Historically, energy technology research in academia has been very fragmented and not highly visible beyond the view of the principal investigators and their narrowly-focused peers. Bigger impact has been elusive because successfully tackling energy issues often requires the expertise of multiple disciplines, and coordination across departments and schools/colleges is not often as easy or collaborative as ought to be the case.
My alma-mater MIT appears to be tackling the massive energy challenges with vigor. The Institute’s new President, Susan Hockfield, has made energy a key initiative across the campus.
Among the initiatives such a renewed focus has spawned are the formation of the MIT Energy Research Council to link departments in developing a coherent energy research agenda, an MIT Energy Club for interested students and faculty to join in energy discourses, and a dedicated energy section in MIT’s publication Technology Review.
MIT is not alone: here in the Midwest, Ohio State and Michigan have recently initiated university-wide energy initiatives. I’m glad to see that the best minds from US academia are becoming more effectively harnessed towards energy research.
However, unless a more favorable energy market environment is created through proactive policy, even very promising and economically-viable research innovations will always face a significant uphill battle in mainstream adoption.