More than two dozen experts on energy from a number of fields met this morning at the Washington Ideas Forum met to discuss on-record the future of a sustainable energy state.
Listen to the session here:
Dennis Avery, Director, Hudson Institute Center on Global Food Issues
Kaid Benfield, Director, Smart-Growth Program, Natural Resources Defense Council
Aron Cramer, Chief Executive Officer, Businesses for Social Responsibility
James Farrar, Sustainability Blogger, ZDNet
Karl Gawell, Executive Director, Geothermal Energy Association
Katherine Hamilton, President, GridWise Alliance
Karen Harbert, President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute for 21st Century Energy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Ralph Izzo, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated
Mitch Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Affairs & Sustainability, FedEx Corporation
Jon Johnson, Co-Director of the Sustainability Consortium, Walton College Professor of Sustainability in the Sam M.Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas
Thomas R. Kuhn, President, Edison Electric Institute
Janet Larsen, Director of Research, Earth Policy Institute
H. Jeffrey Leonard, President and Chief Executive Officer, Global Environment Fund
Marlo Lewis, Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Arun Majumdar, Director, Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, United States Department of Energy
Joel Makower, Executive Editor, GreenBiz
Edward Markey, Chairman, Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, United States House of Representatives
Kathleen McGinty, Founding Partner, Peregrine Technology Partners LLC
Jim Rogers, President and Chief Executive Officer, Duke Energy
Ted Roosevelt IV, Managing Director and Chairman, Barclays Capital Cleantech Initiative, Barclays Capital
Patrick Serfass, Vice President, Technology and Communications, National Hydrogen Association
Philip R. Sharp, President, Resources for the Future
Michael Shellenberger, President, The Breakthrough Institute
Deborah L. Wince-Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer, Council on Competitiveness
The discussion on energy began with participants outlining the key aspects of a hypothetical sustainable energy state. According to participants, even the most basic sustainable resource use must work continually toward improving public health and the quality of life, and does so through means which are both politically practical and economically fair.
Getting there will take a multi-faceted approach that incorporates technology, commerce, and policy in an approach that should apply not only to the extraction and production of energy resources but to its distribution, storage, and use. Any sustainable-energy initiative should focus on research and development of smart technologies to accomplish its goals.
While some participants had lofty ideals for energy reform efforts, others expressed concern over "utopian" expectations of what "sustainability" means and noted that the very term "sustainable energy state" could be problematic.
Despite loose agreement on the look of a sustainable energy future, panelists disagreed on questions of policy, though all acknowledged the need to "change the policy paradigm." Consensus was lost between vision and implementation.
A number of long-term policy suggestions rose to the top of the conversation. One, that sustainability requires more aggressive development and investment in smart technologies. Two, that the country must lessen its dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil. Finally, replacing these nonrenewable sources with more sustainable alternative compels the switch to the "pipes and wires" of natural gas and electrical energy.
Participants introduced some specific policy steps, including setting a price floor for natural gas, incorporating an energy or carbon tax into a deficit package, and increasing use of solar and wind energy will move us toward our sustainable future.
This debate led to a discussion of China's energy use and related technologies. While participants could not come to any actionable conclusions, they agreed that any effective policies have been limited by a "fear" of China.
Five Big Ideas from our Energy and Sustainability Experts:
1. Current energy use is untenable, and reform is essential.
2. A sustainable energy state is unrealistic unless it improves our quality of life, particularly with an eye to public health.
3. A utopian attitude toward technological, environmental, and economic capabilities will do more harm than good in the pursuit of sustainability.
4. A realistic sustainable energy state will only come out of a multilateral approach: technology, the economy, policy, science, and consumer culture must all be parts of energy reform efforts.
5. An effective "China policy" is an elusive--but essential--part of an integrated energy policy.