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November 2009 Archives

Video from E3 keynote and super panel

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Archived video is now available from the E3 2009 keynote and super panel. Check out Larry Kazmerski's overview of the latest advances in solar photovoltaics and a thought-provoking debate among leaders from Monsanto, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Corn Growers Association, Natural Resources Canada and the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.

Pictured: Larry Kazmerski, executive director, science and technology partnerships, NREL

Snapshots from E3 2009...

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Students from the University of Minnesota's Solar Vehicle Project


Lunchtime Super Panel discussion


Morning welcome from IREE Director Dick Hemmingsen

Photos by Sarah Karnas

Thanks for making E3 2009 a success!

More than 750 energy experts and enthusiasts gathered at the Saint Paul RiverCentre for E3 2009... and, except for a brief power outage (ironic, yes:), the event went off without a hitch. Thanks to all of our sponsors, attendees, speakers, exhibitors and volunteers for making E3 2009 the best conference yet. Check out the archives on this blog for notes from throughout the day, and stay tuned to the conference Web site for video recaps.

James Grimm of KidWind, flanked by colleague Amy Thurlo, demonstrates to me the "Kidwind Energy Education Turbine."

Teachers can use this device, along with curriculum materials, to instruct kids about generating energy, how much energy different devices use, and even how to design an efficient wind turbine.

KidWind was one of the many exhibitors at the E3 Midwest Energy Conference 2009.

[Note: My first ever video blog -- a learning experience. - Emily]
The "will they or won't they" sign-an-agreement theme that has so far defined the framing of December's international climate treaty talks is evaporating.  In just the past few days, several world leaders -- including President Obama -- have stated emphatically that no final treaty would come out of this round of negotiations. 

Instead, they are now floating the notion of a "two stages, one agreement" process that would result in a final treaty in late 2010.

With this easy story hook no longer available to journalists, I asked two climate policy experts, presenters here at today's E3 Midwest energy conference, how they would want the media to reorient their coverage of the talks.

J. Drake Hamilton is science policy director of the nonprofit Fresh Energy.

Jonathan Foley is director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.  [Which, full disclosure, publishes the magazine, Momentum, that assigned me to blog and tweet this conference. - Emily]

Okay, so "will they or won't they" is no longer the defining question for journalists covering the climate treaty talks in December.  If you could have your wish for how they would re-position their reporting, what would you ask for?

Hamilton: I'd like them to ask: What actions other developed nations are putting on the table, their 2020 targets?  And developing nations?

What is the official US delegation saying about 2020  [greenhouse gas emissions reductions]  targets? Are they talking about the reductions that are in the Senate bill?

These are the kinds of things the developed countries have had a lot of time to think about.

Foley: And, what China's going to say, too.  Because that will have a lot of repercussions for what we do afterwards.

There have to be targets for our intermediate future; 2020 is perfect.

Hamilton: Because that's when you know this country is serious about turning its engine around. Developing countries are bringing things to the table.

Foley: Brazil is so dominated by hydropower and sugar cane ethanol, they're probably the developing country in the best position in the world.

Hamilton:  [Commitments to greenhouse gas emissions cuts from developing nations] gives ammunition to the US Senate. There will be efforts to weaken that short term target [in the Senate]. If you can say, the developing countries have that target, and they have to be strong --

Foley: And if China and India and Brazil really step up to this. That's the excuse folks [in the US] have used to delay climate legislation.

What about this talk of a two-step treaty process? Is it realistic. Is it likely?

Hamilton: That's fine.  The US role in the treaty is that the [negotiators] will adopt what the Senate passes and the president signs.

Foley: If Copenhagen can provide more assurances that the developing world is going to be on board, and we're not going to be bearing all the costs of this, [then that improves the chances for passage of climate legislation in the US]...

Any other wishes for what journalists will write about during the Copenhagen climate talks in December?

Hamilton: Any signs the media can look for that this is not about the US acting unilaterally.  

We want strong signs from our delegation that we're not an outlier, that we want to be a leader with the intermediate targets [for emissions reductions] and the climate assistance to developing nations. That we want to be on board with the rest of the world.
[Note: These are my rough notes of the Super Panel session at E3.  I will edit them down a bit and update this post accordingly. - Emily]

Moderator Jonathan Foley: 

The question today is, how are we going to supply sustainable food, energy, fiber, and fresh water to the Earth's growing population?

Recognize immediately that modern agriculture has been a huge success, thx mostly to ideas like the GR, we're able to feed 6 billion fairly economically well.



Increasing demand: 75m a yr added to pop
Changing diet: eating more meat and dairy
Changes uses: Feedstocks for biofuel.

Possible tripling of agriculture demand by 2050.


Enviro downsides to producing so much food -- water quantity and water quality; area, land, displaced wildlife; deforestation from ag; N and phosphorous pollution.


Want agriculture to contribute carbon-beneficial, truly sustainable solutions to climate problems.

What do you think of these lists of issues, what are the main drivers of future of ag?

Doane (Monsanto): Clearly the driver is increasing demand for ag.  W/o that, this conversation would be a lot easier.  Impt to think about, since agriculture was started (and agriculture is an intrusion into the env), working at that process for abt 10K yrs, will need to produce more food in next 40 yrs, than in whole history of ag.

How to fulfill?  Not fulfilling is an unacceptable outcome.

Greene (Natural Resources Defense Council):  Increasing demand clearly a huge factor, but the challenge is more complex.  Multiple demands for not just trad commodity products, but also services.  Need to shift our agriculture from one where it's as a rule trying to minimize damages to env, to providing some benefit.  It is a human activity, won't provide as robust a set of ecosystem services as a grassland, but if we just meet demand and try to minimize impact, that won't be enuf.

How do you do that and have farmers in US, x dev world, and espc in dev wld, make a living at it?  Not just on the commodities side, but on the services side?

That's the biggest question.

Stringer (Petroleum Resources, Natural Resources Canada): Society is becoming more cognizant of agriculture issues.  As they spend more time on it, links to broader issues may change behavior w/effect on ag, partic water issues.  Changing climate conditions could have potentially enormous effect.

Tolman (National Corn Growers Association): All these demands v. impt.  Danger is which to emphasize over which period of time.  Pop growth, food shortages, ppl starving, even as there's an obesity problem [elsewhere].

The way we're going to feed 9B the same way we feed 6B: Continued innovation
Avg age of US farmer is 58.  Need to bring ppl back to farm, before we lose a whole generation.

Foley:  Let's get back to biofuels.  What do you see as the future of biofuels and ag?  Shiould they be big part of energy system?  Should crops be used as stocks?

(The answers, after the jump...)

Kazmerski Keynote: Live and streaming

Lawrence Kazmerski of NREL has bounced back from the morning's power outage to deliver his keynote while the conference lunches.  

We're livestreaming it at Mediasite right now -- complete with his slides.
Left to right: Rolf Nordstrom, Mike Bull, Bruce Ringrose. Credit: E. Gertz

The question at this panel, playing to a room of at least a few hundred of today's E3 attendees, is how low-carbon fuel standards, carbon markets, and greenhouse gas regulations will impact renewable energy production in the upper Midwest?

 Rolf Nordstrom, of the Great Plains Insititute sees impending carbon regulations as the "starting gun" -- with markets hopefully following as an incentive.  He sees a low-carbon standards as a useful policy tool, but by itself easily overwhelmed if vehicle miles driven increase.

Putting a price on carbon will lead to more renewable energy, no question, he says.

Mike Bull of Xcel Energy says that a) his opinions today are his own, and not those of Xcel, and b) he largely agrees with Rolf.  His sense is that a cap-and-trade market, properly structured, would have the most impact on reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, with least impact on "ratepayers" ("I speak as a utility schmuck now, about ratepayers; others will speak of customers.").

EPA regulation of stationary sources of greenhouse gases will be the most expensive approach, he expects, and promote expansion of "bridge fuels" like natural gas, in place of coal, as opposed to moving to biomass and other renewables, at least in the short run.

Bruce Ringrose is with the Canadian company ClimateCHECK, which is involved in greenhouse gas measurement and control strategies, largely with private interests rather than governments.  In Canada, he says, there is already a cap-and-trade system in place in Alberta; large emitters are regulated to reduce their emissions.  "How they do that gets quite interesting," and is the arena where opportunities for renewables can present themselves, although that's not a given.

Cap is $15 per ton.  So large emitters will look for internal measures to reduce cost.  Then they'll go looking for projects w/in Alberta to buy into as offsets, usually agricultural projects.  This creates a layering effect in the market, as hedgers and brokers into the market.   Without clean technology solutions, how will we acheive any reductions, he asks?

Cap-and-trade will help create green jobs, green investments, and green technologies, says Ringrose.

After the jump, more on the politics of global warming, the quandries of transitioning to renewables, and more. 

It's the most exciting time since the late 1970s for alternative energy technologies, says Larry Kazmerski, who describes that he's been working on photovoltaics in some fashion since he was a graduate student.

Kazmerski is the executive director of science and technology partnerships at the federal National Renewable Energy Laborary (NREL).  Kazmerski's position at NREL involves developing "collaborations among universities and other research organizations nationally and internationally," according to an NREL press release.  His work falls within a broader mission at the lab of getting renewable energy technologies to market.

He opens his keynote by giving the Minneapolis Canadian Consul General, Martin Loken, who just introduced him, a gift of a solar power tie.  It looks like a tie covered with sections of thin-film photovoltaics.  Which would make sense, given Kazmerski's expertise in PV.  It's even in enviro-proper bright green.  

This crowd, of course, is upbeat about solar power humor, and a chuckle has swept across the ballroom. looks like we'll have to wait a bit longer to find out what's up and coming in solar.  The power went out here for about 15 minutes -- power outage at an energy conference, ouch -- and now that it's back, the staff are asking us to clear out of the ballroom so they can set up for lunch.  

E3 attendees are being invited to vote 
on the best research poster presented at the conference. Credit: E. Gertz

Richard "Dick" Hemmingsen, the director of UMinn's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), has just told the still-filling ballroom that there are 750 people at today's E3 conference, and people are still registering.  This is the sixth year of the conference, and apparently this is the biggest turnout ever.

He highlights some of the research funding being channeled through IREE:

  • IREE has channeled around $25 million into hundreds of renewable energy projects and over 450 researchers across the UMinn system; these faculty have brought in an additional $40+ million in funding.
  • This past year the initiative has put $6.3 million into 28 cutting edge research projects, says Hemmingsen, including a number of cutting-edge, "high-risk" projects that received seed funding.  
  • This year it's just closed the application period for the Global Renewable Energy Fellows program, to fund postdoc fellows doing renewable energy and environment research, with an explicit international focus, particularly in developing countries.

Also, a consortium including UMinn professor Larry Wackett has been awarded $2.2 million in funding from the Department of Energy's new ARPA-E program for "direct solar bio-hydrocarbon fuel research." In total, says Hemmingsen, over $12 million in Energy Dept. funding will be "flowing into the University of Minnesota."

There more information on how IREE has distributed its research funding on the project's web site.

Representatives of Big Ag and Big Green will be sitting on the same side of the table tomorrow at the E3 2009 energy, economy and environment conference. With guests like these, the afternoon "Super Panel" may deliver some lively discussion and debate:

Michael Doane, the Monsato Company's director of agricultural economics and sustainability, appears in this brief video detailing the company's position on sustainability:

Nathanael Greene, the director of renewable energy policy for the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council, here discusses how, if not managed carefully, biomass-based energy could actually contribute to global warming:

The Super Panel will also include Kevin Stringer, Director General of petroleum resources at Natural Resources Canada;Rick Tolman, the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association; and moderator Jonathan Foley, the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of the Minnesota.

E3 Preview: NREL's Lawrence Kazmerski

At a bright and early 9:30 am on Tuesday morning, Lawrence Kazmerski of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory will keynote E3 2009, talking about the latest in solar energy technologies. Kazmerski joined NREL in 1977 as the agency's first photovoltaics staffer. 

(By the way, the three Es stand for energy, economy and environment.)

If you can't be at the conference, here's a glimpse at his enthusiasm and expertise for solar energy solutions to world energy demand, from a 2007 talk at Vanderbilt University:

Live-blogging from E3 2009

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How do we provide sustainable fuel, food, fiber and freshwater to a global population of 9 billion people in our lifetime? That's one of more than 15 urgent questions we'll explore during E3 2009, taking place this Tuesday, Nov. 17, in St. Paul, Minn.

For this year's conference, we've invited Emily Gertz, an environmental journalist, blogger and digital strategist, to provide live coverage of the E3 keynote presentation, lunchtime panel discussion and breakout sessions on the IonEvents blog. To get highlights from the conference in 140 characters or less, you can also follow Emily on Twitter.

Welcome to IonEvents!

The Institute on the Environment hosts several events throughout the year, including E3: The Midwest's Premier Energy, Economic and Environmental Conference; the Frontiers in the Environment lecture series; and a forthcoming Momentum event series, to launch in spring 2010. Our new IonEvents blog features posts from IonE researchers, staff and guest writers. These contributors will provide exclusive coverage of presentations, panel discussions and workshops before, during and after IonE events. Stay tuned!

  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.

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