Leaders Discuss Energy for Tomorrow

IEEE executive director was part of panel of experts

16 April 2012

More than 400 corporate and political leaders, nongovernmental organizations, academics, and energy experts gathered on 11 April, in New York City, at The New York Times Energy for Tomorrow Conference to discuss the most pressing issues facing the energy sector.

The event featured sessions on how countries around the world are dealing with energy policies, increasing demand for energy, and which technologies—such as solar and biofuels—will be ready and cost-effective for mass-market consumption over the next decade. Among the featured speakers was IEEE executive director, Senior Member Jim Prendergast.

He participated in a panel discussion called “Rub of the Green,” moderated by Clifford Krauss, the energy correspondent for The New York Times. It focused on the environmental impact of energy usage, the smart grid, and more.

The panel included Manuel Camacho Solis, Mexico’s former secretary of urban development and the environment, and former mayor of Mexico City.

“Environmentally, are we facing disaster or is there anything to be positive or hopeful about?” asked Krauss. Solis acknowledged that demand for energy has been rising in Mexico, with more cars and thus more fuel consumption. “There’s not enough attention to public transportation, and we can say that for most [places],” he said, adding that many cities in China face the same problem.

Prendergast offered a different perspective. “I’m always positive,” he said. “From a technology standpoint I think the future looks very bright. I go to China a lot, and I’ve actually been very encouraged by how clean some of the major cities are compared to where they were 10 years ago. I think a lot of that is due to technology and some of these older technologies are being phased out remarkably quickly. We’ve seen some groundbreaking technologies particularly in the areas of solar and wind power.”

“Technology created many of the problems we have, but it’s also going to save us,” he added.

The panel also discussed the smart grid, and whether it will be integrated into people’s lives anytime soon.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Prendergast said. “I’ll paraphrase Steven Chu [U.S. secretary of energy], who said that if Thomas Edison was at this meeting, he’d be blown away by all the technology developments over the last 100 years but he would look at our grid system and say ‘I understand how that works.’ We have a very aged grid system here in the United States and it costs us a lot in terms of efficiency.”

Part of the problem with getting the smart grid up and running is how it has been handled politically, Prendergast explained. Currently, in the United States, the smart grid system is the responsibility of individual states. But recently, the federal government has been holding meetings to coordinate smart grid activities among the states. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than coordination to make the smart grid a reality, according to Prendergast. “We probably have to spend close to a trillion dollars over the course of the next couple decades,” he said.

What else is holding back the smart grid? “We have to [develop] global standards,” Prendergast said. “[IEEE] is working with international standards authorities, such as those in China, India, and Singapore, and all of them are working diligently.” Learn more about IEEE’s work on smart grid standards in our article, “Smart Standards for the Smart Grid.”

How do you feel about the future of energy and the smart grid? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Photo: iStockphoto

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