Susan Hockfield and Ernest Moniz - MIT Energy Forum: Taking on the Challenge
HOCKFIELD: Good morning.
I'm Susan Hockfield, the president of MIT. And I am delighted to welcome you to the MIT Energy Forum. And I can't tell you how pleased I am to see how many of you there are here this morning as we kick off our daylong energy forum, which is the culmination of a year's work by the Energy Research Council.
This is an important day for MIT. Today, the Energy Research Council will outline the ways that MIT can offer leadership in one of the most urgent challenges of our time, finding clean affordable energy to power up the developed and the developing world. Of course, many of MITs faculty and students are already at work on energy issues and producing significant breakthroughs.
However, these discrete breakthroughs will have far more impact as parts of a coherent answer to the energy problems of the world, one where great science and engineering are informed by profound expertise in economics, architecture and urban planning, information technology, political science and management. That's why we established the Energy Research Council last year and asked it to design an initiative to facilitate collaboration on this crucial issue across all of the Institute's five schools.
I really have to thank, very deeply, everyone who contributed to this effort, in particular, Professors Barb Armstrong and Ernie Moniz, who served as co-chairs and also their 14 colleagues on the council. The council solicited advice and input from the entire MIT community and from external stakeholders. They listened attentively. And their recommendations reflect deep knowledge and deep vision.
Now, Professor Moniz will talk about the Energy Initiative itself, in just a moment. My role this morning is to take a step back and tell you why I believe this is a defining moment in the history of MIT. I want to answer the three most basic questions about this call to action. Why energy? Why MIT? And [AUDIO OUT].
The short answer to the question, why energy, is popular demand. Early in my tenure here, I asked faculty members and students to identify MIT's opportunities and responsibilities in the decades ahead. The issue they spoke about most frequently by a very wide margin was energy. And they spoke about it passionately.
And frankly, when a community as brilliant and diverse as those at MIT converges on one issue, it would be folly not to heed them. However, just as significant as the interest in energy here at MIT, is the interest in the world beyond MIT. For the first time in a generation, the public and our political leaders have both turned their attention to the subject.
Energy lies at the heart of the news of the day. Let me give you just a few quick examples. Just last week, President Bush, again, spoke of America's addiction to oil and its negative implications for our national security. Few of us can read about Brazil's new energy independence, thanks to ethanol made from sugar cane, without a sense of envy.
Many Americans are shocked by gasoline at $3 a gallon. We marvel at the success of Toyota and its hybrid cars. And once again, we fear for Detroit's future. Business leaders and all of us worry that the energy needs of China's exploding economy will impinge on our own prosperity.
And finally, the consequences of carbon fueled climate change are of concern, not just to MIT scientists like Kerry Emanuel, but also to the residents who returned to the Gulf Coast, worried about a future of increasing weather intensity. This may be one of those rare moments when our society suddenly looks itself in the mirror and admits the truth.
Our comfortable lives are due in large measure to cheap and abundant fossil fuels. Yet, we know that we will pay a steep price if our utilization of those fuels does not change as a nation. However, we've made so little progress on energy in recent decades that many Americans are simply fatalistic about the issue.
The political promises made in the wake of the oil crises of the 70s prompted very little enduring action. As a business, energy tends to be enormously capital intensive, which slows the pace of change to a generational crawl. In fact, in the last few decades, we've seen more transformative advances in the way we consume music than in the way we consume energy.
Of course, energy is not a single challenge that can be answered with a piece of technology as clean, appealing and profitable as an iPod. It is three intertwined challenges, each vexing and complex in its own right. The first involves supply and demand.
In a business as usual future, energy use worldwide is likely to double by mid century, driven in part by the enormous appetite of the developing economies. China alone has been increasing its energy use by about 10% a year with profound impacts on energy markets. Competition for scarce resources is increasingly global. And we Americans can no longer assume the ready availability of cheap fossil fuels far into the future.
The world as a whole needs to develop new sources of energy and to increase, dramatically, the efficiency in which they are used. This leads to the second challenge, security. Obviously, we all understand the risks that accompany too great a dependence on foreign energy, particularly from politically unstable parts of the world. We also need to secure extended energy delivery systems, which are vulnerable to disruption, whether from sabotage or from natural disasters.
We must remember that major wars have been fought over access to scarce resources. And our dependence on oil for transport means growing prospects for conflict over energy supply. And while there is a renewed interest in nuclear power as an alternative to carbon based fuels, we must answer the questions about the consequent potential for the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The third challenge, of course, is the environment. How will we meet our increasing demand for energy without smothering the earth in greenhouse gases. After all, the internal combustion engine is a brilliant piece of technology. Until the price of gasoline rises so high as to make alternatives to it economical, it's here to stay.
We have to look at improving efficiency in our continuing use of fossil fuels and possibly mitigating their impact with large scale carbon sequestration. At the same time, we clearly have to expand, dramatically, our use of technologies that are less carbon intensive or are carbon free. As a problem, energy is hydra headed.
Concentrating on one set of fangs while ignoring the others is hardly a strategy for self-preservation. Yet, the public debate on energy has largely focused on patchwork solutions such as how to lower the cost of gasoline at the pump in the short term. At MIT, starting today, we intend to redirect this debate toward the entire energy system.
It's time to consider measures that will improve the world's energy infrastructure and energy mix. It's time to support the basic research that will transform this infrastructure in the long term. And it's time to make sure that this infrastructure will suit a rapidly evolving world so that economic growth worldwide can help solve our energy problems rather than exacerbate them.
This leads me to my second question, why MIT? Why are we the right people to lead this charge? Obviously, no single institution alone is going to transform the energy landscape. But the unique character of MIT offers something important to the equation.
We believe we can be a catalyst for a technological phase shift. We have the expertise in science, technology, public policy, economics, urban design and management, to produce transformational advances. We also have a history of solving problems across disciplines. Our forebears wove a practical mindset into the fabric of this institution and engineering determination to fix it.
We were established as a land grant university with an activist mission to promote the public good. We have long since proven that when we focus on large issues of great public importance, we are able to get things done. The radiation laboratory here at MIT played a decisive role in the allied victory of World War II, designing over 100 radar systems used in the war.
And it established a successful model for connected science, a collaboration between scientists industry and the government that continues today at MIT. In the process, the Rad Lab laid the foundations for modern electronics. This is exactly that connected model that will help us address the challenges posed by energy.
MIT is also the place where many of the most important technologists of tomorrow will be educated. By expanding our energy curriculum, we can steer them toward this challenge. Clearly, given the appetite for energy in developing economies like China and India, the international nature of fuel production and estimates that electricity has yet to reach billions of people worldwide. It is going to take a global perspective to solve the world's energy problems. This too is an area where MIT has expertise.
10 years ago, MIT joined forces with universities in Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland to create the Alliance for Global Sustainability, a joint research program focused on environmentally sound development worldwide. And last year, MIT partnered with the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences to found a new center to study the environmental, hydrologic and management issues surrounding the crucial resources of petroleum and water.
As a community, we are also in a unique position to push forward market based reforms in energy, not just because of our close collaborations with industry, but also because of our history of innovation and entrepreneurship. A study, a decade ago, estimated that if you added up the earnings of companies started by MIT graduates and faculty, together they would represent the 24th largest economy in the world. If you added in the gain from technologies and innovation, simply and whose development the MIT family played a significant role, it would of course be far larger.
Now, even while we expect to work closely with industry and government on this energy Initiative, let's not forget how important universities are to progress of all kinds. Our diverse talents and our position outside of political and commercial constraints means we can try things and we can say things that the other big players in this game may not be able to. We very much hope to be viewed as an honest broker of energy solutions.
And so we arrive at my last question, why now? I mentioned earlier that public and political willingness to address this problem is as high as it has been in a generation. Climbing oil prices, as painful as they may be in the short term, are making the marketplace more receptive to transformative technologies than it has ever been in the past.
The entrepreneurial and venture capital engines, created to advance the I.T. and biotech revolutions, are starting to look seriously at energy. However, the news outside of MIT is not the only reason that the moment is ripe for MIT to lead an energy charge. There is also the tremendous hope that is being generated within MIT by our own promising research.
For example, nanoscience breakthroughs by MIT scientists may overcome the major technological impediment to electric cars, the weight, cost and weak performance of today's batteries. Advances in photovoltaics being developed here could make solar power a more practical option. Bioengineering research here at MIT may help us create better biofuels as a substitute for petroleum. And improvements in the technology of nuclear power plants could help us reduce CO2 emissions on a large scale.
These are but a very few among many examples of critical breakthroughs on the horizon at MIT. I firmly believe that university research and teaching can transform our use of energy, just as they have transformed our use of information. The results will not just be a cleaner and a safer world, but also a more prosperous world.
Professor Roberts Solow, one of MIT's Nobel Prize winners in economics, has estimated that more than half of America's economic growth over the last 60 years derives directly from technological innovation. Too often, energy transformation has been viewed as carrying a heavy societal cost. In fact, it has the potential for great social and economic gain.
It's time for the field of energy to experience a flowering of creativity that it has not seen in decades. There are tremendous opportunities here for those who take on the challenges. At MIT, we intend to provide the leadership this critical issue demands. Thank you all for coming today.
MONIZ: Well thank you, President Hockfield, for that stirring introduction to this day's events. And I'd like to add-- certainly on behalf of the Energy Research Council-- and I think many, many more are thanks for the unwavering and committed support to this initiative that has come from President Hockfield and her entire senior leadership team. Really, this has been the driving element for our commitment to this new adventure.
As noted, almost a year ago, President Hockfield formed the Energy Research Council that I had the pleasure to co-chair with Bob Armstrong, with 16 faculty from all five schools, bringing all these different perspectives to how we might formulate recommendations to the president for how MIT can maximize its contribution and its impact in this energy arena. The names of the faculty are here. You will see several of them later on in our panel discussions.
Today, my role here will be to provide an overview of our recommendations, of our report, leaving much of the discussion about the specific research areas to the three following panels. As was already mentioned-- let me reiterate it. Besides our thanks to the president, the provost and the deans and others. We also want to thank the community.
Because clearly, these 16 people, you could multiply by at least 10 in terms of those who can provide major and important input to the council, from the faculty, multiplied by more than 10 among the student bodies. And what I want to emphasize is that those inputs, in fact, were heard and were a major part of the enterprise. We solicited white papers for suggestions from groups of faculty as to areas that they found important, that they were willing to pursue.
We probably got six or seven times the number we had expected, well over 30 papers. Students came forward. The graduate students have been enormously energetic, particularly through the Energy Club, which has now grown to over 300 members. And have had their sometimes exhausting, hundredth event already.
They provided input. Undergraduates, particularly through living group meetings, of course, with Chinese food, provided substantial input. So it's really been a real community effort. And as Susan already said, listening, on all of our parts was key to this.
Next slide. Good. In many ways, my principal role here, as I said, will be to discuss the framing of the initiative in a bit more detail than we've just heard. The issues of why energy, and why MIT and why now will all come out here again, but again with somewhat more of the framing that we used for the report.
Certainly, energy in the news today is with AIDS, very obvious, and be very important. But I must say, that is, of course, neither sufficient or necessary for why MIT isn't, I think, moving forward on this initiative now, because we see these challenges as, certainly, being much more sustained than perhaps they have been in the past with a crying need for a new set of technology and policy tools. So here, I just note what you might call the perfect storm of energy challenges. It drives many of the considerations of energy these days, three major issues-- supply and demand, energy and security, energy environment. And we'll come back and say a bit more about these.
But these drivers are often, of course, viewed as intention. And one of the issues is going to be defined in those technology and policy pathways that, in fact, emphasize the synergies and our ability to address all of these challenges. I will also try to emphasize why, in our view, this is the right time, why now is the time for, really, a concerted push if we are to meet the challenges of this next, say, half century. Now, it's important to emphasize as well that while we, here and elsewhere, talk about these drivers of supply, of security, of environment, I think it's very important we start out with the realization that any attempt to really project where we will be several decades down the road is really fraught with considerable danger and, occasionally, foolishness.
The uncertainties are in many types. They involve resource availability. The issue of oil availability is always in the news. But what about land for renewables, for example? If one reaches the scale where renewables can hopefully make a very, very large impact, there are issues of where science and technology will go-- on the one hand, technology breakthroughs, on the other hand, a better understanding of climate change impacts. Geopolitics obviously plays a large role in the evolution of the energy infrastructure-- not only, again, the obvious ones about things like the Middle East questions and oil supply but also issues like what will be the future of climate protocol negotiation and implementation, enormous impacts on how energy technologies will actually be deployed.
So basically, the message there is, of course, we really-- all of us, whether it's government or here at MIT as we structure our ideas going forward-- it's really about options. It's about providing a robust set of tools, technologies, and policies to provide the marketplace with the appropriate opportunities to respond to these evolving major, major drivers. And it's also worth, I think-- at least we came into this with a 50-year time scale, not completely arbitrarily, as I will emphasize, because in fact, the 50-year time scale is also part of the next-year imperative. In fact, it's useful to look at this historical picture first, before we look forward.
This is a plot of the percentage of different fuels in contributing, in this case, to US fuel energy supply. Actually, in today, if you look at the breakout of the various fossil fuels, the total fossil fuels, nuclear components, renewable components, it also isn't very different, today at least, throughout the world. But if you look here, you see, of course, the very important-- the founding of MIT here at the transition from the use of wood-- non-renewable use of wood, I might say-- to coal and then oil and then gas. And the first thing to note is that, roughly speaking, 50 years is a characteristic for major changes in that fuel mix. This is 150-year span, and we have seen fossil fuels coming in over this time.
One can never resist noting the famous-- the last words of William Barton Rogers, our founder, of bituminous coal. And we shall see whether we prove as prescient in talking about different kinds of evolution of the energy infrastructure over the next 50 years. But it's also important in looking at this to, of course, recognize that the order of 85% of our energy is fossil fuel today, with all of the implications for that in terms of security in climate. It's also important to note that we should not underestimate the challenges for profound evolution of this energy system over this next, say, half century in response to the security environmental challenges that I will note. And there are some very good reasons for that.
I mean, fossil fuels, frankly, are very, very convenient, very energy intensive, relatively cheap, lots of good reasons. And also, their introduction here-- I think it's important for perspective to realize that as these fossil fuels came in, particularly coal and oil, they really provided dramatically new capabilities-- the whole rapid industrialization, in many ways driven by coal, mobility driven by oil, really critical new capabilities for society. As we go forward and perhaps discuss-- for example, here we have the-- if you like the carbon-free wedge of nuclear and non-hydro renewables, in going forward, it's really a different set of considerations, what you might call the externalities of security environment as opposed to the new functionality. So this would be a new world in both, again, a technology and a policy sense.
So in conclusion of this slide, I mean-- or the last slide, really. I'll go back to it, go back to the statement that all of this drives us in the Energy Research Council, but again, also externally, to recognize there's no silver bullet, and we really need to put together a broad initiative pursuing multiple technology and policy options where-- and to repeat what President Hockfield said, what we believe we can bring to the table in particular are elements that we believe will prove very important, the ability to bring together people from different disciplines, focusing on an important challenge over a certain time horizon, and the entrepreneurial spirit that can help, hopefully, move us from laboratory to influencing the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.
Again, an emphasis here is on this 50-year time scale. Now, if we look forward, here is one of many projections. This is one using an MIT economic model that looks forward 50 years. But the specifics aren't the issue. This is a so-called Business As Usual-- that's the BAU, Business As Usual-- meaning no major policy changes, no radically new technology developments, business as usual going forward the next 50 years. Well, it's business as usual. It takes you from 85% fossil fuel today to maybe 87% fossil fuel in 2050. But the whole issue is, how is this going to evolve? How do we influence this evolution? That's very clear.
While not saying this will not be the case going forward, it's very clear such an evolution business as usual will provide enormous challenges from supply to climate to other kinds of key issues. So what we're about, really, is providing the options to have a very different future as a possibility in this 50-year time frame. But if we want to influence it in 50 years, as we've already seen, we better start today, certainly changing directions if we, in fact, are to realize a dramatically different potential, at least, for evolution. Oh, this is hard to read. It doesn't matter. This just indicates the fact that this is energy and GDP per person. You see a rough correlation in going up.
Way up here, I'll point out-- that's the United States. This is a cluster of Western European countries and Japan. And of course, most of the world, including China and India, are really down here, close to the origin, but clearly with intent of moving up. In fact, President Hockfield noted that China alone is increasing energy by around 10% per year. The only point here is, particularly in the context of efficiency, how these countries evolve, for example, just along these two trajectories would make an enormous difference in the demand requirements for energy.
So how technology is deployed in these developing and emerging economies will be absolutely critical. And another indicator that I think is worth looking at is-- this is a similar graph, except it's annual per capita electricity use in kilowatt hours per person per year. Again, the US is up here at-- and actually, now, it's about 13,000 kilowatt hours per person per year. It's plotted against the Human Development Index, which is a measure of educational, health care, and economic attainment in various countries.
And of course, you can see the huge disparities by region, from the industrialized countries all being up here at very high Human Development Index-- it's a UN indicator-- versus, let's say, the African countries in purple almost all being-- South Africa, the exception-- almost all being nestled very close to zero electricity use. Indeed, even with a pathway to tripling global electricity use by mid-century, which is a typical projection, the IEA, the International Energy Agency, still projects 1.4 billion people in 2030 with no electricity. And so these are huge distributional issues that we need to address. It also talks about the scale of the problem in both the technical and other, including humanitarian, senses.
So that's, again, a bit more of the color on the issue of the demand side, demand challenges, both in megawatts and negawatts. But now, let's turn briefly to energy and security. As, in fact, was noted, there are a variety of energy and security problems. There is the one that we pay most attention to, the availability of oil in the context of geopolitical and geological realities. But there are others. There's the vulnerability of extended energy delivery systems. We saw that in Katrina. We see it, or we read about it, in terms of terrorism in Middle East, for example.
There is the issue of nuclear proliferation facilitated by a potential worldwide expansion of nuclear power. We see that debate going on, also, on the front pages today with regard to Iran. And less discussed, but the dislocation from environmental impacts that could have significant security challenges, for example, in the dislocation of major populations, especially in those parts of the world that we just saw the purple dots, where the lack of economic development and energy availability can seriously compromise their ability to adapt to things like climate change.
Nevertheless, having talked about this broad set of security issues, let's just say a few more words, again, to bring out the issues with regard to fossil fuels. This just shows in rough terms-- this is the wrong slide, or it's showing the wrong numbers. I will skip this and just say that-- I don't know where that one came from. Oh, here we come. Here we come. There we go. Very good. Move them in. Thank you. Okay, so there are the big ones. This shows oil, coal-- excuse me, oil, gas, and coal.
And the obvious thing is what you all know, is that there's an enormous concentration of oil reserves in the Middle East, in particular, of gas reserves in the Middle East and in Russia, in particular, although less often emphasized is that there is also a large concentration of coal in the United States, China, India, a few other countries, including Russia. The point being, of course, that particularly when we come to the environmental discussion, we have a very unfortunate correlation where coal is where the people are, and oil and gas is where the people are not, which, of course, underlies much of the challenge.
So on this issue-- just a reminder, because this now helps starting to shape the technology agenda, in particular-- technology and policy agenda. In oil, we should remember that what the real issue is in terms of oil is that our transportation fuels market is essentially completely inelastic. Therefore, we are highly dependent upon the continuing supply of oil and, preferably, at affordable prices. You can define affordable. Just want to note-- so what are the responses? As we now think about what's the agenda, what are the responses to this kind of a problem? And we could go through this for the other issues as well, but we won't.
Well, one issue is, for example, addressing sudden disruptions, be they caused by political move, by weather, by other reasons. There are responses like strategic reserves, maintaining well-functioning markets. My only point here is that, really, we need some new policies in these areas to shore up our resilience to sudden disruption. Then, of course, there's the issue of increasing and diversifying supplies. Enhanced production from existing fields, for example, is a major science and technology challenge, all the way down to unconventional sources.
We all hear about the tar sands in Canada, for example. Indeed, there is a lot of oil but not so nice molecules in various parts of the world that would contribute greatly to diversification, weakening the-- to use the president's term-- addiction to oil. Efficient vehicles, alternative fuels derived from coal, gas, biomass; new transportation paradigms, be they plug-in hybrids or hydrogen cars-- these are all ways of addressing the oil and energy security issue. They all need really aggressive development of new technologies that meet a variety of market tests.
However, once again, we should not miss the perspective of how difficult this is, A, because oil and petroleum fuels are so convenient, but also because to replace the enormous amount of energy that we use in oil by other sources, be it coal or gas or biomass or electricity for electrolysis of water, for example-- but you understand these are enormous dislocations of other energy markets or of land-use issues, of electricity markets. And so we really need, again, a comprehensive technology and policy suite of tools if we are, in fact, to address these issues.
In moving to the third of the major drivers, I will just focus on climate change. This cartoon is just an indicator of carbon in the atmosphere, in the oceans, in the soils, et cetera, in billions of tons with a cartoon version of what the carbon cycle is like. We won't go through this in detail. Let me make a few statements, however, because it's important, again, for this time scale issue. First of all, we are emitting today roughly 7 billion tons, gigatons per year of carbon in carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from anthropogenic sources.
I'm going to make an assertion that because of the cumulative nature of carbon dioxide, in particular, in the atmosphere-- and of course, the major source is combustion of fossil fuels-- that we have an emissions budget of around 700 billion tons before we reach a doubling of pre-industrial levels. Now, this target of doubling does not have a rigorous basis in terms of climate modification, societal cost, et cetera. But the great majority of engaged scientists would view this as a prudent-- some would say too high, but a prudent limit at our current state of knowledge.
Well, if we are emitting 7 gigatons per year, and our budget is 700, then obviously you divide that. It's a hundred years. However, emission rates are increasing. We talked earlier about a possible doubling of fossil energy use. If that were to occur, then this 100 years, of course, becomes much closer to a half a century-- again, the point that this 50-year period is critical if we are to address these issues of demand, security, and environment. And 50 years, once again, to repeat the message, means starting today, because it takes that long to really change over substantially a highly capitalized infrastructure.
I think I will skip over this, just noting, if you can read very quickly, this slide, which is of US carbon emissions, tells you fundamentally where the focus is-- transportation, which means-- oops-- there we go. Transportation-- that's a very big number. That's, of course, all oil-- again, make the point transportation is oil. And electricity, mainly for serving buildings, is an enormous source. And that's mainly from coal. So that begins to start to define the kind of space that one needs to attack with new technology and policy if one wants to address this climate problem.
So again, this helps shape, as I've just said, the technology and policy pathways. And many of these, of course-- an important point to mention-- take carbon-free power, nuclear power, renewables, et cetera. These are examples, again, of looking for synergies. Because not only do they address the environmental issues, but they also address security issues, for example, and some of the demand constraints.
So with this framing, really, this set of drivers and this time scale, and these technology pathways that need to be followed, the council then organized its report-- this is the initiative-- and today's agenda, really, along three major themes that we believe are an architecture that would be very appropriate for framing our, at least-- MIT's-- and other research institutions' approach to these challenges. You will hear about each of these in detail in the following three panels. Here, I will just summarize briefly what they are. But please, of course, come stay for the more in-depth discussion in each panel.
The first category, science technology for a clean energy future, is really about capturing the idea that there really may be very key enabling technologies that can be transformational in this time frame of 50 years. Examples, all of which came in from faculty groups, involve an array of renewable technologies. A critical enabling technology of storage and conversion without storage, for example, at scale-intermittent renewables will not be practical.
Other kinds of enabling science technology growing out of existing capabilities-- for example, superconducting and cryogenic components are a major technology focus at the fusion center, providing a platform for other work of relevance to energy. Nanotechnology, already mentioned-- critical for all kinds of applications in efficiency, in storage, et cetera. Nuclear fusion, I just mentioned-- another example of a potential transformational technology. Although, with all due respect to my friends, some will argue on the 50 years on that. But we'll come back to that.
Second general area, improving today's energy systems, is the notion, which president Hockfield already mentioned, that an initiative that, roughly speaking, is focused on home runs is not really answering the question about how we get from here to there. The fact is, today, our energy systems are dominated by fossil fuels. Nuclear power is currently the major carbon-free deployed technology besides hydro, which has its own challenges. And so working with industry in much more effective use of today's energy systems, of evolution of today's energy systems, of higher efficiency will be a very, very important part of what we do.
Some here might raise the question, well, since these are today's energy systems, industry must be doing all the work. And what can you add? Well, clearly that would be an exaggeration. But I want to emphasize two points. There are key enablers that very much go to basic science and really go beyond what individual firms do, such as, for example, carbon sequestration, which has major challenges but is really an essential technology if, for example, coal is to be used at large scale in a greenhouse gas-constrained world. We have a strong program in that.
There are also areas where the very nature of a university having a broad set of disciplines can come to tools that are typically beyond the realm of any individual firm, even large ones. I'll mention things like some of the advanced simulation technologies, for example, applied across the board in energy are very important. And finally, as several of these white papers emphasize, it is absolutely critical that we address the policy and societal aspects of the use of these fuels over these next decades. This, in many ways, will shape how the system evolves over these next decades on our way to an unknown but possibly dramatically transformed energy infrastructure in 50 years.
And finally, our third major theme is one that emphasizes the global nature of so many of these challenges and also the distributional challenges that we alluded to earlier in that slide about global electricity use. This includes looking at climate change itself, understanding the science, the policy, how they integrate much better. But things like the critical need for efficient building technologies, advanced transportation systems, understanding how the demographics of possible, in quotes, "gigacities," especially in the developing world, may change our whole ideas about how energy infrastructure evolves-- very critical issues, ones that we definitely want to address, and as I'll come back to, also get directly engaged in more than we are today.
So again, these are the three panels that will come up. I would just emphasize once more that we believe there is an important additionality by bringing together multiple disciplines, that this will make a huge difference in many of these areas, and to, again, draw upon our traditional, I think, success in being able to go from the laboratory to the technology marketplace. Let me just conclude with some brief remarks about a couple of other areas which we are not focusing on as much today but are very, very critical-- education, obviously.
First of all, we all understand here how research and education are inextricably linked and, frankly, how it is the students that we produce who are, by far, our most important product, if you like. The nature of the energy business, that it does not neatly fit into one department or one school, also means there are challenges that we need to work on for interdisciplinary education. And we will do that. We make recommendations for a number of approaches in an undergraduate context. For example, we will have two new courses funded by the d'Arbeloff Fund going forward, and graduate courses getting more coherence to the program, and in outreach, student projects in developing-world countries coupled to research going on at MIT.
In the last panel of today, in the question-and-answer panel, in addition to President Hockfield and Bob Armstrong, the co-chair, we will have Jeff Tester, who chaired our education subcommittee, Dave Danielson, president of the Energy Club, who particularly weighed in on education on the panel, and also Vladimir Bulovic, who chaired our subcommittee on campus energy management, which is the next topic, what we somewhat facetiously call walking the talk, the idea being that, clearly, with our focus on this sustainable energy future, we can do more on campus, A, to reflect that commitment, but B, very importantly, to use it as, again, a laboratory for our students and our faculty to do research and to learn.
There are clearly a number of direct benefits noted in the first bullet, lower energy course, energy use, et cetera. But let me focus on, first of all-- there is an enormous enthusiasm that's been brought out for working on these issues on the campus. And that enthusiasm involved faculty, our facilities group, our environmental office, and very, very strong student engagement. In fact, I'll just advertise-- some of you may have seen outside a solar car. While this is not about a building, but this is about, again, another group of incredibly motivated students who are planning to have a solar car summit here on campus this summer with teams from-- I forget-- 28 countries or something coming together.
So it's a tremendous amount of initiative and enthusiasm around these issues. So we do recommend a sustainable campus energy initiative. The next step is a comprehensive assessment and analysis of various approaches. We would just note that a preliminary assessment has been encouraging that using energy conservation for existing buildings, infrastructure renewal, maybe more co-generation, more green design of new buildings, that we can actually make a lot of progress in an economically wise way, which of course would be very important also, hopefully, as an example, and also use all of those activities as research venues. So this will also be, I think, a very important activity that will really bring the whole campus together, as President Hockfield wished, in focusing on energy.
So finally, and this really is finally-- and I will skip over that. That's our challenge goal. Launching the initiative-- I'll close by saying that, again, our core objective is to supplement ongoing research-- not to subsume it, of course; there's lots of activity going on in departments and laboratories-- with a portfolio of multidisciplinary, multi-faculty, multi-year sustained research efforts on a number of these key energy challenges. The multi-year is important. It implies commitment on both sides, those who may support the activities and those here, the faculty and others, who must carry out the activities.
Again, mentioned earlier in many of these-- we have a number of attributes that we believe will contribute to success in this. Interdisciplinary tradition has been emphasized, technology innovation. I think, also, it's worth noting that historically, every now and then, there's been a campus-wide bringing muscle to bear on a complex societal problem. And our response has been characterized, I think, by creativity, but also groundedness in reality, industrial collaboration, international partnerships. Convening power for key conversations, as President Hockfield said, frankly, will be very explicit.
We do very much hope that with this focus, with a strengthening of these cross-campus initiatives, that we will have amplified the options, the opportunities to be an honest broker in framing and analyzing important societal discussions on energy with their very significant science and technology components. So realistically, we talk about a phased approach. We want to see this build up over about five years. We will have to align this, of course, with sources of support.
We suggest what could be, for example, a starting portfolio around solar power, nuclear power, integration of science and policy of climate change, areas where we have very robust programs today with the opportunities to expand their depth and scope, but also, very importantly, seeding new projects, new thrusts that will follow in as we build up the initiative and move towards things like central research space for moving into pilot scale facilities, et cetera. And so we list here, again, some of them that span these three major areas, biofuel storage, simulation, subsurface energy and science, where there may be many synergies, from oil recovery to sequestration, buildings, transportation, many, many options. Again, these will be realized in collaboration between our faculty interests and industry, government, and other possible supporters.
And so finally, in conclusion, the energy challenge obviously is formidable. This framing was not intended to downplay the challenge, because it is enormous. As was said earlier, MIT cannot do it all. We have no pretense about that. But we do believe that with these attributes that have been discussed, we do have a chance to make a very, very significant difference, both in terms of the science technology and policy options but also in terms of stimulating a broader discussion and helping, perhaps, to mediate some of those discussions in going forward.