More than 850 people converged on the UT Austin campus in February to attend the second annual UT Energy Week, a gathering of experts from academia, industry, regulatory agencies, and non-profit organizations to explore and illuminate vital energy topics.
The conference, held February 16 – 18, 2016, was co-hosted by the university’s Energy Institute, student-run Longhorn Energy Club, and the KBH Center for Energy, Law & Business, in collaboration with on- and off-campus partners and the support of numerous schools and colleges and other units on campus engaged in energy-related research.
“UT Austin is renowned for its research into fossil fuels, but we do a lot more,” said Dr. Tom Edgar, a chemical engineering professor and director of the Energy Institute.
“The variety of content presented during this conference reflects the depth of expertise among faculty and other researchers here at UT in numerous fields of study and energy topics,” he added.
The conference also featured two competitions organized by the Longhorn Energy Club — a poster contest showcasing students’ energy research, and a startup competition that awarded cash and prizes for winning entrants in four categories: Oil and Gas, CleanTech, Energy and Water Efficiency, and Software. For details about this year’s winners, read an article in Silicon Hills News.
Following introductory remarks from UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves, the conference began with a keynote address from Christopher Smith, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy in the U.S. Department of Energy, who discussed “The Road Forward” following last year’s historic Paris climate change talks.
“We live in an interdependent world,” Smith said, observing that the way in which the world deals with anthropogenic CO2 “will be the defining issue of our economies.”
Smith said commitments from nearly 200 countries to reduce carbon emissions during the Paris climate talks could represent “a springboard for innovation” that he characterized as “a tremendous opportunity for collaboration” among government, industry, and academia.
Smith pointed to academic research into carbon capture and sequestration, including research initiatives underway at UT Austin, as examples of such collaboration.
“We have CCS technology available today, but the challenge will be to get industry and academia to continue to work together and get real projects built.”
Much of the opening day of UT Energy Week focused on an examination of Mexico’s electric sector reform and its imminent entry into the world of competitive electric markets. Policy officials, regulators, service providers and finance professionals from both sides of the border discussed challenges and opportunities awaiting on the horizon.
“The opening of Mexico’s electric power sector to competition presents significant opportunities for the U.S. to share our experiences with energy markets,” said Melinda Taylor, senior lecturer in the university’s School of Law and executive director of the KBH Center.
Darcia Datshkovsky Sáenz, president of the Longhorn Energy Club and a graduate student in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Energy and Earth Resources program in the Jackson School of Geosciences, said students benefit in meaningful ways from their involvement in the conference.
“This has been a great opportunity for students to work closely with faculty, as well as to network with industry representatives and other energy experts,” she said. “It also gives students a platform to present their energy-related research to a much broader audience.”
Other highlights from the UT Energy Week 2016 include:
- On Wednesday, Feb. 17, academic researchers, state and federal regulators and industry executives explored the science and regulatory response to hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas production. Another session, “Power Cities of the Future,” examined an assortment of new technologies, including distributed generation, and alternative transportation models.
- On Thursday, Feb. 18, experts from electric utilities, solar companies, and environmental organizations joined academic experts to discuss the growth of renewable sources of energy, large-scale energy storage systems, and other efforts to de-carbonize the power grid. University officials also released the latest findings from the semiannual UT Energy Poll, a national online survey that measures Americans’ views on a variety of energy issues, such as climate change, fracking, and energy security / energy independence.
- On Friday, Feb. 19, university faculty members led a series of panel discussions among energy producers, financiers and strategic consultants on emerging trends in oil and gas production, the financial impact of low oil prices, and the geopolitics of energy.
- Several high-profile keynote speakers delivered keynote address during the week, including Jonathan Lewis, Senior Vice President for Halliburton’s Completion and Production division, and Helge Hove Haldorsen, Director General of Statoil Mexico.
Check the conference website in the coming weeks for updates from UT Energy Week 2016, including speakers’ presentations, photos, and news coverage of the event.