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10 Big Changes In Energy Since The 2013 MIT Energy Conference

MIT Energy Conference

Around MIT, we’re used to “drinking from a fire hose,” but the pace of change can still be dizzying—particularly for those of us involved in energy. Less than 12 months ago, the MIT Energy Club hosted its premier event, the MIT Energy Conference, and in that time, a great deal has changed.

As students prepare for the 2014 MIT Energy Conference, we thought we’d compile a few of the big changes in the energy sector we’ve seen over the past year and connect those to themes in the upcoming Conference. We hope you’ll share your own top energy stories in the comments, on Twitter, and during the Conference on February 21st and 22nd.

1. Moniz Appointed To Head DOE  

Just hours after the 2013 Conference closed, the campus celebrated the nomination of MIT’s Ernest Moniz, Director of the MIT Energy Initiative, as Secretary of Energy. In his first speech after being sworn in, Moniz pledged that energy efficiency would be “a big focus going forward.”

2. Natural Gas Sees Price Pressure

After reaching historic lows in 2012, natural gas prices were bound to rise. The question was, “How much?” In late January, we got an answer as gas prices surged over $5 per 1,000 cubic feet. Past years’ low prices created more demand for gas, and this year’s frigid winter has sent prices soaring. These fluctuations are bound to be a big topic of discussion during the February 22 session on the Natural Gas Boom.

3. Bakken Oil Production Nears 1 Million Barrels/Day

The North Dakota oil boom was big news this year, sparking a National Geographic cover story and many more on the rapid rise in U.S. oil production through hydraulic fracturing. In November, North Dakota’s oil production fell just shy of the 1 million barrels per day mark. Look for discussion on the U.S.’s expanded oil production in the Power of Energy panel.

4. Solar Soars

Wall Street warmed up to the solar industry in 2013, sending SunPower and SolarCity shares rocketing upward. Shares of both companies more than quadrupled year-over-year as both financial conditions and investor confidence in the sector improved. And, for the first time, the U.S. installed more solar capacity than Germany did in 2013. SolarCity staff will be on hand for the Expanding the Solar Frontier session on Friday.

5. But Clean Energy Investment Falls

But even with solar’s U.S. success, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that global clean energy investment fell for the second straight year. What will 2014 hold? The Cleantech Finance panel may answer that question.

6. Carbon Pollution Standards Introduced

In September, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its plans to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants in the U.S. The standards will affect both coal- and natural gas-fired generators and could help to turn around Bloomberg’s clean energy investment figures in future years. Saturday’s Policy and Economics of Carbon session will explore new models for limiting emissions.

7. Telsa Gives EVs A Jolt

After a rocky review in the New York Times, Tesla gave the electric vehicles sector some much-needed momentum when it was given Consumer Reports’ highest rating ever in May. That news coupled with surging consumer demand has sent the company’s stock soaring. Can biofuels catch up? The auto industry will weigh in during a Friday afternoon panel.

8. Google Buys Into Home Energy

A few years ago, Google attempted to break into the energy space with its now-defunct PowerMeter project. But with the $3.2 billion acquisition of smart thermostat maker Nest, the search giant again seems serious about understanding home energy use. Friday’s Intelligent Efficiency panel will survey the efficiency competition in the new market for smarter energy use.

9. Nuclear Rekindles Debate

The role of nuclear power has long been a subject of debate in academic circles, but in 2013, this energy source got its Hollywood moment with the documentary “Pandora’s Promise.” In the wake of Fukushima, the film may give some of my colleagues in Nuclear Science and Engineering the boost they need to bring their technologies to the marketplace. At the Conference, you’ll hear about what’s moving from the Lab to Market, and how nuclear can compete (or cooperate) with renewable energy.

10. The Rise of Energy “Yield Cos”

NRG’s David Crane was one of last year’s keynote speakers. In 2013, his firm launched NRG Yield, Inc., a so-called “yield co,” a publicly-traded company formed to own operating assets that produce cash flow (like power plants) and distribute that cash to investors as dividends. Yield cos can reduce the cost of capital for energy projects, and if NRG Yield’s performance is any indication, they may be the next way to finance new generation. To see what other revolutionary ideas are on tap during this year’s Conference, a full list of this year’s keynote spearks is available here.

You’ll hear about these stories and much more at the 2014 MIT Energy Conference. For more information about the Conference or to register, please visit:

Photo Credit: Changes in Energy/shutterstock

Robert Armstrong's picture

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Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on February 10, 2014

Very disturbing is the fact that the propane shortage wasn’t mentioned. The Minnesota Farmers’ Union has very publicly asked for answers regarding propane status and future. The silence is deafening.

Dan Cross-Call's picture
Dan Cross-Call on February 14, 2014

Another big change in the last year: The need to remake utility business models has gone from fringe discussions to the mainstream. For example, Brookings held a “Future of Electric Utilities” panel last week in Washington. Utility of the Future panel at 2013 MIT conference came at an inflection point!

ralpph allen's picture
ralpph allen on February 14, 2014


Money now being spent on expensive dead end Hot Fusion power technology.  If this money was spent for the last 50 years on other technologies we would not have the energy problems that exist now.  A couple of well known technologies have been suppressed by the carbon industry.  

The oldest is called  Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) which was prototyped from the 60s into the mid 70s.  This would use nuclear material and thorium in a vat that would burn 97% of the material instead of the current 3% of light water reactors.  The waste would have a half life of 300 years instead of 10,000.  It would consume cheap abundant thorium and could be used to burn up spent nuclear material.  It is inherently fail safe an when the power dies so will the reaction.  Given its inherent safety the expensive domes and triple redundancy facility does not need to be built and the plant size can be smaller drastically reducing construction costs. The US is blocked from funding further development so the Chinese have 300 PhD’s now moving forward using US research and so are the Norwegians.  Look up MSR and WAMSR.

Another technology was cold fusion that was looked at and dismissed by the same people who were building the hot fusion reactor called Tokamak.  They had a vested interest in seeing Cold Fusion discredited so they could receive their billion a year in R&D grants.  The Navy Research Labs went full force into this technology and 6 years ago filed a patient that was kept secret until recently.  This was another way to generate cheap energy that was sidetracked so the people in carbon based energy could continue to get richer.

A third technology that seems to be slow rolled in Critical Carbon Dioxide where carbon dioxide is pressurized to and heated to 350C and used instead of water for power generation.  It is 60% more efficient than water and uses 1/10 as much space.  This technology would work well with concentrated solar and MSR.

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