Challenging Course, Winning Path For AEC 2021/22
Energy connection: Microsoft energy expert Hanna Grene (left) and conference organizer
David Hamilton plug in during AEC 2021, part one of a two-part, two-year Advanced
Energy Conference, held virtually earlier this month.
By DAVID HAMILTON //
Last week, Stony Brook University’s
Advanced Energy Research and Technology Centerwas finally able to remind the world how amazing it is.
After a year-plus COVID pause, we finally got the Advanced Energy Conference 2021
in front of an audience. The conference is normally a biannual in-person event; our
held in Spring 2018, was a rousing success, with almost 2,000 attendees and speakers attending in New
Coming out of that conference, we immediately started work on the 2020 edition, only
to be stymied by COVID. Over the past year, we rescheduled the NYC-planned event multiple
times – again and again and again – and finally decided that a virtual event in 2021,
with an in-person conference following in 2022, was the way to go.
We’d use the smaller virtual event to set the stage for our larger event next year,
and boy, did we ever! Our June 9-10 conference was a smashing success, allowing us
to “chart the course of energy” and talk about numerous hot items in the energy space.
Ultimately, our goal was to update everyone on where the energy world stands today,
providing a benchmark that we can reference in person at AEC 2022 and see how far
we got in just 13 months. To achieve the climate-change goals set by federal and state
governments, we’ll need to move quickly – our two-part conference would illustrate
It normally takes us more than a year to pull together an Advanced Energy Conference,
but we planned and scheduled AEC 2021 in just a few short months. It was like drinking
from a firehouse – developing an agenda, finalizing topics, honing in on the theme
and critical points of each session, ultimately finding the right mix of stimulating
and interesting speakers, who would also complement each other with different areas
The behind-the-scenes efforts – assembling the panels, walking through their talking
points, determining the optimal flow of the sessions and the overall event – were
challenging, but exciting. In the end, we had high level representation from industry,
government, academia and research, with participants engaged and committed to the
Ultimately, it all worked very well. We had sessions addressing important policy topics
like decarbonization and electrification, and others focused on the technology necessary
to achieve lofty goals set by policymakers, ranging from energy storage to increasing
offshore-wind power to incorporating hydrogen power.
We also had panelists helping fledgling energy companies understand what it takes
to raise private and government investments, which is critical: Money is what makes
the world go round, and makes the electrons flow from Point A to Point B.
David Hamilton: Mission accomplished.
One powerful plenary session addressed government policy requirements and how they
impact utility planning and the acceptance of new technologies. Another discussed
the need for utilities to go digital, which will accelerate the acceptance of renewables
and smart-grid technologies into our day-to-day lives.
Our high-level keynote speakers were a cross-section of experts shaping the future
of energy. We were lucky, in one way: Virtual forums provide an opportunity to recruit
very busy professionals who might not otherwise have time to attend an event like
this, and we took full advantage of that.
We had high-ranking federal officials from President Biden’s Climate Action Council,
U.S. Department of Energyand the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, providing keen insights on the new administration’s direction for renewables and
The conference opened with Jigar Shah of the DOE, who set the tone about U.S. investment
and renewables growth; we wrapped up with Hanna Grene,
Microsoft’s director of energy for the Americas, who shared what industry can do to move new
technologies forward. These were wonderful bookends to an amazing conference, and
the exchange of ideas between the speakers and other participants was excellent –
and fun to be a part of.
The year-delayed conference was not held in a format we would have preferred, but
ultimately it did exactly what we wanted it to do: bring together a diverse cast of
experts, cover a wide geographic area (our experts hailed from as far away as
UCLAand Hawaii, with participants representing Colorado, Texas and elsewhere) and highlight
tomorrow’s energy leaders (winners of our student poster competition hailed from New
York, Massachusetts, Georgia and beyond).
The breadth of this conference was impressive, and in the end, it was actually the
perfect conference for our time. We came together virtually, we shared knowledge and
made new contacts and we built anticipation for the days when we can all be together
That time is coming soon: We’re already busy planning
AEC 2022, with the goal of touching on all of these important topics again next fall – reminding
everyone where we were, where we are and where we still need to go.
Helping to create a blueprint, if you will, to chart the course of energy. Let’s enjoy
David Hamilton is chief operating officer of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology
Center, executive director of the
Clean Energy Business Incubator Programand interim director of the
Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgenceat Stony Brook University.