Expanding our economic horizon through alternative energyWritten by Dan Johnson | | email@example.com
Just as bad money drives out good money, bad news seems to trump the good news nearly every day. And there is plenty of bad news.
Every day this summer, we have followed the tragic saga of the BP oil leak in the Gulf. We have listened to those working on the leaking well and the cleanup; we have heard from those who are working to protect the coastal environment and those whose livelihoods are derived from the Gulf; we have watched BP and government officials position themselves to minimize the economic and political fallout; and we have wondered about the long-term consequences of the spill.
While listening to the news about the Gulf oil spill, I have often wondered what a similar spill would do to the Arctic Ocean and ANWAR with all the additional complications of freezing temperatures, extreme weather, limited accessibility, thick ice and the summer ice floes. I have visited the oil installations on the North Slope and have been impressed by all the safety precautions in place; however, those same precautions were presumably in place in the Gulf, but were insufficient to prevent this tragic environmental catastrophe. All the economically feasible safety precautions in the world cannot guarantee that such spills will not occur in the future.
While it is too early to know all the consequences of this environmental tragedy, I strongly suspect — along with many others — that this incident will or should accelerate the research and development of clean energy and particularly solar energy. Even those whose livelihoods are rooted in fossil fuels know that we cannot afford — financially or ecologically — oil spills such as the one under way this summer and the Exxon Valdez tragedy off the coast of Alaska that seems like yesterday for those involved.
There is good news afoot that could well impact Toledo and the regional economy: alternative energy research and development.
The largest alternative energy conglomerate in the world is Masdar, located in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. On July 22, the CEO of Masdar, His Excellency Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, came to UT where he received an honorary doctorate of science in recognition of his global leadership in advancing alternative energy. As one of America’s leading universities in photovoltaic and alternative energy research and development, it was fitting and appropriate for UT to recognize the tremendous investment being made by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the leadership of the Masdar initiative under the direction of Al Jaber.
I was very pleased with UT’s recognition of Al Jaber, for several reasons: First, it is rare for any university to search out and recognize the work of others in a field where it seeks preeminence. But UT did just that. This act points to the importance of collaboration in the advancement of science and this is particularly true in the field of alternative energy. Second, this act recognizes the global nature of the development of alternative energy. An American university located in the Midwest recognizing the outstanding global leadership of a Middle Eastern institution and its CEO is a positive move and symbolizes the importance of mutual respect. Third, the ceremony at which the honor was bestowed brought with it an occasion where leaders in this field could meet and discuss important issues related to the advancement of science and innovation in alternative energy.
Since coming to the United Arab Emirates, I have had many occasions to interact with Al Jaber. I know there are few, if any, individuals anywhere in the world working harder to advance the research and development of alternative energy. Those who know him admire and respect his driving motivation to advance the alternative energy agenda. He has surrounded himself with other highly motivated individuals and is strongly supported by the Abu Dhabi leadership and government. It was appropriate that UT — which itself is a national leader in alternative energy — recognized a true global leader in this increasingly important and interdependent field.
Where will all this lead? It is difficult, if not impossible, to say. For me, the award of this honorary degree stands on its own as a single act that is justified on its own merits. But I can also imagine that UT will continue to search out global leaders in alternative energy, develop connections, share knowledge and technology, collaborate in advancing the science needed for continued development and thereby advance its own interests here in Toledo, Northwest Ohio and the nation.
The Gulf oil spill, the Exxon Valdez and the scores of less dramatic but significant spills elsewhere all point to the urgent need for the United States and the other nations of the world to develop as rapidly as possible economically sustainable clean energy. UT can be a major player in this changing energy paradigm.
When UT President Lloyd Jacobs asked Al Jaber if he had any advice for UT, he responded by saying that the university needs to do a better job of “telling its alternative energy story.”
Jacobs readily agreed, as do I. I also believe that the events of July 22 honoring Al Jaber of Masdar is an excellent first step in this direction.
Dan Johnson is provost and chief operating officer of Zayed University, United Arab Emirates and president emeritus of UT.