Q&A: Texas A&M Energy Leaders

Mays is engaged in addressing a wide range of issues surrounding the current state and future states of energy as one of our three Grand Challenges. Understanding how the world is being impacted by energy and coming up with forward-thinking plans will be imperative as we advance the world’s prosperity.

Mark A. Barteau, vice president for research at Texas A&M and Halliburton Professor in Engineering, weighs in on these innovative strategies. He and his office already support Mays by helping fund Mays research grants that target the three Grand Challenges.

What are the challenges facing the energy sector, and what can we do to affect change?

Harnessing the power of markets in the energy sector: “Energy and climate are major challenges, and the solutions are as much societal as technical. Business and markets are some of the most effective ways to drive change compared to regulations and mandates. We need to consider the power of consumers to drive better energy and environmental policies.”

How can different industries and stakeholders work together toward this shift in thinking?

Bringing more stakeholders to the table: “It is possible to achieve consensus among quite different interests. I’m an engineer by training, but I’ve strongly stressed involving social sciences, economics, and policy on these challenges. I think we engineers too often go forth to the public and say, ‘We have answers to your problems” and the response is ‘Oh, yeah?’ If you want a case study, go talk to any nuclear engineer.”

What does a future leader in energy need to know moving forward?

What future leaders in energy need to understand: “They need to have the recognition that things are changing and are going to continue to change. We have already seen this with utilities and the closure of coal plants. This is independent of the regulations by administrations from either side of the aisle. Basically the shale gas revolution has changed the economics of power generation and we’re seeing companies who have fought tooth and nail against environmental controls on their coal plants shutting them down, not because of environmental reasons but for economic reasons. We are seeing solar become increasingly economically viable. Shell is now tying the compensation of its executive leaders to the reduction of carbon emissions. We’re going to see more of that.” (In December 2018, Shell announced it will start creating short-term carbon emissions targets by 2020 and plans to continue establishing new targets through 2050. The company is the first in the industry to link executive pay to reaching these targets.)

How do you see entrepreneurial thinking coming into play?

The need for entrepreneurial thinking: “There’s going to be a need for entrepreneurial leaders across the board. What we’re seeing with the automakers, for example, is an increased emphasis on electric vehicles. Volkswagon and Ford have made major commitments. That shift is part of what’s behind GM’s recent cutbacks. Some of these transformations will be more cathartic than others. The traditional approach has been to protect the historical business. I think whether it’s becoming a clean energy supplier on the part of the energy companies or a mobility provider rather than a seller of cars on the part of auto companies, they need to think about the larger societal need that they are addressing, not just the products that they traditionally have sold.”


 

Stratos Pistikopoulos was appointed as director of the Texas A&M Energy Institute in September 2018. He also is a TEES Eminent Professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering.

What is the Energy Institute’s role?

Energy Solutions for Life. “The quest for reliable, safe, and sustainable energy will be one of the most prominent themes of scientific inquiry in the twenty-first century. At the center of this critical need is balancing innovative and elegant solutions with improvements to the quality of life for all peoples. The Energy Institute at Texas A&M is a focal point for the engagement of scientists, engineers, policy-makers, regulators, business leaders, investors, and citizens in the pursuit of impactful energy discoveries. Building upon this, we believe that we are can provide an extra dimension of nuance to discussions by breaking down traditional barriers, such as sectors and disciplines, to bring diverse people together to tackle societal problems that have long-lasting positive impacts.”

What makes the Energy Institute unique?

An interdisciplinary approach. “By taking a holistic approach to energy research, education, and engagement, we seek inclusivity by choice and by necessity. Universities traditionally work in vertical disciplinary structures, and this modality has both inherent strengths and weaknesses. The benefits of horizontal structures across disciplines are clear, but they are very difficult to plan, grow, and sustain. Luckily, energy is both a challenge and opportunity that unites people around solutions of distinction. We are focusing our efforts on the leadership and coordination of major activities, both nationally and internationally based, which otherwise would be untapped by other groups.”

What is one way that the Energy Institute is incorporating business and finance into its work?

Creating a panoramic view of energy. “We have established two graduate programs, a Master of Science in Energy and a Certificate in Energy, which bring together the various components of energy in a holistic and integrative manner. These two offerings have a fast-track design and are 10-month programs that can be followed as either in an “executive format” online, or as a traditional master’s degree offered either face-to-face or online. Blending the technological, engineering, science, policy, legal, agricultural, humanities, and financial and business aspects, these programs create thinkers and leaders who, by nature, take a panoramic view of the energy landscape and who can connect the dots to develop creative solutions for energy in the future.”

How is Mays involved in this training program?

Accounting, entrepreneurship, and project management. “Mays Business School is involved in three very important areas in our Master of Science in Energy and Certificate in Energy. The first is ICPE 607: Energy Accounting, taught by Shannon Deer and Karen Farmer. The second area is entrepreneurship, and we have been working with Richard Lester and Blake Petty to offer ICPE 612 Entrepreneurship in Energy for the last two years. We also have introduced a new module this spring, ICPE 689 Special Topics in Energy: Managing Projects, which is focused on project management and is taught by Michael Pace.”

Are Mays researchers also involved in the Energy Institute?

Working across colleges. “As an institute focused on interdisciplinary interactions, the inclusion of instructors and researchers within the Energy Institute’s activities is essential. We have built a community of more than 280 faculty affiliates across the Texas A&M University System, including approximately 10 from Mays Business School. We’re trying to promote interdisciplinary research each year by providing seed grants to these affiliates, thus bringing together colleagues for transformative research across the academic spectrum. For example, one of Mays faculty, Neil Geismar, was involved in one such seed grant in 2015. Another great example is the Food-Energy-Water Nexus, encompassing many departments across the campus, but emphasizing the interactions of regulation, policy, financing, and entrepreneurship with technology and science, as well as social acceptance and consumer behavior.


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