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E3 - Initial Reactions

The University of Minnesota's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment recently hosted its 6th annual E3 conference. This was a big event, and in the coming weeks I will make a number of specific posts about E3, but to start off I would like to share some personal reactions:

  • E3 is Big - I know I already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. Approximately 750 people attended E3, and as they all sat in the large dining room of the RiverCentre, watching our internationally esteemed keynote speaker present on two giant projection screens, I couldn't help but think "wow, this is a big deal." It was only a few years ago that we faced the up-hill battle of just acknowledging that our energy system and environment are facing challenges. Yet, here we are, hot off of the heels of a major energy and environment conference that drew major figures from academia, industry, law, financing, and public policy. A friend of mine joked that we may soon hear that "the environment is a conspiracy by the man," and E3's keynote speaker, Dr. Lawrence Kazmerski, noted that the conference's size vindicated the work and concerns that he has built his career around. The environment is no longer a fringe subject, and I for one am relieved.
  • E3 is Complicated - Size breeds complexity, and spending just a bit of time on the E3 floor allowed me to witness the complexity of the current environmental discussion. Can we develop sustainable ethanol and bio-polymer technologies? How much should we rely on biomass energy production? How will society respond to a shift from the oligarchy of the petroleum-based market to the distributed, farmer-centric market of biofuels? Underlying all of this is an assumption that society needs to greatly improve our agricultural output. I was glad to see a large audience, because we are going to need a lot of people sort this all out.
  • Power Outages - The most poignant statement of the day was ultimately outside the influence of E3's speakers or planners. A power outage affecting the downtown St. Paul block around the RiverCentre struck just as Dr. Kazmerski began his keynote address, causing delays and rescheduling throughout the day. Xcel Energy was able to restore the power quickly, but by then everybody in attendance was already considering the irony of losing power at a conference about energy. Highlighting the elephant in the room, when Dr. Kazmerski was finally able to give his presentation he took a moment to talk about another source of complexity - we need investment in our energy distribution infrastructure.

The E3 website, which will soon include videos and recaps, can be found here.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
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