On Tuesday, June 2, New England Economic Partnership, The Massachusetts Business Roundtable, and the Brandeis International Business School held a conference at the Boston Federal Reserve titled “Building the Backbone of Energy Efficiency.” The event featured public and private energy leaders speaking on a variety of topics, from infrastructure to regional and national regulations. A panel titled “Technology, Innovation and Sustainability: Developing and Funding Our Energy Future” took a look at the individual roles and collaborative opportunities for public and private actors in the energy space. The session, led by Matthew Bunn, Professor of Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School, featured Dr. David Rapaport, Head of Technology Innovation Management U.S. for Siemens, Kevin Ramsdell, Advanced Facilities Specialist for General Dynamics Mission Systems, and Lucas Missong, Senior Vice President at Boston Energy Investors Fund. Read on for some interesting takeaways from these key stakeholders, as well as Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton:
Increase Energy R&D: Bunn began the session with a call to double U.S. energy research and development. At the federal level, the assumption that entities such as the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation must play a mere basic research role is, in Bunn’s mind, “dead wrong.” To the panel, funding increases will greatly accelerate technological progress in all fields.
Investments Must Balance Efficiency and Risk: Bunn also emphasized the need for investment in the high risk, high reward projects that lead to groundbreaking innovations, especially on the government side. Where the private sector may not have the appetite for ventures with less economic certainty, Bunn argues, the government must step up to give these projects a chance to flourish and accept that some will inevitably fail. While not necessarily related to research and development, Massachusetts Energy and Environment Secretary Matthew Beaton’s comments about the certainty and safety of energy efficiency investments presented a somewhat contrasting view. With the next three year energy efficiency plan currently in development, Beaton and the Baker administration are looking at the proven track record of energy efficiency as a low-risk way to maximize the state’s ‘bang for its buck.’
Diversity and Collaboration is Key: Both Beaton and the panel touched on the role of public and private collaboration in promoting increased renewable energy development. Beaton expressed an ambition for a diverse energy portfolio, while Bunn shared his view that the way to get there, both nationally and internationally, is through cooperation. He suggested a substantial carbon price crafted with the help of private partners to motivate innovation, such as carbon sequestration technologies, without substantially hurting the industry.