Building Our Energy Future: The Path Forward

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Jim Rogers, Former CEO of Duke Energy, addresses cleantech professionals, academics and students at the BERC Energy Summit.

“Cleantech opportunity today is as great as it has ever been.”

That’s how Jim Rogers, Former CEO of Duke Energy, kicked off this year’s BERC Energy Summit on Friday, February 24.

Unfortunately, a bright future does not necessarily mean getting there will be easy. Just this week, Sungevity filed for bankruptcy after becoming the latest solar company, after SunPower and SolarCity (now part of Tesla), to suffer major recent job cuts (1).

The answer to growing pains like these, according to Rogers, is a long-term trend towards expanded electricity access and solar and renewables growth. “Electricity is the great enabler. It has transformed our world,” Rogers said.

After all, this is not the first time that promises have proved elusive in the world of cleantech. 115 years ago, Edison claimed that batteries were just around the corner (2). Now – with the Tesla Gigafactory ramping up production and investment in grid-level storage increasing – it looks like that corner might finally be rounding (3).

Storage is far from the only clean technology trending positive. BERC’s Summit abounded with success stories, from Roger’s own work to bring solar to the developing world (4) to an afternoon panel that focused on how corporate purchases of clean power can drive continued renewables development.

Another focus of the day was what Roger’s called, “Stroke of the pen risk.” The policy implications of a federal administration and majorities in both houses of congress skeptical of climate change were certainly on everyone’s mind. However, the key takeaway from Rogers and a panel on “Energy under the Trump Administration” seemed to be, “Don’t panic. The fundamentals haven’t changed.”

That said, Diane Regas of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) urged all present to remain vigilant just weeks after the confirmation of the first EPA administrator ever opposed by the EDF (5). Her strategy for success: “Focus on exposing false choice between environmental and economic progress.”

Exposing that false choice is no easy task, but as panelist after panelist stressed at the summit, it is an extraordinary opportunity.

Unleashing that opportunity – and our clean energy future – means finding novel ways to scale renewables technologies; it means attracting trillions in grid investments to enable the continued renewables roll-out (6); and it means delivering the right talent to reach these goals.

That’s where the students and cleantech professionals who attended the BERC energy summit fit in. As Rogers said,“In an industry undergoing transformation, chaos and change are your friends. I challenge you to jump in and reinvent it.”