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Challenging Course, Winning Path For AEC 2021/22

Energy connection: Microsoft energy expert Hanna Grene (left) and conference organizer David Hamilton plug in during AEC 2021, part one of a two-part, two-year Advanced Energy Conference, held virtually earlier this month.

Source: InnovateLI

Last week, Stony Brook University’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center was finally able to remind the world how amazing it is.

After a year-plus COVID pause, we finally got the Advanced Energy Conference 2021 in front of an audience. The conference is normally a biannual in-person event; our last AEC, held in Spring 2018, was a rousing success, with almost 2,000 attendees and speakers attending in New York City.

Coming out of that conference, we immediately started work on the 2020 edition, only to be stymied by COVID. Over the past year, we rescheduled the NYC-planned event multiple times – again and again and again – and finally decided that a virtual event in 2021, with an in-person conference following in 2022, was the way to go.

We’d use the smaller virtual event to set the stage for our larger event next year, and boy, did we ever! Our June 9-10 conference was a smashing success, allowing us to “chart the course of energy” and talk about numerous hot items in the energy space.

Ultimately, our goal was to update everyone on where the energy world stands today, providing a benchmark that we can reference in person at AEC 2022 and see how far we got in just 13 months. To achieve the climate-change goals set by federal and state governments, we’ll need to move quickly – our two-part conference would illustrate this.

It normally takes us more than a year to pull together an Advanced Energy Conference, but we planned and scheduled AEC 2021 in just a few short months. It was like drinking from a firehouse – developing an agenda, finalizing topics, honing in on the theme and critical points of each session, ultimately finding the right mix of stimulating and interesting speakers, who would also complement each other with different areas of expertise.

The behind-the-scenes efforts – assembling the panels, walking through their talking points, determining the optimal flow of the sessions and the overall event – were challenging, but exciting. In the end, we had high level representation from industry, government, academia and research, with participants engaged and committed to the program’s success.

Ultimately, it all worked very well. We had sessions addressing important policy topics like decarbonization and electrification, and others focused on the technology necessary to achieve lofty goals set by policymakers, ranging from energy storage to increasing offshore-wind power to incorporating hydrogen power.

We also had panelists helping fledgling energy companies understand what it takes to raise private and government investments, which is critical: Money is what makes the world go round, and makes the electrons flow from Point A to Point B.

David Hamilton: Mission accomplished.

One powerful plenary session addressed government policy requirements and how they impact utility planning and the acceptance of new technologies. Another discussed the need for utilities to go digital, which will accelerate the acceptance of renewables and smart-grid technologies into our day-to-day lives.

Our high-level keynote speakers were a cross-section of experts shaping the future of energy. We were lucky, in one way: Virtual forums provide an opportunity to recruit very busy professionals who might not otherwise have time to attend an event like this, and we took full advantage of that.

We had high-ranking federal officials from President Biden’s Climate Action Council, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, providing keen insights on the new administration’s direction for renewables and advanced-energy programs.

The conference opened with Jigar Shah of the DOE, who set the tone about U.S. investment and renewables growth; we wrapped up with Hanna Grene, Microsoft’s director of energy for the Americas, who shared what industry can do to move new technologies forward. These were wonderful bookends to an amazing conference, and the exchange of ideas between the speakers and other participants was excellent – and fun to be a part of.

The year-delayed conference was not held in a format we would have preferred, but ultimately it did exactly what we wanted it to do: bring together a diverse cast of experts, cover a wide geographic area (our experts hailed from as far away as UCLA and Hawaii, with participants representing Colorado, Texas and elsewhere) and highlight tomorrow’s energy leaders (winners of our student poster competition hailed from New York, Massachusetts, Georgia and beyond).

The breadth of this conference was impressive, and in the end, it was actually the perfect conference for our time. We came together virtually, we shared knowledge and made new contacts and we built anticipation for the days when we can all be together again.

That time is coming soon: We’re already busy planning AEC 2022, with the goal of touching on all of these important topics again next fall – reminding everyone where we were, where we are and where we still need to go.

Helping to create a blueprint, if you will, to chart the course of energy. Let’s enjoy the ride!

David Hamilton is chief operating officer of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, executive director of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program and interim director of the Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence at Stony Brook University.