Joint Harvard-MIT Events to Showcase Innovation Across Energy Spectrum

Opinion

Having grown up in a small town in eastern North Carolina, going to Harvard for college was more than a dream come true. I still remember from my campus visit feeling my jaw drop as I wandered into the freshman dining hall that looked like the Great Hall straight out of the Harry Potter books. I vividly recall eavesdropping on conversations I overheard in Harvard Yard, biting my tongue to prevent myself from jumping into the fascinating intellectual discourse.

The defining moment of that trip, however, was when my mom and I were waiting at the gate in Logan Airport for our flight back to Raleigh-Durham, and I shared with her a sudden realization: “Mom, I gotta go to Harvard.” When fall rolled around and I finally moved to Cambridge to start my undergraduate adventure, I, like most of my classmates, came in feeling like an admissions mistake but left feeling capable and empowered.

Four years after graduation, here I am back in school at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and, while I have noticed significant cultural differences between my alma mater and my new university, I am delighted that these two institutions are embracing those differences while coming together this Friday and Saturday to exchange ideas on how to tackle today’s energy challenges. Comprised of MIT’s Energy Night and the Energy Symposium hosted by Harvard Business School, “Energy Weekend” has been designed to allow each university to host an event that stays true to its spirit while inviting collaboration from the other institution and the public.

Energy Night, the MIT Energy Club’s flagship event in the fall, is a free-form, choose-your-own-intellectual-adventure labyrinth of research, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Meandering through three floors of the MIT Museum, attendees will follow the various colors of glow sticks to find presenters (researchers, startups, and clubs) and other attendees who share their energy interest (e.g., blue for infrastructure, red for oil & gas). Between the glow sticks, cash bars, and live band, the mood will be light and casual to encourage the serendipitous encounters that can spur innovation.

The Energy Symposium at HBS, which starts the morning after Energy Night, will harness its impressive lineup of 20+ CEOs and 60 industry experts with a more traditional conference format. Leading professionals from around the world and students will engage in a high-intensity atmosphere with topics ranging from conventional energy solutions such as oil and gas to renewables and clean technologies.

While these two events will look very different, they are united in a common goal: bringing people together who are innovating around energy. This passion can be seen in the breadth and depth of the events’ organizing teams themselves. The MIT Energy Night team ranges from an undergraduate nuclear mechanical engineer to a Sloan Fellow in climate policy and economics to a computer science research specialist. The HBS Energy Symposium’s organizing team likewise represents the full spectrum of energy careers, with team members working in everything from frontier market oil & gas to cutting-edge clean technology and venture capital. The energy weekend presenters are at least as diverse and have identified unique problems they are attempting to solve:

• MIT’s Solar Electric Vehicle Team is pushing the limits of solar technology to match the demands of the transportation industry. This student-run team has designed, built, and raced solar cars in the Australian World Solar Challenge and the American Solar Challenge. They are currently building their first four-wheeled car, to be raced this July.

• Bill Brown from NET Power is addressing the carbon footprint of conventional power plants with a revolutionary system which is more efficient and more affordable than traditional natural gas plants while providing 100 percent carbon capture and sequestration. NET Power is currently working with several large industrial, power, and engineering firms to commercialize the technology.

• Ambri, a company based on technology by MIT professor Donald Sadoway, is advancing electricity storage in grid-scale applications with the Liquid Metal Battery. Applying the principles of large-scale electrometallurgy, Ambri has created a low-cost, operationally flexible, reliable, long-lifespan and safe electricity storage technology that is unlike anything that exists in today’s market. Professor Sadoway was named one of Time’s “World’s 100 Most Influential People” in 2012.

As a member of the Harvard and MIT communities, I am constantly humbled by the impressive accomplishments and intelligence of my peers. And we’ll need their talents to address the massive energy challenges facing my generation, from reducing the environmental and health risks posed by our current energy portfolio, to satisfying the growing demand for affordable, reliable energy. It is my sincere hope that Energy Weekend will spark conversations between Harvard, MIT, and Boston community members that will begin to answer these questions.

Molly Bales is currently pursuing an MBA at the MIT Sloan School of Management with a focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, and sustainability. Follow @sustainabales

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  • Donald W. Bales

    I read the whole thing, but one should read what one’s granddaughter has written. We really need lots of energy and it would be nice to have it not pollute the environment.