Energy challenges discussed at recent conference

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Energy leaders from around the country took part in the second annual Energy Days conference on May 22 to 23 at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center. The group sought to identify and address the energy challenges facing our society.

“This year our goal for Energy Days was to organize working groups around key impacts and outcomes that leverage the extraordinary capability of Penn State with our partners in industry, government and civic society to benefit our Commonwealth and our nation,” said Tom Richard, director of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment and professor of agricultural and biological engineering in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “The plans that came out of our working groups provide a roadmap for how and where we need to go — from basic research and innovation to policy, education and engagement. We look forward to working with these groups over the coming months to achieve a range of exciting goals.”

Penn State President Eric Barron addressed the conference attendees, discussing energy in Pennsylvania and how Penn State is focusing on energy security and continuing our pursuit of becoming the energy university.

Barron noted that Penn State already has an incredible foundation to build upon, as the University has emerged as a leader in five key categories: policy and regulation, fossil fuels, renewables, efficiency and environmental issues. Moving forward, Penn State is working to launch several centers and institutes, focusing on five related areas: energy policy; communication about science and society; fossil fuels and advanced technologies; efficient and effective use of energy; and a think tank, tentatively named the Keystone Institute.

"The Keystone Institute at Penn State will bring breadth and depth to many issues, including energy and food and water security, due to the range of talent and expertise of our faculty," said Barron.

Additionally, Energy Days featured speakers from industry, government and academia, in-depth workshops, a poster session and tours of Penn State energy research facilities.

On Monday evening, Provost Nicholas Jones welcomed attendees and introduced keynote speaker Bill Ritter Jr., former governor of Colorado. Ritter, who now runs the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, discussed how society is going through an energy transition that focuses on cleaner and renewable energy. He said that the transition is finding bipartisan support throughout state and local governments, and it is those entities as well as corporations that are leading the way. Ritter added that this energy transition not only positively impacts the environment and economy, but it also impacts international social justice, from subsistence farming in fragile ecosystems to rising ocean levels that threaten populated regions.

Tuesday morning opened with a welcome from both Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey and Richard, who emphasized the United States' need for abundant, affordable, clean energy. Andrew Ott, the president and CEO of PJM, spoke about the challenges of running the largest power grid in North America, including resilience and security. He also discussed the challenges and benefits of renewable energy.

At lunchtime, Denise Brinley, senior energy adviser for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), discussed the Commonwealth’s abundance of energy and how to best handle it. She explained that it makes sense for the DCED to attend an energy conference because energy is the lifeblood of an economy. Pennsylvania is sitting on the third-largest natural gas basin in the world, behind Russia and Qatar, according to Brinley. However, Pennsylvania is largely looked at as an exporter, not a manufacturer in this field. Brinley discussed the economic opportunities that natural gas offers Pennsylvania.

A panel discussion moderated by Karen Thole, department head of mechanical and nuclear engineering at Penn State, closed out Energy Days as participants discussed the future of energy. The panelists included Chéri Faso Olf, head of workforce strategy for Tesla, Inc.; Scott Foster, director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Sustainable Energy Division; Thomas Foust, director of the National Bioenergy Center, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and Hari Osofsky, incoming dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs.

The panel discussed a wide range of topics, including the need to pursue all forms of energy for the foreseeable future, corporations changing business models from what is to what could be, and the role of higher education to provide substantive interdisciplinary research. Foster pointed out that energy is the “golden thread” that connects the sustainable development agenda, while all four panelists emphasized the importance of cultivating the engineers and policymakers of the future and continuing research on technologies such as energy storage, transmission and distribution.

The poster session featured the work of undergraduate and graduate students as well as researchers from various colleges and departments across the University. There were approximately 60 posters on topics including water, energy storage, combustion and renewables.

Next year’s Energy Days conference is set for May 30-31, 2018, at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.

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Last Updated June 29, 2017