Oct. 10, 2017

Haskayne kicks off new international energy speaker series with former U.S. secretary of energy

Inaugural Progress Energy International Speaker Series brings Ernest Moniz to Calgary
Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz spoke in Calgary about energy security, climate change and the need for innovation in the energy industry.

Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz spoke in Calgary about energy security, climate change

Photo by Kelly Hofer

As former U.S. President Barack Obama’s secretary of energy, Ernest Moniz played a critical role in negotiating the nuclear deal in Iran and the Paris Climate Accord.

On Oct. 5, Moniz was in Calgary as the inaugural speaker of the Progress Energy International Speaker Series hosted by the Haskayne School of Business and spoke to a sold-out audience of 350 people downtown about the global energy landscape.

“The United States and Canada are unique in having a major resource and a major market together. That’s quite different,” said Moniz. 

“Europe has some resources but not matched to its market size. China has essentially no resource to speak of. That’s what makes North America so special and why we were so prepared to take advantage of this resource so quickly.” 

Moniz, who has since returned to his role as the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems at MIT since leaving Washington in January, spoke in Calgary about energy security, climate change and the need for innovation in the energy industry.

The event was made possible by a gift of $1 million from Progress Energy to launch the series. The annual series will bring major international energy experts to Calgary. 

“We are excited to partner with the Haskayne School of Business in bringing influential, visionary speakers from the world stage to Calgary," says President and CEO of Progress Energy Mark Fitzgerald.

"Exposure to different viewpoints is an important part of a university education and of lifelong learning. The Progress Energy International Speaker Series is a great fit for us. We are a company that values diversity of thought and believes it makes a business stronger."

Moniz, who was part of the US delegation that negotiated the Paris climate accord, said we collectively must decide how to respond to the effects of climate change – rising sea levels, drought, wild fire — by choosing the right balance between mitigation and adaptation.

He gave an example of an electric utility in Florida he visited last year that spent billions in adaptation costs in order to protect its system. The company tried to prevent flooding of its substations and stiffening its transmission poles, he said. 

“It got them through Hurricane Matthew last year in great shape but they were overwhelmed by Hurricane Irma (this year). Maybe another $10 billion would have helped? This is an expensive way to go.”

Adaptation, though politically easier than mitigation, brings enormous costs and so as a society we must find the balance between both options.

“That balance has major economic consequences, macroeconomic consequences because every study suggests very clearly that the mitigation approach is by far the less expensive one. It’s also, however, the one that attracts more political attention, societal attention,” said Moniz.

During his term as secretary of energy, which began in 2013, Moniz championed an “all-of-the-above” approach.

“I accept the idea of a low carbon future, but within that conception I believe that we have to have every fuel have a future in that future, and that includes coal, the most carbon-intensive of fuels.”

Natural gas will play a major role in the energy industry for decades, he said, with four new LNG export terminals under construction to open in the U.S. by 2021.

Said Moniz, “We really have to maintain the economic and environmental benefits of expanding natural gas possibilities.

“There’s lots of things to be done yet through innovation to reduce the environmental footprint and continue to maintain the economic benefits.”