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Leaders in Global Energy: Seeking Solutions to Sustainable Energy

Posted Dec 08 2011

I'm not concerned about the future, but the transition to the future is what I worry about.”

- Eduardo Souto de Moura, 2011 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Portuguese architect and Pritzker Prize Laureate Eduardo Souto de Moura was one of several distinguished guests to address the SIPA community during the school’s 2011 Leaders in Global Energy series.

In a joint presentation with Columbia's World Leaders Forum, Mr. Souto de Moura highlighted his most recent design of a home, innovative use of natural light in a museum, intelligent and cost-efficient use of new materials in a skyscraper, and a new approach to the construction of a soccer stadium within its natural surroundings.

“If we learn the rules of nature and approximate them we get something fantastic,” said Mr. Souto de Moura. “Architecture is like an iceberg…” implying that we have seen only the tip of intelligent, sustainable design.

Leaders in Global Energy is the centerpiece of SIPA’s initiative to identify solutions to the challenge of creating sustainable energy while protecting the environment and reaffirming corporate citizenship. Throughout the fall, SIPA welcomed thought leaders in energy from across the government, corporate, and NGO sectors. In addition to sustainable design, they addressed topics such as energy policy in Latin America, the electricity grid, the European approach to sustainability, and wind energy.

Watch our Leaders in Global Energy lectures here.

“I think we have an obligation to educate folks on the complexities we’re dealing with and try to put into context what goes into your electricity bill,” said Gordon van Welie, CEO of ISO New England, the region’s primary power provider.

You know, people hear and talk about climate change and environmental issues,” said Mr. van Welie. “The question is: How do you actually engineer a system that will achieve those policy goals and keep the lights on?”

Solutions will require collaboration by government, corporate, and NGO leaders; the adoption of new technologies; and the cultivation of a new generation of thinkers who can overcome the historical barriers to socially responsible energy policy-making.

“Keep interested in energy,” said Rui Cartaxo, CEO of Portugal’s Redes Energéticas Nacionais during an examination of the electricity grid and power distribution. “In the next 20 years, energy will be a big part of the issues.”

Edison Lobão, Minister of Mines and Energy in Brazil, the globe’s sixth largest consumer of energy, emphasized the world’s continued dependence on fossil fuels.

“To counter these trends, it will be necessary to get agreement from all stakeholders to achieve what has already been agreed to in the Kyoto Protocol,” he said. “Technological developments create expectations that this will happen.”

“Yes, we can alter significantly the balance between fossil fuels and alternative energy,” said Mr. Lobão.

In a discussion dedicated to wind energy, Gabriel Alonso, CEO of Horizon Wind Energy, said innovation is improving productivity.  That has reduced the cost of wind drastically, and wind power is growing worldwide. In 2010, China became the biggest producer of wind power, and working aggressively to develop its offshore wind power generators.

“Wind is free,” said Mr. Alonso. “Our success lies in our hands.”

Energy was also the topic of SIPA’s Gabriel Silver Memorial Lecture on November 1. Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), spoke nuclear energy and the crisis that followed last year’s earthquake in Japan.

“What is most damaged by this accident is confidence,” said Mr. Amano. “So we need tangible results to restore it.”

“In light of recent projections, I am very confident this is not the end of nuclear power,” he said.

In addition to the Leaders in Global Energy series, SIPA is developing new coursework, fieldwork, and research through the Energy and Environment concentration, which provides students with the knowledge base and analytical tools needed to address the challenge of sustainably and responsibly powering the developed and developing nations of the world.

Leaders in Global Energy is sponsored by EDP – Energias de Portugal, S.A. EDP’s interests in conventional and renewable power extend across 11 countries on four continents, including in the United States.

Alex Burnett and Michelle Chahine, December 9, 2011