A Quick Recap of Steven Koonin and Stephan Dolezalek’s Presentations From the UT Energy Forum

Last Thursday and Friday I attended parts of the UT Energy Forum held here on Campus at the University of Texas at Austin.  Here is a bit of commentary, some key ideas presented and the folks who presented on Thursday morning.

Steven Koonin – Former Undersecretary for Science, U.S. Department of Energy

Dr. Koonin put on a clinic on how not to make powerpoint slides.  He practically wrote a book on each one, read the slides and didn’t manage his time well.  He had to skip a bunch of slides at the end.  While he is not a great presenter, he is clearly a brilliant guy.

Dr. Koonin’s Six strategies to attack energy issues in the United States

  • Increase building and industrial efficiency
  • Introduce more clean energy into the grid
  • Modernize the grid
  • Increase vehicle efficiency
  • Electrify vehicles
  • Find alternatives to hydrocarbons to fuel transport

Another key point Steven Koonin made is that we need to decouple ourselves from the global oil market.  Producing more energy that you use does not make you independent. If we are producing oil, we will always be at the mercy of the world oil market.  He told an anecdote about riots in England over fuel prices when England was producing more oil than it was consuming but was selling much of it on the global market.

Dr. Koonin also argued that we need to modernize our grid and increase its reliability.

In conclusion Dr. Koonin made the point that too much of DOE money is spent on stationary uses of energy and not enough on the transportation sector.

Stephan Dolezalek – Managing Director of Vantage Point Clean Tech Group

Venture Capitalist Dolezalek dropped some wisdom on the crowd in a mellow, smooth presentation style.  He clearly has a ton of experience at looking at the big picture and looking for macro trends.  Some of the ideas he conveyed include:

New jobs come from new companies, we need to do a better job to encourage entrepreneurship.

Places “where the action is” include:
  • a smarter grid
  • resource sharing (housese, cars etc)
  • energy finance and installation
  • solid state lighting
  • the internet of things – the network for intelligent machines
  • smarter buildings
  • smarter cities
  • power storage
  • water technologies
  • industrial biotechnology

He also spent some time speaking about residential solar which interests me quite a bit as I spent a couple of years working at residential solar installer Sungevity in Northern California.  Dolezalec made a point that permitting is a pain and a barrier to uptake in solar.  I definitely found this to be true when I was managing a team of system designers at Sungevity.  He talked about the California market where in adjacent cities you can have drastically different design constraints.  Some require setbacks while others do not.  In one city you can get a permit to install solar immediately while in the town next door it can take six months to a year.

Some trends in solar we can look forward to:

  • Inverters will make their way from outside solar panel arrays into the panels themselves
  • The process of installing solar will be come more like installing satellite dish, it will become more of a simple do-it-yourself installation


I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference but one thing I noticed that nobody there was talking about reducing consumer demand for energy.  Having moved from Sweden to Austin, I can’t help but notice that people here waste huge amounts of energy and never really think twice about it. As an Jason Schenker on Friday put it, “energy is just too cheap in the US”.


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One response to “A Quick Recap of Steven Koonin and Stephan Dolezalek’s Presentations From the UT Energy Forum

  1. First I compliment you for the nice summary you provided on the UT Energy Forum. I attended the Forum, as well, unfortunately not for the whole time, but for as long as I attended I agree with you regarding the observation you express in the last paragraph. There was a lack of discussion from the keynote speakers or panelists on energy saving practices at the residential customer level. The only part of the Forum which touched on this subject was one of the 10 Minute Energy Talks where Amanda Berens presented “Saving Green Program-How an Energy Education Program Impacts Behaviors”. The program targeted low income families and introduced them to energy saving practices in order to help them reduce their energy utility bills.

    The results showed how these families benefited from the program through cutting down their utility bills, however the question arises: “What about the middle-high income families?” Do they need to be educated on energy saving practices? Or will they be willing to embrace these practices, given that they can afford to pay, it doesn’t matter how much energy they use/waste. Do you think that developing best energy use practices for all categories of residential customers (regardless of their socio-economic class) would make a difference? Or right now are we too busy trying to find ways to produce more energy?

    Just as a reminder, the studies show that there is a rough linear relationship between economic activity and energy consumption. Countries with higher GDP tend to consume more energy (referring to Dr. Webbers’ notes on Energy Technology & Policy, pg. 39).

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