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The Future's So Bright…

ESIA group of Tufts students committed to promoting renewable energy found themselves energized by a trip to a star-studded conference in the United Arab Emirates in January.


The topic on everyone's mind was the future, and the fact that the future is now was brought vividly to life when Prince Charles appeared at the inaugural World Future Energy Summit—via a holographic projection.

For the eight Tufts undergraduates who made their way to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the conference in January, that moment—meant to underscore the need to reduce our carbon footprint—was one of many memorable experiences. But for members of the Energy Security Initiative (ESI), an organization that operates as part of the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts, the focus for the trip was exploring the future of renewable energy.

The Tufts students comprised the only undergraduate delegation to the summit, which was sponsored by the government of Abu Dhabi's Masdar Initiative for sustainable development. The conference focused on the intersection between fossil fuels and renewable energy, attracting government and energy industry officials from around the world.

The UAE plans to make the conference "the hub for debate about renewable energy for this year and for future years," says sophomore Daniel Enking, co-director of ESI who attended the summit along with fellow co-director Alexandra Wright (A'08), Renee Birenbaum (A'09), Jesse Gossett (A'08), Jacob Mandel (E'08), David Mou (A'10), Jared Rodriguez (E'08) and Jayson Uppal (E'08).

A Global Dialogue

ESI, which was launched by Wright three years ago as an offshoot of the EPIIC symposium "Oil and Water," learned about the World Future Energy Summit over the summer. When the group inquired about student registration rates, the summit's organizers surprised them by offering free admission. Throughout the fall, the group raised money for travel costs from several groups around Tufts, including the IGL and Tufts Institute of the Environment.

In preparation for the conference, the Tufts students researched subjects relating to renewable energy and the UAE. The tiny, oil-rich nation, says Enking, has funded most of its development from oil revenues. He examined how the UAE might diversify its economy to reduce reliance on oils.

"They are really, from the way we see it, trying to protect their future interests, and investing in renewable energy will allow them to make that transition," says Enking.

ESI ESI

At left, the scene from the World Future Energy Summit. At right, members of the Energy Security Initiative with the CEO of Masdar, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber

One of those investments is the Masdar Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, the sponsor of the conference. Among Masdar's projects are starting a graduate school for energy research and developing a model of a sustainable city powered completely by renewable energy sources and located in Abu Dhabi (pictured on homepage).

"The fact that they're doing it is really going to send a kind of ripple effect through the Middle East, potentially through the world in a sense," says Enking.

Implementation of renewable energy technologies, however, requires substantial financial investment. Enking, who is currently taking the EPIIC seminar "Global Poverty and Equality," was impressed by the attention paid to the connection between energy and poverty.

"You can also see from this conference the big money that's starting to get behind renewable energies," says Enking. "That's always been a problem, getting renewable energy to the mainstream. Now you have these big companies and big investors starting to get behind them. So in that way, a more practical way, it was certainly encouraging."

The summit, said to be the largest event of its kind, brought together prominent individuals from governments, energy companies and environmental groups around the world.

Iceland, which draws 99.9 percent of its energy from renewable sources, served as an example of what can be done when a commitment is made to cleaner energy.

"The president of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, just got up and begged, 'Please come and build renewable energy for us.' The president of the Maldives [Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] is saying, 'My island is sinking. We're not going to be here in 30 years.' And he's begging, 'Please do something.'"

— Jared Rodriguez

"The president of Iceland [Olafur Ragnar Grimsson] said, 'If we can do it, this little tiny nation in darkness at the top of the world, then anyone can do it,'" recalls Rodriguez.

For some nations, however, it's not that easy.

"The president of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, just got up and begged, 'Please come and build renewable energy for us,'" recalls Rodriguez. "The president of the Maldives [Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] is saying, 'My island is sinking. We're not going to be here in 30 years.' And he's begging, 'Please do something.'"

As Rodriguez explains, more than money is at stake.

"The future of humanity depends on this technological advancement," he says. "One speaker [Sir Jonathon Porritt, founder of Forum for the Future] said, 'This World Future Energy Summit is no less than a summit for the future of the world itself.'" (continued)

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Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications. Additional reporting by Julia C. Keller, School of Engineering.

Homepage photo is artist's rendering of Masdar's planned sustainable development model city in Abu Dhabi. Trip photos courtesy of ESI.

This story originally ran on Feb. 25, 2008.