Johnson Energy Connection:
Alumni share their knowledge, experience, and expertise regarding various facets of the energy industry.
More than 20 alumni from across the country gathered in Sage Hall to deliver short, TED-style presentations focused on energy innovation as part of the fourth annual Johnson Energy Connection, held Sept. 27 and 28. The annual event is hosted by Johnson's Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise in collaboration with the Energy Club, Sustainable Global Enterprise Club, Career Management Center, and Alumni Affairs and Development, and sponsored by Chevron and Emerson.
Exceptional leadership and recognition of the need to continually innovate characterize the Johnson and Cornell alumni who spoke at this year's event. The event included a group lunch, a networking reception, and company office hours, which provided opportunities for students to speak to alumni on a one-to-one basis.
In addition to the Q&A sessions following each presentation, several talks at the event became interactive conversations during which speakers felt free to reference and complement each other's presentations. Following are brief descriptions of just a few of the event's presentations.
Foodwaste: a Terrible Thing to Waste. Paul Sellew '80, founder and CEO of Harvest Power, discussed the energy potential behind food waste. He founded Harvest Power in 2008 in response to the high level of food waste being thrown into landfills; now he owns several facilities that repurpose food waste and add real value to food byproducts by producing biogas. His agricultural background gave him a solid foundation to tackle issues related to food waste, including founding the first commercial-scale organic recycling facility.
For Sellew, biogas is the ideal form of energy: It's "local, affordable, transportable, and available whenever we need it," he said. As organic energy sources get more press, Sellew is looking to make garbage sorting an everyday standard to facilitate biogas production. He hopes that one day, separating our compostable garbage will become as natural as separating paper from plastic.
How to Save $1+ Trillion, Annually. David Johnson '89, MBA '90, president and CEO of Achates Power, Inc., has been developing a cleaner and more cost-efficient engine to help manage fossil fuel consumption. His lower-cost solutions mean that "you don't have to convince anybody to spend more money" â€“ an implied contrast to expensive electric fuel cells, for instance. While Johnson's talk was titled "How to save $1+ trillion dollars," his updated math showed that his improved engines have a potential economic savings of $2 trillion dollars.
Johnson's strategy is to start with replacing truck engines: While trucks make up only five percent of all vehicles, they consume 25 percent of all fuel. According to Johnson, tackling trucks might be easier than it seems, since only ten major companies make 70 percent of trucks in the world. Because seven of these work primarily in markets with unregulated emissions, Johnson sees his approach to improving engine efficiency as an opportunity to have a tangible impact on fossil fuel consumption around the world. Automobile companies "are always and forever updating their technologies," Johnson says, claiming that the technological improvements he's proposing fall within a lot of companies' budgets.
Power Market Fundamentals. Hilary Lashley Renison '05, MEng '07, MBA '09, lead consultant at GE Energy Consulting, gave an overview of how power markets work, outlining the various stakeholders, their objectives, and what it takes to assure energy reliability at cost-effective price points. She discussed the daily, weekly, and yearly demand profiles for energy, and explained how operators minimize cost by combining these demand profiles with the economics of how energy is produced. She finished her talk with an open Q&A session and a discussion of the kinds of contracts energy providers and power operators make.
The Future of US Solar PV: Has the Industry Finally Turned a Corner? Nupur Pande, MBA '11, director of commercial operations and strategy for Yingli Green Energy Americas, the largest solar module supplier in the world, was optimistic about the future of the solar photovoltaic industry. Declining installation prices, decreasing module costs, and ever-increasing demand since 2008 have created a more viable market and lots of opportunity for solar energy.
Pande pointed out two major challenges facing the solar photovoltaic industry: financing and supply provision. While "new financing strategies are driving down the cost of capital," the industry is insecure in the short run because of ongoing consolidation in the industry. Furthermore, US-China trade wars are "holding the photovoltaic market hostage; we have no control over our supply chain" as a result of different tariffs and policies that both governments have recently put in place. Right now, solar's goals are "going towards lower and lower costs, which is good for consumers" and is a sign of healthy development in the industry.
A Cool Idea: LNG & the Outlook on Energy. Bill Davis, MBA '99, vice president of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Market Development for ExxonMobil Gas & Power Marketing Company, discussed the outlook for liquid natural gas and its impact on energy. With an expected 65 percent increase in energy demands in the developing world by 2040, and expected stabilization from simultaneously increased consumption and efficiency in the developed world, Davis spoke in favor of liquid natural gas as a newer form of energy that is overcoming distance and infrastructural barriers.
Davis equated the process of liquefying natural gas to compressing a gallon of milk into a single teaspoon. He also spoke favorably about investment in liquefaction plants, which, despite relatively high startup costs, last a long time and facilitate energy transportation. This is helping to make LNG an increasingly viable solution for global energy demand, and, with existing export terminals largely in equatorial nations, is having a positive impact on international economic development.
Energy Storage- Hype or the Holy Grail? Kate McGinnis, MBA '07, business development advisor for Chevron Technology Ventures, discussed her work in energy storage, including new ideas regarding electrochemical, mechanical, and thermal technologies. She stressed that in order to really move forward and bring storage technology into a more mainstream role, it is imperative to find solutions that address cost, regulatory challenges, and safety to achieve grid-scale energy storage. So is energy storage, in fact, the holy grail? "Yes and no," McGinnis said. "Batteries can be a helpful tool... but there are a lot of different technologies that could provide some of the same services; it's not one single solution."
Why the Environment Matters in Finance: A Case Analysis. Tai Pimputkar, MBA '05, vice president of energy credit, Royal Bank of Scotland, described work she has done in financing specific power projects, including navigating through environmental permits and complications, noting how much attention these demand. For example, permits may be challenged or revoked during construction. Other problems involve operational issues, or regulations that are challenged in court. Despite the risks that go into financing a project, Pimputkar notes, "if you have a strong sponsor and you know what you're getting into ahead of time, things don't have to go badly â€¦ and you don't have to sit on pins and needles waiting."
Understand Utility Costs to Make Better Investment Decisions. Jim Bride, MBA '08, president of Energy Tariff Experts, emphasized the importance of putting the renewable energy problem into concrete terms that everyone can understand. "Looking at utility rates is a good place to start to understand energy," Bride says. Highly variable gas and electricity rates can make this a complex task. The market is further complicated because each state has different regulations and types of charges. Energy Tariff Experts does feasibility studies that look at various cost drivers and issues present in renewable energy projects, and offers customer-specific consulting.
Climate Revelations and Solutions. Dan Miller '78 spoke about climate change, energy, and his work as managing director of the Roda Group, a seed-stage venture capital company. He emphasized the critical nature of climate change: "Climate change is your issue if you are in energy, or if you are a human being. You are interested in climate change because it is real and it is happening now," Miller warned. Everyone would like to continue the status quo, but that is not an option available to us because evidence of climate change are undeniable, and can no longer be viewed as "standard deviation." Miller suggested several policy solutions designed to move towards carbon-free energy generation.
Patrick Braga and Da-Eun Lee are interns in Marketing and Communications at Johnson.