10 Big Changes In Energy Since The 2013 MIT Energy Conference

MITEI’s Director Bob Armstrong writes about some of the big changes in the energy sector over the past year and connects those to themes in the 2014 MIT Energy Conference.

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Robert Armstrong, MIT Energy Initiative

Professor Robert C. Armstrong, Director of the MIT Energy Initiative MITEI’s research, education, campus energy, and outreach programs are spearheaded by Professor Robert C. Armstrong, director. Photo: Webb Chappell

Around MIT, we’re used to “drinking from a fire hose,” but the pace of change can still be dizzying—particularly for those of us involved in energy. Less than 12 months ago, the MIT Energy Club hosted its premier event, the MIT Energy Conference, and in that time, a great deal has changed.

As students prepare for the 2014 MIT Energy Conference, we thought we’d compile a few of the big changes in the energy sector we’ve seen over the past year and connect those to themes in the upcoming Conference. We hope you’ll share your own top energy stories in the comments, on Twitter, and during the Conference on February 21st and 22nd.

1. Moniz Appointed To Head DOE  

Just hours after the 2013 Conference closed, the campus celebrated the nomination of MIT’s Ernest Moniz, Director of the MIT Energy Initiative, as Secretary of Energy. In his first speech after being sworn in, Moniz pledged that energy efficiency would be “a big focus going forward.”

2. Natural Gas Sees Price Pressure

After reaching historic lows in 2012, natural gas prices were bound to rise. The question was, “How much?” In late January, we got an answer as gas prices surged over $5 per 1,000 cubic feet. Past years’ low prices created more demand for gas, and this year’s frigid winter has sent prices soaring. These fluctuations are bound to be a big topic of discussion during the February 22 session on the Natural Gas Boom.

3. Bakken Oil Production Nears 1 Million Barrels/Day

The North Dakota oil boom was big news this year, sparking a National Geographic cover story and many more on the rapid rise in U.S. oil production through hydraulic fracturing. In November, North Dakota’s oil production fell just shy of the 1 million barrels per day mark. Look for discussion on the U.S.’s expanded oil production in the Power of Energy panel.

4. Solar Soars

Wall Street warmed up to the solar industry in 2013, sending SunPower and SolarCity shares rocketing upward. Shares of both companies more than quadrupled year-over-year as both financial conditions and investor confidence in the sector improved. And, for the first time, the U.S. installed more solar capacity than Germany did in 2013. SolarCity staff will be on hand for the Expanding the Solar Frontier session on Friday.

5. But Clean Energy Investment Falls

But even with solar’s U.S. success, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that global clean energy investment fell for the second straight year. What will 2014 hold? The Cleantech Finance panel may answer that question.

6. Carbon Pollution Standards Introduced

In September, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its plans to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants in the U.S. The standards will affect both coal- and natural gas-fired generators and could help to turn around Bloomberg’s clean energy investment figures in future years. Saturday’s Policy and Economics of Carbon session will explore new models for limiting emissions.

7. Telsa Gives EVs A Jolt

After a rocky review in the New York Times, Tesla gave the electric vehicles sector some much-needed momentum when it was given Consumer Reports’ highest rating ever in May. That news coupled with surging consumer demand has sent the company’s stock soaring. Can biofuels catch up? The auto industry will weigh in during a Friday afternoon panel.

8. Google Buys Into Home Energy

A few years ago, Google attempted to break into the energy space with its now-defunct PowerMeter project. But with the $3.2 billion acquisition of smart thermostat maker Nest, the search giant again seems serious about understanding home energy use. Friday’s Intelligent Efficiency panel will survey the efficiency competition in the new market for smarter energy use.

9. Nuclear Rekindles Debate

The role of nuclear power has long been a subject of debate in academic circles, but in 2013, this energy source got its Hollywood moment with the documentary “Pandora’s Promise.” In the wake of Fukushima, the film may give some of my colleagues in Nuclear Science and Engineering the boost they need to bring their technologies to the marketplace. At the Conference, you’ll hear about what’s moving from the Lab to Market, and how nuclear can compete (or cooperate) with renewable energy.

10. The Rise of Energy “Yield Cos”

NRG’s David Crane was one of last year’s keynote speakers. In 2013, his firm launched NRG Yield, Inc., a so-called “yield co,” a publicly-traded company formed to own operating assets that produce cash flow (like power plants) and distribute that cash to investors as dividends. Yield cos can reduce the cost of capital for energy projects, and if NRG Yield’s performance is any indication, they may be the next way to finance new generation. To see what other revolutionary ideas are on tap during this year’s Conference, a full list of this year’s keynote spearks is available here.

You’ll hear about these stories and much more at the 2014 MIT Energy Conference. For more information about the Conference or to register, please visit: http://mitenergyconference.org.