“Public officials need to think more about sex” — no, SECS: stable, enforced, clear and sufficient policies, said Daniel Gross, a partner from the private equity firm Hudson Clean Energy Partners, at a conference this weekend at Kroon Hall and Yale Law School.
Experts in clean energy technologies met with about 300 guests to discuss ways to increase use of renewable resources at the first annual Yale Clean Energy Innovation Conference. The conference, hosted by the Yale Climate and Energy Institute, consisted of presentations and panels about topics ranging from appropriate policies to electric vehicles.
Gross said for utility companies to transition to renewable energy, government policies need to provide better incentives, and public and private sectors need to coordinate to increase investment in clean energy.
Gross added that government regulations need to be stronger so that companies that fail to comply are penalized.
Another member of Gross’ panel, Richard Kauffman, the CEO of Good Energies, a private investment firm that invests in clean energy, explained that conventional energy resources such as fossil fuels receive large government subsidies, while clean energy resources do not. For example, a tax credit rewards companies for extracting exhaustible resources such as coal and oil.
“What we need from government is a way to make the playing field level,” Kauffman said.
One of the greatest barriers in the transition to clean energy technologies has been the infamous “valley of death,” which refers to the period when a potential product needs funding to get off the ground but has no hard evidence to prove its value, Gross said.
Part of the issue with the “valley of death” is that government policies do not match market incentives, Kauffman said.
Panel member Reed Hundt, the co-chairman for the Coalition for Green Capital, a nonprofit that promotes renewable energy, expressed optimism that the U.S. Senate will pass a bill by the summer that creates incentives for businesses to invest in clean energy.
But Gross said he expects policy makers will not alter the disproportionate amount of subsidies for fossil fuels, so any new legislation will not cause companies to use more renewable resources.
Scott Michael Kleeb, president and CEO of Energy Pioneer Solutions, which retrofits homes to make them more energy efficient, said people should not focus completely on cultivating revolutionary ideas but instead on making small changes in their daily habits.
“Extraordinary things are happening at the local levels that we can grab onto,” he said.
One of these small changes — switching to electric vehicles — served as the topic for the afternoon keynote speech. Daniel Sperling, the author of “Two Billion Cars,” said car engineers have focused on constructing sleek and fast cars instead of making vehicles environmentally friendly. Vehicle fuel economy has remained constant over the years, even though cars’ weight, size and horsepower have increased, he said.
“They got really good at efficiency,” he said, “but they channeled it toward what consumers wanted, not toward what is good for society.”
Sperling said there is potential for improvement if innovators redirect their focus toward improving fuel economy. He also stated that people must alter their behavior by recognizing that not all car trips are essential and by bicycling more often.
Two audience members interviewed said they found the conference interesting and instructive.
“[The conference] has been outstanding,” said Roger Van Voorhees, a member of the clean energy task force for Fairfield, Conn. “The opportunities I can bring back for joint public-private cooperation have me bullish.”
The likely topic for next year’s conference will be water sustainability, said Yale chemistry professor Gary Brudvig, who helped to organize the conference.