2015 Program Topics Under Development

BIG OIL AND GAS RETOOLS FOR THE FUTURE
The price of oil has collapsed, rigs are being mothballed, the Keystone pipeline is delayed, and a few universities are divesting their carbon holdings. At this very stressful time in the energy industry, companies are readjusting their business models to cope with the new reality. What is the outlook? Many oil and gas producers are now figuring the future price of carbon into their scenario planning.  What does this mean for production levels and prices over the next decade? What new innovative technologies are in the pipeline to make oil more sustainable while meeting the needs of a growing world population?

SUSTAINABILITY AND INNOVATION
Most CEOs know what sustainability is and why it’s important. The key is to figure out how to turn the concept into an opportunity. What strategies, systems, processes, and structures lead to breakthrough products and services? How can focusing on a low-carbon, safe chemical world lead to new ideas and stronger, more profitable relationships with suppliers.

CITIES EMBRACE THE INTERNET OF THINGS
The mash-up of sensors, big data, and the Internet promises to bring radical new efficiency to cities. The new trend: tens of billions of devices and systems are connecting online, allowing revolutionary changes to how things are done, from improving traffic flows to boosting building efficiency and maximizing water use, to mention just a few. Some say this is a trillion-dollar opportunity. Who will the players be, and which applications show the most promise?

WHERE IS WASHINGTON?
The energy policy coming out of the nation’s capitol these days is almost entirely being driven by the president though regulatory action. The EPA and other agencies are taking the lead on vehicle mileage standards, emissions from coal plants, and methane gas leaks. Will the Republican-led Congress take the reins and legislate for change for the energy and utility sectors, or will they try to defang Obama’s regulatory campaign? Will the renewables energy tax credit get extended? Will we see some sort of carbon or gasoline tax or will most of the new regulatory innovation be left to the states?

DEBATE: THE FUTURE OF FOSSIL FUELS
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to avert serious consequences, the planet cannot warm more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times. That means we will have to leave about two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground. If the UN is right, coal and oil companies currently have more assets on the balance sheets than we can burn safely, thereby creating a risk for investors. Big oil says that most of our energy will still be coming from fossil fuels 30 years from now, and that we can find cleaner ways to burn them. Who’s right?

THE ADAPTIVE CITY
The most conservative predictions say that climate change will cause the seas to rise by 5 to 15 inches over the next 50 years. That doesn’t sound like much, but consider that Florida has $156 billion worth of property and 300,000 homes on land that is less than three feet above the high-tide line. Watch out, Miami! From sea walls to floating islands to artificial barrier reefs to new forms of energy systems and building designs, how can we make sure our cities can adapt to the inevitable changes in climate?

THE DISCONNECTED UTILITY
Distributed solar generation is a disruptive technology that will transform the way energy is produced, regulated, and consumed. Pair solar with batteries and smart micro-grid technology individuals and businesses will be able to cut the cord to the old grid. What are the challenges and opportunities that this disruptive technology poses to utility companies, the upstarts, and other stakeholders? Looking ahead, what are the business models that will work?

THE SUSTAINABLE FOOD REVOLUTION 
Farming consumes tremendous amounts of energy, water, and fertilizer. How will the world feed a growing population without boosting fossil fuel use and depleting water sources? New breakthroughs in technology—from GPS crop analyses, to automated irrigation techniques, to urban hydroponic farming—might hold some of the answers.

THE ZERO-ENERGY CORPORATION
Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon all have laid out road maps that explain how they intend to achieve their goals of procuring 100% renewable energy. This includes not only their office buildings but also server farms that now consume 1.5% of global energy and are one of the fastest-growing sources of CO2. Apple is now the country’s biggest private owner of solar facilities. Google has invested $1 billion in clean energy. Even newcomers like SalesForce and Box have made 100% renewable energy pledges. What works and what is the payback?

THE FUTURE OF ENERGY
One of the world’s top venture capitalists talks about the prospects for biofuels, utility storage, hydrogen fuel cells, distributed power, and more.

THE INTERNET OF THINGS 
The company of the future will look completely different in ten years. Technology, big data, sensors, massive processing power, and mobile apps will reshape the business landscape. Experts predict that we will be living in a world where every component has its own IP address and will be connected in a massive intelligent web. This trend holds huge implications. Innovation will bloom. Industries will become more energy efficient as every process becomes smarter, and corporations will be able to make more with less—a must for a resource-scarce world. The nature of work will also change as white collar employees will need better analytical skills, factory workers will toil more with their heads than their hands, and marketers will need to parse mountains of data. CEOs and management experts will discuss how to maneuver this new world.

WALL STREET BETS ON A SUSTAINABLE WORLD 
A growing number of big banks, institutional investors, and private equity funds are investing heavily in renewable power. Warren Buffett is now one of the country’s biggest investors in solar and wind. The Chinese installed a staggering 13 GW of solar in 2014 alone, more than America’s total installed base. Where are the opportunities, where will the money come from for future growth, and what happens to the U.S. market when the federal investment tax credit expires?

COOL COMPANIES COMPETITION
Clean tech entrepreneurs make their elevator pitch to a distinguished panel of investors who will grill them on their ideas. Who has the best business plan? The audience gets to vote.

WHERE THE MONEY IS FLOWING 
After investing billions in clean tech over the last decade, the Sandhill Road venture capitalists are backing away from the sector. Now it seems that corporate VC arms and family offices are filling the void. Last year, for example, family offices alone invested more in clean tech than did traditional VC investors and that number is growing. Who are these new investors, what is their strategy, and where do they see the next hot area of investment?

WHAT CAN THE WEST LEARN FROM CHINA?
China is now the world’s largest producer and user of solar and wind power. It has the world’s most ambitious nuclear power program and is experimenting with cost-effective carbon capture technologies. Beijing is rolling out a slew of initiatives and new regulations to accelerate growth in the energy sector. What lessons can we learn from China? What’s working and what isn’t?

INTELLIGENT WHEELS
Silicon Valley is infiltrating the transportation sector faster than anyone thought possible only a few years ago. New software-based technologies such as advanced cruise control, collision avoidance systems, and self-parking are leading toward the self-driving car. Automated mobility will not only reduce accidents but also will making driving more efficient. The way we use cars is changing. Car sharing services have become popular with the millennials. What’s the impact on the industry if people rent rather than buy their vehicles? Uber, which is shaking up the taxi industry, is now working with Carnegie Mellon to build self-driving cars. Where are we in this race and which technologies will prevail?

THE WIRED CITY
Increasingly cities are combining smart software, sensors, cameras, and big data to boost efficiency, save resources like water and electricity, and cut back on traffic by introducing bike and car sharing networks. What technologies have the biggest payoffs? How can a company work with city governments to make sure their technology gets swiftly adopted? What are the risks?

THE BATTLE BETWEEN ELECTIC CARS AND HYDROGEN
Major automakers are designing vehicles to burn less gas or be powered by new fuels such as electricity and hydrogen. California is investing $200 million to build a network of hydrogen filling stations. Tesla, with its hot-selling S model, is trying to disrupt the auto industry by proving that an electric car can be built for the masses. It is constructing a $5 billion American battery plant to drive costs and thus sticker prices down. How will the global auto industry react?

WATER STRATEGIES
Almost every industry needs lots of water but most of the world has underinvested in water infrastructure and technology. Meanwhile, growing populations, industrial pollution, and climate change are stressing water supplies. This perfect storm presents an enormous opportunity for investors who know how to read this trend. From start-ups with revolutionary water technologies to giant infrastructure companies, which are the smart plays?

LIVING OFF THE GRID—THE UTILITIES STRIKE BACK
Rooftop solar is one of the country’s fastest-growing industries. Some big utilities are starting to worry that a shrinking customer base will hurt their profits. The advent of home solar energy storage is only accelerating the trend. Some utilities now want to charge solar customers for having to maintain back-up fossil fuel plants and are denying permits for home storage units. Will this backlash stall the U.S. solar industry? Will utilities enter the residential solar market in a big way?

INVESTING IN THE AGE OF CARBON
The plunge in the price of oil and gas in 2015 has forced investors to rethink the entire energy sector. With a global glut of oil and shrinking industry profits, investors have hammered oil and gas stocks. Some universities and pension funds are decarbonizing their portfolios, and some countries are putting a price on carbon, either through taxes or via cap and trade exchanges. What does that bode for investors in the sector, not to mention the U.S. economy and job creation? How will lower fossil fuel prices affect capital formation in the solar and wind industries?

WHERE TO PUT ALL THAT CO2?
Despite the impressive gains being made with renewables, many countries, especially in the developing world, are still burning coal and will keep building coal plants. Corporations trying to develop carbon capture storage technology have huge issues surrounding cost and where to store the carbon. On the fringe, some entrepreneurs and scientists are exploring geo-engineering solutions that include Hail Mary systems to suck greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere and rockets to deliver sulfur into it to block sunlight. What makes sense?