Via Johnson Graduate School of Management
Even if I didn’t really travel to the future, it doesn’t mean that someone’s not working on it at ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy. The Department of Energy-led initiative advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. ARPA-E awardees are unique because they are developing entirely new ways to generate, store, and use energy. And it’s working: ARPA-E projects have attracted more than $850 million in private-sector follow-on funding after ARPA-E’s investment of approximately $135 million. ARPA-E held its annual, three-day Energy Innovation Summit Feb. 9-11 at the Gaylord National Convention Center, just outside the nation’s bustling capital. Seven Johnson at Cornell University MBA students, the largest contingent from any business school, were fortunate enough to be invited to the summit.
Brian Liberatore and Mauricio Medaets, both MBA ’16, won scholarships for the ARPA-E student program, in which graduate students from all over the nation gathered to collaborate on building the future of energy. Overall, Cornell’s reputation for energy leadership was well-represented at the summit, bolstered by MBA candidates, student entrepreneurs, and a cadre of brilliant researchers.
During the first day, Bill Gates set the tone for the rest of the conference: “We want energy to be carbon-free.” There was a tangible sense of excitement at the conference for the maturation of disruptive technologies such as energy storage and next generation renewables that will be critical in addressing the climate crisis. Ahmad Chatila, CEO of SunEdison, the largest renewables developer in the world, pronounced that “energy storage is the most important thing right now—it will change the world as we know it.” He went on to predict that it will unlock widespread adoption of electric vehicles and intermittent sources of electricity generation such as wind and solar. Indeed, Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, reminded attendees that, of all new electricity generation added to the grid in 2014, solar was the largest, beating out both coal as well as gas. Balancing the idea that technology alone will solve our problems, Alex Laskey, president and founder of Opower, spoke of the importance of feedback loops and behavioral economics in addressing our energy profligacy.
The summit was meaningful to me personally, because it complemented the rich resources I’ve taken advantage of at Johnson. I was recently elected VP of external affairs of the Johnson Energy Club. I met many people at the summit whom I plan on inviting to the club’s annual energy conference, Johnson Energy Connection (JEC for short). One of the other fantastic resources we have at Johnson is the practicum project which is part of the Sustainable Global Enterprise immersion. My team is working with a top renewables developer to shape their strategy around a confidential disruptive technology. I was able to take advantage of the latest research (much of it yet unpublished) on the technology which will help us to deliver valuable insights our client will actually be able to act on.
Despite the intractable problems before us, it was difficult to leave the summit without a sense of awe and hope for our future. Johnson has enabled me to do more than simply witness the clean tech revolution; I feel like a key player in driving its destiny. Welcome to the future.