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Dartmouth energy conference panelists talk sustainability across economies, proliferating new technology

  • Under construction between Thayer School of Engineering's Cummings Hall, at left, and the Tuck School of Business's Stell Hall (not shown), the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society building at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., is a 55,000 square-foot building that will be about six times more energy efficient than most of the buildings on campus, according to Stephen Doig, who is the Irving Institute Research Director. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Matthew Carignan, left, and Tim Dachos, both of R&R Windows, shim aluminum shrouds around windows before six inches of mineral wool insulation and brick are to be installed on the front of Dartmouth College's Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society building in Hanover, N.H., on May 4, 2021. The triple-pane windows are electronically activated to open and close depending on the heating and cooling needs of the building. The building is due to be open in October, two years after the project began. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Adam Campagna of Titan Roofing installs detail flashing on the roof of Dartmouth College's Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society building in Hanover, N.H., on May 4, 2021, before solar panels are to be installed. In the background is the Center for Engineering and Computer Science, also under construction, near West Wheelock Street. Both buildings are due to be completed in 2021. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/4/2021 8:51:53 PM
Modified: 5/5/2021 7:55:58 AM

HANOVER — Panelists at a three-day Dartmouth College conference on energy said Tuesday that the future of sustainable energy varies across countries depending on how developed they are.

“What we mean by sustainable energy for all is actually providing power for these people who live without electricity,” Nicole Poindexter said during a panel discussion at the “Investing in Our Energy Futures” forum hosted by Dartmouth’s Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society.

Poindexter works for Energicity, a developer of solar-powered minigrids in West Africa. She emphasized the fact that energy and economic growth are inextricably linked.

Rose Mutiso, CEO of the Mawazo Institute, a Nairobi-based research nonprofit, was quick to point out that mid- and southern Africa consumes far less energy than the United States.

“There isn’t even a power sector in sub-Saharan Africa to decarbonize,” said Mutiso. “To adapt to climate change, we actually need massive energy consumption growth in this area. We need infrastructure that can deal with disasters and a changing climate.”

Narasimha Rao, associate professor of energy systems at the Yale School of the Environment, agreed.

“Let’s be clear: In all countries in the world, it’s affluence that’s driving energy demand growth, and this needs to be addressed,” said Rao. “Ultimately, the onus is on local government. It’s important that we are creating solutions that benefit the people and that are democratically generated.”

In another session later in the afternoon on innovation and the “new energy economy,” a different set of panelists discussed new approaches and strategies in the energy industry.

A flashpoint in the conversation was the future of electric vehicles, in reference to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s issuance of an executive order requiring all new passenger vehicles sold to be zero-emissions by 2035.

Scott Jacobs, CEO at the San Francisco-based finance company Generate Capital, wasn’t hopeful about Newsom’s deadline, noting that it takes 15 years to get a vehicle off the road. With 17 million vehicles sold annually in the United States, replacing gas-powered vehicles with electric ones will take a long time.

Other panelists walked through more complexities of the switch to electric vehicles.

“You can’t just put 3,000 electric buses on the road and expect they can all get charged,” said Stina Brock, Vice President of Business Development at Proterra, a California energy storage company. “If we are going to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles, we have to make sure that those resources play nice with the grid.”

The panelists were asked by moderator Andrew Beebe if they believe people are placing too much faith in new technology to solve the climate crisis.

“We need to deploy what we have today,” Jacobs said. “There are no two ways about it if you look at the timescale that all scientists have agreed we’re on. We need to bend the emissions curve dramatically by the end of this decade. And we have to stop wasting so much stuff, be it electricity or food.”

Catherine Stempien, CEO of Avangrid Networks, an energy delivery company that services New York and New England, argued that the tech we have now is good, but not good enough. “It’s going to require more research and more innovation to get us through that last mile.”

Another panelist, Ian Whitcomb, president of Irving Oil, agreed that change is inevitable. “Oil will be around for many years to come. But as gasoline demands fall, which they inevitably will, we want to be on the right side of the cost curve.”

The Dartmouth conference concludes on Wednesday with more panels and a virtual tour of the building that will house the Irving Institute, which was established in 2016 with an $80 million gift from the family behind Canada-based Irving Oil.

Frances Mize can be reached at fmize@vnews.com.

Correction

Rose Mutiso is CEO of the Mawazo  Institute. Her last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.




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