That's right. MIT signed a cooperation agreement on the subject of energy with ... FRANCE!
The MIT-France program organized a day of lectures and round-tables yesterday, with speakers from both MIT and various French institutions to discuss energy policy, energy for the future, and more specifically, innovative materials for energy.
The day concluded with a cooperation agreement signed by Susan Hockfield (president of MIT) and Alain Fuchs (director of CNRS) to built a joint R&D laboratory to develop materials for energy -- all in the presence of Valérie Pécresse, French Minister of Higher Education and Research. Not bad!
I made it to the morning session of talks with speakers including Ernie Moniz (director of MIT Energy Initiative), Suzanne Berger (MIT professor and director of MIT-France), and Martha Heitzmann (VP for Research and Innovation of AREVA).
The talks I saw were about innovation and energies of the future, and though they were quite interesting, I found myself deeply frustrated by many of the re-occurring themes that render this "global energy system" so complex --- national and international policy, special interest, economics, heavy industry, government, subsidies, resources, R&D, investment, funding, manufacturing, ...
Clearly, this high-level debate needs to exist and continue, but once again, I find myself looking more towards "shifting the paradigm" as Martha Heitzmann alluded to in her talk. Is there another way we can look differently at the energy system? Bring it more to a simple individual or community level as opposed to this massive complex glob of technico-socio-politico MADNESS!?
What I mean is, -- the top-down strategy is necessary -- but very complicated and slow-moving. I want to be part of a parallel movement, where we approach the issue from the bottom -- educating individuals about energy-use and building individual and local energy networks.......
On another note, of the speakers I saw, Suzanne Berger particularly impressed me (I always like when I'm in inspired by cool, smart, and interesting women!). She chose to focus on an interesting point - that over the past 30 years, the "innovation culture" was dominated by IT and internet products and services. An industry that on the one hand, values design expertise and on the other hand, commoditizes manufacturing. As a result, in the US, companies like Apple, Intel, and Cisco boomed, they transferred their manufacturing to Asia. Professor Berger gave the example that for an iPhone that costs $600, only ~$7 goes to the manufacturing in Asia. Therefore, the majority of the wealth stays in the US.
Over the next 30 years, we will need major innovations in the energy industry. However, the energy industry, unlike the IT industry, sees a much larger portion of the "wealth" in manufacturing. This reality has already been demonstrated by the course of the solar industry in the US. While US companies have been at the forefront of designing and developing solar technologies, manufacturing was once again outsourced to Asia. And now, we are coming to realize that the center of gravity for the solar industry is shifting to China -- because manufacturing is not a "commodity" in the energy industry. Apparently, President Hockfield requested that Professor Berger lead an interdisciplinary team to work on this subject, a 2-year project titled Production in the Innovation Economy.
While we're talking about manufacturing (and the bottom-up approach), here is a cool article about bring manufacturing back -- and on a DIY and community-based level : The Kitchen Table Industrialists.
Lots of straying ideas in this article. MIT - France cooperation. The "lourdeur" of the global energy industry. Working from the bottom up instead of top-down. Smart women. Innovation. Small-scale manufacturing. I'll try to be more focused next ti-- did I tell you that the 1BOG guy called me about a solar promo ? ;-)