Editor’s note: Jim Roberts is the former Founding Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and the Blue Ridge Angel Investors Network.
RALEIGH, N.C. – I thoroughly enjoyed the recent 24th annual Emerging Issues Forum at N.C. State. This is always a humbling event as the forum always finds the brightest people to discuss a variety of issues.
This year the topic was energy, and North Carolina former Gov. Jim Hunt found a way to get superstar Tom Friedman to speak. Hunt created the forum, and his pride in it is quite obvious.
And there was much more to the 2008 event than Friedman, Amory Lovins, for example,was a tremendous source of knowledge about all things in green energy. My favorite term was the “NegaWatt.” This is not a typo. A NegaWatt is a term to describe the amount of power saved or not used by using an alternative method. Lovins’ diagram of the inefficiency of right angles in pipes at power plants will be an image that sticks in my mind for a while – a 45% waste of power. “Feebate” was another new term. If you buy something that is energy efficient, you get a rebate or feebate. A feebate can also be a financial penalty for buying something that is energy inefficient such as a Hummer.
Friedman, author of best-seller “The World is Flat,” discussed two interesting things to keep an eye on. First, he is working on a new book called “Green: The New Red, White and Blue” Next, he discussed the idea of “GeoGreenism” or the idea that America needs to lead the world in innovation around green energy. GeoGreenism is his new term and like he said, if you say the term first, you own it.
For inspiration, I give you Majora. Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx is a superstar in the making. While there were many theories and wonderful ideas, this was a woman who was making things happen on the street. Example: She turned an abandoned dump of a field into the first riverside park in the Bronx part of New York in over 50 years. This park had come so far she got married in the park recently. She was also promoting the idea of “Green Collar Jobs” and how they were helping mothers get off of welfare. How simply pruning low hanging branches on street sidewalk trees was reducing drug crimes by simply lighting the area under the tree better. Sunlight is the best disinfectant!
I felt inspired especially when I was driving out of the conference on I-40 and saw all of the trash on the highway. Oddly enough, the trash on the highway was the lead story on the nightly news in the Triangle. Majora had found a way to turn a dump into a park with $3 million dollars. Surely I can help find a way to make our highways more pleasant. You are either part of the solution, or you are part of the problem is my motto.
Chuck Swoboda, chairman and chief executive officer of Cree, had a little swagger in his address and picked up on the Friedman idea of the Green Revolution, including the fact there is no revolution without somebody getting hurt. Cree makes LED lights, and Cree wants to kill the light bulb.
And who just happened to be the speaker before Cree’s Swoboda? General Electric’s Chairman and CEO and if you haven’t looked at a light bulb recently, GE makes light bulbs.
Funny, did you read recently about the rumors swirling about a possible GE acquisition of Cree? Crazy like a fox if you connect the dots. (Did you know that light bulbs use only 10% of the energy to produce light? That’s right 90% of the energy is wasted by only producing heat.)
Event organizers always struggle on how to get the audience to stick around after the high dollar keynote speaker such as Friedman or after lunch. But there weren’t many empty seats at the end of day one when Nobel Prize winner and former NC State grad and Professor Rajendra Pachauri gave a speech about the impact of global warming. He now heads an organization called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
I also enjoyed the pluck of one of the founders of MegaWatt Solar, a UNC spinout focused on making solar energy more efficient and affordable after seeing the devastation in his home state of Mississippi after hurricane Katrina. On red Wolfpack turf, J. Christopher Clemens had the gall to wear his Carolina Blue UNC logo tie. Yet, he had some tough words for the city of Chapel Hill and the lack of economic impact foresight in the “progressive” town. His company is headquartered in Hillsborough.
Asheville made a splash at the event. First, according to the live voting technology used at the conference, 10% of the active voters were from the mountains/west. Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy made a good impression and was prepared with statistics about the new Grove Park Inn property called the Ellington. The Ellington will be “silver or platinum” certified for energy efficiency by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) The founder of Innova Homes, a green modular builder who is the leading the industry and making big news in industry publications nationwide, also talked energy.
As a grand finale, Gov. Mike Easley created a palpable buzz when he announced the Alternative Transportation Energy Center and the idea of the Wolfpack Power Pack. People were so excited I thought former Gov. Hunt was going to give a Wolfpack howl.
Jim Roberts is the former Founding Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and the Blue Ridge Angel Investors Network. Jim, a new resident of the Triangle, has a new blog about Leadership and Entrepreneurship at http://biznsalez.blogspot.com/. Jim can be reached at jimRroberts@yahoo.com.