AES: Energy culture needs disruption

Grant Holmes of N.C. A&T University presents his research at the third annual Appalachian Energy Summit at ASU on Tuesday. Photos BY ANNA OAKES

Featured speakers at the Appalachian Energy Summit keyed in on this year's theme, "disruption and innovation," emphasizing the dramatic shift in culture and convention that is necessary to transform to a clean energy economy and sustainable society.

"You have to change people's mindsets to change their behaviors," said David Elien, vice president of marketing and business development for LED lighting company and summit sponsor Cree Inc. "The technology is here ... but the mindset isn't here yet."

Monday and Tuesday marked the first two days of the third annual summit, an annual conference of the UNC Energy Leadership Challenge. Its goal is to reduce the 17-campus UNC system's energy costs by $1 billion in 20 years and to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2050.

Returning for the third consecutive year as keynote speaker was Amory Lovins, founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He is widely considered among the world's leading authorities on efficient and renewable energies and an innovator in integrative design and in superefficient buildings, factories and vehicles.

Lovins then participated in a moderated panel discussion with UNC system President Tom Ross and David Orr, the distinguished professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College.

In a departure from the graphics- and numbers-laden presentations of the previous two years, Lovins' lecture "Applied Hope" also focused on the challenging task at hand: changing the way individuals and organizations view energy usage and resource consumption.

Lovins acknowledged the enormity of the task, noting that many caring individuals can become discouraged about climate change and other challenges, but "you can't depress people into action," he said. The best way to feel better about the future, he said, "is to improve it."

Lovins called for "transformation, not incrementalism." So did Orr, who said it's important to vanquish the myth that renewable energy can only happen on a small scale.

"Making this visible is really critically important," Orr said. Lovins added that four European countries produced half of their energy supplies from renewable sources last year.

Lovins and other speakers spoke not only about changes in the market that will drive an energy revolution, but also about the need for political changes and obstacles to democracy.

"To get to that future, it's not just the marketplace. It's the political marketplace," Orr said. "Buying power can only take us so far."

And all three panelists spoke to the diverse sets of knowledge and expertise that will be needed to achieve a clean energy economy.

"Every big problem we face can't be solved by any one discipline anymore," Ross said. Lovins urged students to ignore artificial barriers and educate themselves about whatever they would like to learn: "Get out of the box; there is no box," he said.

In a talk Tuesday morning titled "The Road to Montana," Orr asked summit attendees to contemplate 10 questions about how to communicate difficult news about the planet's environmental condition, how to motivate to change and how to get to a process of healing.

The summit concludes today. For more information, visit

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