U hosts international energy conference

With a new venue and broader international scope, the fifth annual E3: Premier Energy, Economic and Environmental Conference brought together leaders in renewable energy research Tuesday in St. Paul . The inclusion of international keynote speakers and a larger venue represents a shift in focus and scope for the conference held by the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE). ItâÄôs a shift that many people consider an important one. âÄúThe challenge of renewable energy and energy systems is a global issue,âÄù IREE Director Richard Hemmingsen said. The conference will now allow individuals in business and industry, as well as policymakers, to be informed about research being done and vice versa, Hemmingsen said. Through these relationships, he said, there can be an international consensus about topics most important now. âÄúThere is a greater efficiency,âÄù Canadian Trade Commissioner Andy Melnyk said. âÄúThat way itâÄôs not all of us trying to invent the same wheel.âÄù Melnyk, who worked with IREE on the conference, said an international conference worked to âÄúidentify and solidifyâÄù international partnerships, which is ultimately more cost and time effective. âÄúItâÄôs not one silver bullet thatâÄôs going to kill the energy demand, itâÄôs a silver buckshot,âÄù Melnyk said. While these international relationships may be vital for efficient renewable energy research, one conference topic was funding in the face of the current economic climate. âÄúWhen something is really important, you find a way,âÄù University Research Fellow for the Center for Sustainable Building Research Virajita Singh said. Singh, who works on the UniversityâÄôs âÄúGreening of the Campus âÄù initiative, noted that with the recent economic downturn, the argument for renewable energy has changed. âÄúEarly on it seemed like you had to make a case, propose an economic argument rather than an environmental argument, now it is changing,âÄù Singh said. The most important economic question being asked now is, âÄúgiven the economic downturn, how are we going to continue our aggressive efforts?âÄù Singh said. For architecture graduate student Craig Hutchison , who was at the conference to hear Singh talk about her research on sustainable communities, money should not be a deterrent. âÄúIt is far cheaper to do something now than to wait until thereâÄôs a problem,âÄù Hutchinson said. After selling out the event last year when it was held at Coffman Union, the IREE decided to move the conference to the St. Paul RiverCentre . According to IREE Director of Communication and Public Affairs Tom Reubold, 750 people were expected to attend the event, an increase from 400 last year, exceeding his initial goal of 600. Conference goers sat in on expert panel discussions and listened to international keynote speakers Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, president of the Executive Council, minister of Federal-Provincial Relations, and Terje Gjengedal, professor of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.