The Kenneth W. Davis Jr. Leaders in Energy Speaker Series brings energy experts to TCU to share research and insights, and discuss the latest industry trends in energy management, emerging technologies, innovative solutions and policies.
October 28, 2022
By Jennifer Floyd Engel
“How many students are here?” With the question from Texas State Representative Craig Goldman, hands shot up from all corners of the standing-room-only crowd at the TCU Neeley School of Business.
“Oh wow,” Goldman said. “It’s almost 2 o’clock on a Friday. That’s cool.”
Despite it being a sunny and warm Friday afternoon, 200-plus people — many of whom were students — gathered for the Energy Security Summit hosted by the Ralph Lowe Energy Institute at the TCU Neeley School of Business.
The panel is an annual event as part of the Kenneth W. Davis Jr. “Leaders in Energy” Speakers Series. The topic of energy security is timely. Panelists repeated a consistent message — the world is in an energy crisis, — a supply crisis, a geopolitical crisis triggered by Russia's invasion of the Ukraine. Although the energy security crisis is mentioned frequently in news stories in reference to gas prices, industry experts said the issue is much more complex, as will be the solutions.
“Energy security is national security and you can’t have effective energy transition without energy security,” said panelist Derek Wong, the vice president of government relations and public affairs at Excelerate Energy. “Europe is learning that the hard way now.”
The panelists included a diverse mix of policy enthusiasts, academics, politicians and industry leaders from Texas to Bulgaria. Despite their differences, they were in agreement that the solution lies in the next generation, maybe one of the young adults who previously raised their hand in the room. They will be the future leaders and ultimately the problem solvers.
“I’d like to make one last pitch to all of the students in the room but even some that are mid-career,” said TCU’s Chief Inclusion Officer and Assistant to the Chancellor Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, in his opening remarks. “I believe, as we go forward, this next generation of folks in the camp of energy policy, energy security is going to be drawn from people with diverse backgrounds.”
The energy questions we face now will be solved by the finance, political science, economics and engineering majors with a firm grasp of the energy industry, according to the Ralph Lowe Energy Institute’s Executive Director Ann Bluntzer. The goal is to highlight how dynamic, innovative and fast-growing the industry is and will be for decades to come and get students excited about a career in energy.
“It’s important this [conversation] is happening at a business school,” Bluntzer said. “It is the most important thread that needs to be woven around secure energy. If we can’t do that in a way that is economically viable, it will not move the needle.”
The rallying cry of the energy institute is creating a world where energy is affordable, sustainable and reliable. The unspoken subtext is trying to do so in a way that avoids the over-politicization of the conversation.
The views of the panelists were diverse. There was Goldman proudly declaring “in Texas, we try to take control of as much as we can because we do not trust the federal government” while energy institute board member and National Vice President of Renewable Development and Origination at NextEra Energy Resources, John Di Donato, talked of his company’s “Real Zero Goal” around true decarbonization in energy.
“It’s really simple,” Di Donato said. “We want to decarbonize the Florida Power and Light Company…and take our earnings and decarbonize the rest of the energy industry in the United States. We believe that’s a two trillion [dollar] capital opportunity for all of us here.”
To achieve any of the actions will require cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional collaboration. This starts at the university level with collaborations like The Hamm Institute for American Energy at Oklahoma State University and the Ralph Lowe Energy Institute at the TCU Neeley School of Business are beginning.
“This is a space we can really influence the conversation,” said Ken Wagner, the executive director of The Hamm. “Being critical thinkers and doing research…having real adult conversations.”
The discussions during the summit reflected the varied beliefs about the thorny yet important issues of energy security., Plenty of questions were posed, providing ample room for innovative solutions.
“The state of the union is not so hot right now, to say the least,” said Reed Blakemore, deputy director, Global Energy Center at Atlantic Council. “But I think there are a lot of interesting opportunities, as with any crisis, to rethink what we conceptualize around energy security and move forward to a more security reliable energy supply chain.”