Thank you to the German American Chamber of Commerce, Colorado (GACCCO), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and their partners for presenting the “Advanced Energy Symposium” this past Wednesday. An informative tour of NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility kicked off the event: as an energy wonk (okay, perhaps “geek” is more appropriate in this context), I’m always thrilled to see the places where cutting-edge research is taking place. At NREL, it is even more encouraging to see the places where the research steps through basic research, applied R&D, scale up, and integration—hand-in-hand with business partners and other entities committed to bringing new technologies to market.
I’ve taken my fair share of NREL tours. This one was particularly inspiring because we were seeing the locale of cutting edge breakthroughs—as well as experiencing the “living laboratory” nature of NREL, in which the final products are put to use in the campus itself—side-by-side with counterparts from German-speaking countries. That’s significant, because Germany often leads the way in both cutting edge energy research and advance energy technology deployment. To say that the group—German and American—inspired a bit of awe and humility is an understatement.
After the tour, we had a chance to chat with the international group over lunch, and then settle in for panels on the current state of advanced energy, the relationships between markets, businesses, and governments, and where these technologies may be headed. The mix of German and Colorado/US presenters made for interesting contrasts.
For example, several of the German presenters incorporated the topic of heat energy use matter-of-factly into their presentations. In particular, Ursel Luensmann-Pielke, Senior Consultant, Coordination Centre for Climate Issues, Hamburg Ministry of Environment and Energy, shared a pie chart of the breakdown of Hamburg’s energy use: by electricity, transportation, and heating, rather than the typical US view of industrial, commercial, residential, and transportation—the breakdown used in essence by all of the US presenters. This US default tends to mask the significance of heat energy use on our economy. And, while I enjoy digging into power analyses as much as any energy geek—and appreciate the fact that power generation is by far the greatest GHG producer in the US, and thus deserves prioritization—I also am keenly aware of the significant role heat energy use plays in Colorado’s economy, having produced the same graph for Colorado several years ago that Ms. Luensmann-Pielke produced for Hamburg (see above, and how this work fed into the Colorado Solar Thermal Roadmap).
This striking difference in perspectives on energy consumption made for valuable conversations during and after the panels. However, the real take away from this event is the need for and power of international collaboration. When asked when the right time is to stop sharing information—to protect intellectual property—Uwe Rau, Director, Institute for Energy and Climate Research, Jülich Research Center, answered, “As late as possible.” His German and American peers—including Johney Green, Associate Laboratory Director, Mechanical & Thermal Engineering Sciences, NREL and Juan Torres, Associate Laboratory Director, Energy Systems Integration, NREL—agreed.
The keynote speaker, Hans Jörg Neumann, Consul General, Federal Republic of Germany, Los Angeles, and the panelists made this message clear: energy is of of our most important variables in determining quality of life (with water, food and shelter equally in that equation). And, how we get the energy we need to ensure quality of life hugely impacts our environment. The health of our environment, in turn, determines our ability to enjoy any quality of life.
The fastest, surest means of getting to solutions that will help us ensure the health of our environment while delivering the energy we need for a high quality of life is collaboration. The challenges are enormous; there is plenty of work and opportunity for everyone. And sharing new ideas and lessons learned up front will speed us on the journey. That was a perspective that everyone in this international gathering shared.