Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is The EnergyMakers Show coming to you from CERAWeek once again. And I’m very pleased to have as my guest, the Executive Director of the Rice Energy and Environment Alliance, Chuck McConnell. Chuck, welcome back to The EnergyMakers Show.
Chuck: Thanks Russ. Great being with you again.
Russ: You bet. You bet. Chuck McConnell, also Assistant Secretary of Energy with the Department of Energy under the Obama Administration, and today, leading the charge here at CERAWeek. So, how has that been going?
Chuck: It’s been great. Actually, I think everybody at the conference will say with unbridled enthusiasm the energy around energy is quite a bit different this year.
Russ: Well, I’d say so, for sure.
Chuck: Yeah, it’s more than just higher prices. I think there’s just a general enthusiasm that hasn’t been here in the past several years. Maybe a little bit of malaise in the industry wondering about regulations and federal oversight, etc. I don’t think that people look at it as the cover just being lifted off and we’re going to go back to the future, but I do feel a general sense of enthusiasm that hasn’t been here for the last few years, and it’s fun to be a part of.
Russ: Well, absolutely, and you’re not here just watching. You’re also here talking, presenting, and also have other members from Rice University here with you.
Chuck: This is our first year. I think I mentioned to you last time we were together this is our first year that we have engaged as an industry partner with CERA. It might be a little surprising, we’ve been in Houston all these years,
Russ: You should have been here before.
Chuck: We should have been here, absolutely, but we are now and I’ll tell you how exciting it was even just yesterday at lunch, Mayor Turner was here talking about all the wonders of Houston and why this is such a great place, and he also mentioned that he was also heart warmed to see one of the great resources of Houston, Rice University, as a partner this year.
Russ: Now how cool was that?
Chuck: It was supremely, supremely. But, yes, we’ve had an opportunity to put some of our faculty in the showcases here. I’ve spoken on several panels as have some of our faculty in economics, in our Baker Institute for Public Policy; we’ve had a chance to present and be a part of those Thought Leadership panels. But also, this year’s efforts here at CERA have been around transformative technologies. Having those futures seen, real life in terms of what the art of the possible is and that it’s not just a dream but in fact it’s a reality. Several of our faculty here are presenting just upstairs from here in the Agora studios, featuring their technologies, their progress, the work that’s been done and capturing the imagination of many of the attendees here and that’s just, it’s priceless.
Russ: Well, there’s no question about that. I mean, this place is internationally flavored, top to bottom. So, if you’ve got a cool technology to show, this is the place to do it that can make a difference for your future for a long time.
Chuck: Yeah, you know, there’s a lot of places where you can talk technology. You can go to technology symposiums, you can talk with other faculty, it’s all good and it’s all necessary. But this is a place where the commercial nexus of everything going on occurs. These are also decision makers in these organizations that are going to be investing in the technologies that are going to create their future, and for them to have a chance to taste this, see it real live, have our faculty be able to interact personally with many of these people, it’s somewhat unique and special. And for us to get a chance to take advantage of it, we wouldn’t miss it for the world and we’re already planning next year.
Russ: Alright that’s so cool, but tell me what are a couple of things that you got involved in; panels and discussions, and topics?
Chuck: Well, yesterday we had a special session on carbon capture utilization and storage. This is the whole concept of taking CO2 from a fossil fuel project, capturing it, not having it go to the atmosphere, but in fact then utilizing that CO2. In the case that I was speaking about, enhanced oil recovery. We’re doing a lot of that and have done it for the past 50 years here in Texas for great economic advantage. But as we move forward the opportunity to capture anthropogenic CO2, and put it to use, and then permanently and safely store it, allows you to produce that next barrel of oil with a process that’s fundamentally consuming CO2 that would otherwise go to the atmosphere.
Russ: It sounds like a win-win.
Chuck: Well it is, it absolutely is, and it’s one of those kinds of situations. This evening I’ll be on another panel where we’ll talk about the proposed clean power plan, which is now of course officially been declared over. Perhaps this evening we will provide a proper funeral for that vehicle, Russ. But at the end of the day, climate change hasn’t gone away, and the concerns and the need to do something about it hasn’t gone away. I happen to believe strongly that that plan was a very poor way to address it. It was going to make energy a lot more expensive and it really wasn’t going to do that much about CO2 to the atmosphere. And I think that’s what the conversation tonight will be about, is as we look at it and we look at the opportunities in the future, how can we put technology to use, combine it with policies that will be accretive for our citizens and our industries. Citizens want less expensive power and they want it as reliable as it’s ever been, and manufacturers want to be cost competitive around the world. And I think we all want to be environmentally responsible, and so that’s the trick for us every day at Rice; how do you achieve that? And our answer, nine times out of ten, if not ten times out of ten is through technology.
Russ: Sure, absolutely. And did I not also hear that you spoke on a panel on the topic of women in the energy business?
Chuck: There are several other tangential programs going on this week. One of them is the Women in Energy program. We have several of our prominent women faculty and people at Rice that are a part of our administration in that program, along with some 40-50 other women that have been selected by different companies to attend. I was also fortunate enough to kick off on Monday morning the Future Energy Leaders program. And again, these are handpicked young people from organizations; up and comers, high potentials, whatever you want to call them. These people have been hand-selected by their corporations to go through a week-long program; attend CERAWeek all week, have this exposure, which at this time in your career is just phenomenal, make those interconnections with the people that they’re working with but also to see all of this. And I was able to talk to them about just basic leadership fundamentals, and what will you look for, what will you observe this week in the talks, in the sessions that you’ll be a part of. I found the group incredibly enthusiastic, and those are the kinds of things that actually give me energy as well.
Russ: Neat. Really neat. Well, I also understand that you’re kind of suggesting another Rice Professor to be on The EnergyMakers Show in a future episode with a real cool technology. Tell us a little bit about that.
Chuck: I’d hate to choose one over all of the folks that we have in our capabilities at Rice, but a great example is one of our professors, Dr. Aydin Babakhani, is involved with some transformational sensor technology that, frankly Russ, will knock your socks off. It’s the kind of thing that’s transforming the industry in terms of our ability to develop energy, oil, gas, but also to pipe it, transmit it, to be able to have the confidence and the environmental responsibility that we all need and desire so much, but drive it through productive and productivity type of processes that are going to make people more money, because they’re going to do it more efficiently, and be environmentally responsible. And Dr. Babakhani’s technology is fascinating; I hope you have him lined up for a future show because it’s the kind of thing that people need to hear about.
Russ: We’re going to do it. We’re going to do it. And Chuck, thank you for spending time with us once again, and for all of the progress that Rice is making these days in this important category of energy.
Chuck: Always a pleasure Russ, thanks.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Chuck McConnell, the Executive Director of the Rice Energy and Environment Initiative. And this is The EnergyMakers Show.
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