Toledo at the World Future Energy SummitWritten by Dan Johnson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
ABU DHABI — I was delighted and proud to see the University of Toledo and Xunlight, a new Toledo-based alternative energy company, at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. There they were, halfway around the world, right in the middle of acres of convention booths and displays portraying the hundreds of products and services emerging from the rapidly expanding alternative energy industry.
The World Future Energy Summit, sponsored by Masdar, may well be the largest alternative-energy conference of all time. If you are interested in alternative energy, you must get acquainted with Masdar. Check out the Web site at www.masdaruae.com. Based in Abu Dhabi, not only does Masdar sponsor this great conference, it is building the first carbon-free city, establishing an alternative energy university and attracting investment from major corporations and partnering with leading universities.
When I visited the United Arab Emirates last August, I asked about the country’s work in alternative energy and if it would be possible for me to meet with leaders in the industry. The next thing I knew, I was in the executive suite of Masdar being briefed on their vision and plans for the future. I was stunned by the boldness of their vision and even more surprised that they were actually implementing it. It was clear to me that we at UT had to be connected with this globally transforming alternative-energy initiative. Now, five months later, the UT was there on the floor of this enormous convention, sharing its own vision, plans and successes with thousands of participants.
The World Future Energy Summit was not only well attended, but the first day’s lineup of more than a dozen speakers was a virtual “who’s who” in alternative-energy policy, research, investment and commerce. But the most impressive part of the conference for me was the hundreds of companies that had set up shop in the enormous exhibit area and were doing business. A few hours walking through the labyrinth of sophisticated displays, models and information booths would convince even the most ardent cynics of alternative energy that it was here to stay and that it is already big business on a global scale.
The UT booth was also attracting attention. By 2 p.m. on the first day, more than 60 people had stopped by to see what was happening in alternative energy R & D in Northwest Ohio. The visitors to the UT booth heard about the research underway, the technology transfer processes that have been institutionalized, as well as the incubation and spinoff companies in alternative energy in Northwest Ohio.
Frank Calzonetti, UT’s vice president for research development, told me, “Our presence at this meeting sends a message that we are a global player and gives us an opportunity to show leading companies, investors and government officials why Toledo is a good place for research collaboration, business location and investment in renewable energy.”
After only a few hours at the Energy Summit, Megan Reichert-Kral, UT’s director of incubation, said, “I have been amazed at the number of potential business opportunities for UT, the incubation program and Northwest Ohio.” Norm Stevens, co-director of the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization, said, “Participation at this event has elevated the university’s image among a significant number of international companies … ”
Frank, Megan and Norm are right. The Masdar World Future Energy Summit has quickly become the major alternative-energy event of the year. The vast majority of the world’s leading players in the energy industry attend this event, and UT was right to make the investment to be a part of this important event. Here they meet, share information, network and make a statement that UT, Toledo and Northwest Ohio are “in the alternative-energy game.”
The truth is, UT has to be here if it wants to be in the competition for its share of the global market. It is hard to allocate scarce dollars in these tough times to what some might think is an unnecessary expenditure. But this is one of those times when we must make a distinction between an “expenditure” and an “investment.” Clearly, this was an investment that will pay dividends in the future.
The biggest revelation of the summit for me was the huge number of businesses that have been spawned by the need and drive for alternative and renewable energy. There were small startup companies, middle-size companies and major corporations alike promoting their mostly new products and services. The innovation and creativity stemming from research in renewable energy is unleashing a new global wave of entrepreneurship. The opportunity to build on UT’s research momentum in photovoltaics and alternative energy is nearly unlimited if we have the vision and courage to invest in that vision. But we have to go after these opportunities; they won’t come to us. We, UT and Northwest Ohio, have to find ways to maintain and increase investment in this important field of endeavor.
The other revelation for me was the high degree of sophistication that already exists in the alternative and renewable-energy industry. Globally oriented venture capitalists, patent attorneys, national governments (including the U.S. Department of Commerce), major corporate executives and a host of others were all there, many doing deals, taking orders and signing contracts. Alternative and renewable energy is truly big business, and all indicators tell us that it will continue to grow at rates that surpass most other sectors for the next quarter century.
There will, however, be a major shakeout in this new sector. Many of these new companies will not make it; others will be bought out and consolidation will become increasingly evident. To compete, we must have a strategy that recognizes and takes into account what is happening globally as well as nationally and locally. Participating in the World Future Energy Summit was a good move and one that should be repeated every year.
Dan Johnson is provost and chief operating officer of Zayed University in Dubai and UT president emeritus.