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You can find our first page of notes here and our 2nd page of notes here.

The seven take-aways we recorded were recurring themes – those topics that came up in multiple panel discussions and in the offline discussions during the networking and break periods. We think they can be ranked in this order:

7. America Doesn’t Need to Re-Invent the Wheel
Representatives from other countries made it clear that America should compliment its own tech sector development by always watching the horizon. There are many countries and companies outside the US who have become leaders in innovation. They offer valuable lessons that will save us huge amounts of time and expense – if those lessons can be successfully incorporated into our markets.

Patrick Sendolo, Minister of Lands, Mines & Energy for the Republic of Liberia, spoke eloquently about the opportunities in developing nations. The opportunity to develop and test technologies and systems on a much smaller scale in a developing nation may greatly reduce the cost of bringing that same technology or system to American markets.

There are many opportunities for modular development and decentralized power generation that are encouraged by the government and other private companies – mining companies in need of power generation are an excellent example.

6. Creative, Free-Market Financing
Many of the discussions about investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources included discussion about free-market solutions for companies and citizens. Bondsfor home energy upgrades issued by private banks, investments in corporate energy upgrades and other leadership opportunities abound for private investors who realize the US federal government regulations are confusing and everchanging.

Designing a simple and consistent program for citizens and companies will encourage the private sector to fund its own improvements. That’s a much better solution than giving away tax-payer money for grants or asking participants to identify and complete the paperwork for various programs in different government agencies.

5. Energy Storage
There were a number of creative energy storage solutions described – it’s fun to learn about them because most are elegant in their simplicity and required some break-through to get them working effectively. It seemed everyone acknowledged the potential of energy storage devices to greatly increase the efficiency and stability of our power grids.

4. Efficiency through Information Technology (IT)
It was surprising how many panelists reporting investing in companies that began with one business plan, evolved to another business plan and then settled on some sort of data collection service. Collecting data and presenting it in a way that allows us to forecast or see the real-time results of our decisions will help us find the best solutions and make the best use of available funds.

Devices can collect data to recognize trends and then optimize their performance based on typical use, even if they’re not networked. The idea is a bit like setting your routine in your programmable thermostat, except now the device would figure it out by itself. For example, your refrigerator would notice that its door is rarely opened from midnight until 6am so it could adjust its power consumption accordingly.

The potential for additional efficiency in transportation through information technology is tremendous. Especially when the technologies within a system are complimentary rather than competing. For example, you could get updates about alternative transportation methods, route updates, locations of people you’re going to meet, etc. so you can make better decisions.

3. Corporate Investment
It seems corporate investment is key to the development of emerging technologies. The venture capitalists have realized that an initial business plan that relies on government subsidies is not acceptable. It’s much more effective for start-ups to develop a product or service that’s coincident with the needs of a large corporation.

A large corporation may invest in a smaller company just because they want to buy the good or service produced. The scale of large corporate budgets is often many times greater than the investment a start-up would get from a venture capitalist. The larger budget of a corporation helps the corporation take a much longer-term view of the investment – the corporation may stay with a start-up through delays and other problems that would cause smaller investors to exit.

Corporations investing in emerging technologies have an opportunity to adjust their business plan as the technologies develop. They can identify disruptive technologies early and plan for them rather than having to react to a new product or service.

2. Carbon Tax (vs. Carbon Cap-and-Trade)
The implementation of a carbon tax seemed to be a foregone conclusion to many – one of the speakers refered to a recent Washington Post editorial about a carbon tax just to raise revenue to pay for federal debt. The offline debate about the issue, assuming some controls would be implemented by the newly re-elected Obama administration, was rather carbon should be taxed by the government or traded as a commodity in the free market.

1. United States Energy Policy
In the “Government Subsidies and Incentives” panel discussion, Phyllis Cuttino, Director of the Pew Clean Energy Program, noted that the US federal government has an energy policy – it’s evident in the federal subsidies used to overcome barriers in the market. Her comment wasn’t a defense of the current state – rather, it was an indictment of how confusing and fluid the current tactics have become.  As an example, she noted the US tax code doesn’t recognize wind and solar as renewable resources.

It was clear through-out the conference that the lack of a federal energy policy severely hampers planning, development and investment in the technologies that would give the United States diverse sources of energy – which would also give the United States energy security and keep huge amounts of money spent on energy in the US economy.

The lack of leadership from the US federal government affects everything from air pollution to the stability of our power grids. Tax credits renewed every two years are an excellent example of behavior that prevents us from making any long-term plans or operating on a “level playing field”. We must have leadership from Washington to create a coherent energy policy.

In Conclusion
Congratulations to planners and sponsors of the Savannah International Clean Energy Conference. It was a great success, from the venue to the speakers to the constant fellowship and networking! We look forward to following-up with the many people we met and hope to attend the next conference.

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