Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer regaled an audience of energy club members and guests on Feb. 26 with an informal lecture on economic, technical and regulatory energy challenges facing the US.
Schweitzer’s speech is the latest event on the BU Energy Club’s busy schedule, as the fledgling organization ,headed by engineering grad students, gains membership and plans an increasingly full schedule of events. It also recently hosted a panel at the School of Management’s Symposium day.
“Who among you didn’t use any oil last week?” he asked. “As long as you’re using oil, we have a responsibility to find oil. We want to find ways to use the domestic energy sources we have.”
In his anecdote-sprinkled speech, Schweitzer emphasized that extracting America from dependence on foreign oil will require citizens to both decrease energy use and shift to using local, sustainable energy sources.
Schweitzer also argued that political leaders need to set firm and ambitious goals regarding energy use and development of alternative energy sources. He recalled looking at the night sky as a child to watch Sputnik fly overhead, “which represented a failure of US technology,” a failing later remedied by then President Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon in 10 years.
“During the next 10 years, the ‘Y’ generation either gets it right or the planet fails,” said Schweitzer. “You’re a generation that can solve this, but you have to set goals that are tough.”
When he became governor of Montana, the state produced less electricity from wind than any other state, according to Schweitzer. “Delaware had more wind power than we did, and that’s not even a decent sized ranch in Montana,” he said. Now he plans to increase the state’s wind energy production to 2000 megawatts within the next five years. He has also instated a “20×10 initiative” to reduce energy consumption in state government facilities 20 percent by 2010.
Energy club members attending the talk found Schweitzer’s forward looking views on energy compelling.
“His passion and knowledge of the subject is immense,” said Elijah Ercolino, a graduate student in mechanical engineering. “Effectuating any substantive change in energy policy will take vision, courage and sacrifice. Now is the time for other leaders to step up and answer this challenge –at Boston University, in industry and around the world.”
Sam Booth, an energy club member with an engineering background, now a graduate student at the School of Management said, “He gave a detailed overview of the military problems related to dependence on oil supplies in the Middle east, presented practical technical, as well as policy, solutions, and delivered a powerful call to action to the current generation of students to lead this energy revolution.”
The club also recently hosted a panel discussion at the School of Management Symposium day on Saturday, Feb. 9. The event helped to create links among scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and business people, and foster the club’s mission of examining energy related issues from a multidisciplinary perspective.
“Energy issues touch every government, community, business and individual,” said moderator Nitin Joglekar, associate professor of operations and technology management and energy club advisor representing the School of Management.
The annual Symposium typically includes a variety of business-oriented panel discussions. At this year’s event, the energy club added an energy-themed panel, organized by club members Ercolino (ENG), Angus Shaw (GSM) and Abhishek Kayshap (GSM).
“It’s very exciting to know that technological solutions such as compact fluorescent and LED lighting, virtual grids and efficiency monitoring devices for demand response and control exist today and that these technologies all have less than 18 month return on investment,” said Ercolino.
Panelist Robert Day of venture capital group @ventures said, “This is an area with a lot of critical needs right now and major companies are much more rapidly adopting new technologies in this area.”
“Energy peak demand is increasing by 5 percent a year,” said Gregg Dixon, a senior vice president at EnerNOC, but utilities won’t always be able to keep up. EnerNOC operates a network that remotely controls and allocates energy use of participating businesses in New England at peak times – such as curtailing a ski area’s snow making to provide heat to houses on an extremely cold day.
Decreasing energy use, or finding a renewable source, can also help relieve this heavy burden on available utilities. Andrew Stern, president of New England Wind Power, Inc., described how the town of Hull, Mass. increasingly relies on wind power for its electricity. A wind turbine, installed in 2001 at the town’s high school, provides enough energy for about 250 homes –three percent of Hull’s electricity needs. The $780,000 turbine paid for itself in five years through saved energy costs and government incentives. A second turbine, added in 2006, sits on a landfill, and wind now provides 11 percent of Hull’s electricity. Plans to install four more offshore wind turbines will make Hull entirely reliant on wind-generated electricity in the future.
“It really does excite the community,” said Stern. “Today we have a 95 percent approval rate. With a project like this, it is really the community involvement that counts.”
Pat Sweeney, vice president of business development at Pepco Energy Services, outlined several emerging strategies such as wind and biomass, co-generation – the use of a coupled system to produce heat and energy together, and development of electricity storage methods.
“Sometimes the problem looks so big, we wonder how do we attack this thing?” said Sweeney. “Well, we attack it a little bit at a time. While we’re waiting for the next great energy source, there’s so much we can do.”
For more information about energy club events, please visit the group’s website.