Energy symposium draws students, congressmen

On Friday, Dunham Laboratory hosted a conference on the nexus between energy technology and policy.
On Friday, Dunham Laboratory hosted a conference on the nexus between energy technology and policy. Photo by Urvi Nopany.

Congressmen, writers, academics, businessmen and students all had a voice in the Yale Climate and Energy Congress’ Second Annual Spring Symposium Friday.

The day-long conference in Dunham Laboratory, attended by about 75 students, faculty and research fellows, brought speakers from various fields to discuss “the Interface of Energy Technology and Policy.” Moderated by science writer Carl Zimmer, the key event was a panel discussion featuring former Democratic congressman Richard Swett, former Republican congressman Chris Shays, Director of Levi Strauss Richard Kauffman, as well as green engineering experts Everett Anderson and Julie Zimmerman. Audience members said the event provided a well-rounded perspective on the policies needed to apply sustainable technology effectively.

The symposium expanded this year from an internal event started in 2010 that showcased the research of various departments at Yale, to incorporate speakers from outside the university. Co-organizer James Blakemore GRD ’13 in the chemistry department said the original concept was to have an interdisciplinary gathering of students across Yale and to bring them all together for an extended conversation.

“We thought that it would be really neat to have outside speakers present their research this year, from on the ground. The number of registrations went up significantly,” Blakemore said.

The revamped event included a keynote address by David Wells, a member of the Greentech Team at the venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, who talked about the difficulties of commercializing research.

At the panel discussion, the former congressmen advocated the need for the commercial market to step up and adopt green technology, while Kauffman argued for better policies regarding green technology. Zimmerman agreed that policy changes supporting renewable energy technology were needed.

“The panel discussion had representatives of the different communities who are part of the same problem,” said co-organizer Yoni Cohen LAW ’12.

But during the afternoon, the symposium’s schedule reverted to its original structure as a poster-making session in which students highlighted the main aspects of their research regarding energy technology. Undergraduate students from the chemistry department and the student group Engineers Without Borders presented two of 31 posters to an audience of faculty members, research fellows and post-doctoral and graduate students.

The event concluded with a speech about the market viability of the smart-grid, an electrical network that transfers energy directly from the suppliers to consumers, given by Boston University’s Michael Caramanis, and a talk by hydrogen energy developers Proton Energy Systems’ Director of Research Kathy Ayers on green hydrogen production.

Attendees interviewed said the diverse range of speakers at the conference was interesting both to students in the field of green energy and to those who are not.

“I thought the panelists pitched it at a very appropriate level,” said Joy Farnaby, a chemistry post-doctoral student, whose work is unassociated with the fields discussed. “The entire conference was generally accessible and well done.”

Katalin Barta, a post-doctoral student at the Center for Green Chemistry, said she really liked the poster-making session.

“It was a nice way to present our work in front of other departments as people were really available for discussion,” Barta said.

The Yale Climate and Engery Congress is the student branch of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute.

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