Annual Tufts Energy Conference begins tomorrow

The 10th Annual Tufts Energy Conference (TEC) will kick off tomorrow, Feb. 21, with a number of lectures and discussions on contemporary issues in the energy industry. The goal of the conference is to “bring together experts from the private, public and nonprofit sectors with students and professionals to discuss critical global energy issues,” according to the TEC website.

TEC Content Co-Director Suveer Bahirwani, a student in the urban and environmental policy and planning program, explained that he proposed the theme for this year’s conference, “Breaking Barriers to a Clean Energy Future,” to conference chair Anna McCallie  last summer. McCallie is a second-year student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

McCallie explained that this year’s topic reflects the importance of continuing to explore and develop clean energy solutions despite numerous factors that hinder the pursuit of alternative energy options.

“Energy is so important, and our theme is important every year, but I think this year it’s especially pressing as we’re seeing a little bit more movement from the Obama administration on climate issues, but … the price of oil has been plummeting, which is making renewable energy less appealing,” McCallie said. “So it’s this very interesting mix of things right now, and I think the conference is coming at the perfect time to sort of address, how do we deal with all of these factors and move towards a clean-energy future?”

Registration for the event will begin at 8:30 a.m., followed by an opening address by University President Anthony Monaco at 9:40 a.m. and a keynote address by Ian Bowles, former secretary of energy of the state of Massachusetts, at 10:00 a.m. Unlike past years, the conference will take place over the course of one day instead of two days since the second day has historically seen lower attendance, McCallie explained.

The event will also feature seven panels with various industry experts on topics including “The Natural Gas Boom,” “The Future of Nuclear Energy” and “Entrepreneurship in Energy Settings,” as well as a final keynote at 5:15 p.m. by Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison, a solar energy firm.

“[We] just wanted to cover a wide range of things, make sure that people had some new and exciting panels and … then we have a panel on the debate over whether to put a price or a tax on carbon, which is a debate that’s been running for dozens of years, probably,” McCallie said. “We wanted to make sure we were addressing things that were relevant for a long time as well as things that are just now becoming relevant.”

This year, the panels will be hosted by industry professionals rather than academics, according to Bahirwani.

“This year we changed it up,” he said. “We didn’t want to have moderators from academia. We wanted professionals who would ask some pretty hard questions of the panelists and just sort of change it up a little bit.”

McCallie explained that the conference will also determine the winner of the 2015 Tufts Energy Conference Competition, which has partnered this year with Tufts $100K New Ventures Competition.

The competition was initially open to all students, and its judges have now selected three finalists who will give presentations on their proposed projects at the conference and answer audience questions, according to McCallie. She added that the audience will then determine the winner, who will receive a $3,000 prize.

McCallie said that high-level planning for the event began directly after the conference last year. Discussions continued to be held during the summer and a full team of almost 40 students from across Tufts began planning in September. The event is entirely student-run and student-organized, Bahirwani noted.

TEC offers some unique opportunities for students to learn more about relevant issues in energy today and interact directly with industry experts, according to McCallie.

“I think every year we just want people to have the opportunity to ask some really pressing questions,” she said. “One of the great things about TEC, as compared to maybe some other conferences at other schools, is that TEC … feels really intimate, like you have the opportunity to really get up close and personal with the panelists and ask them good questions and network with them. And so from a student perspective, that’s really helpful.”

Bahirwani added that he hopes conference-goers are able to take a lot away from this year’s conference.

“I’d say, education, motivation and connections [are the] three things that we hope conference-goers will get out of the Tufts Energy Conference this year, and some amazing debate on some of the key issues in energy as of today,” he said.

Tickets to the conference are $10 for students, according to the TEC website.