Sam Nunn Policy Forum

As those that follow me on Twitter are definitely aware of, yesterday was the biennial Sam Nunn Policy Forum at Georgia Tech. The purpose of the Forum is to bring together diverse array of scholars to discuss a major, developing policy issue. The statement of purpose from the website is:

The Policy Forum is designed to connect the academic and policymaking communities to craft effective and creative responses to critical challenges confronting the United States in the twenty-first century. Transcending disciplinary boundaries and engaging scholars, practitioners, students, and interested citizens, the Policy Forum offers a significant venue for policy-relevant research and dialogue

The topic of yesterday’s Forum is “U.S. Competitiveness Amid a Changing Natural Gas Landscape: A View from the Southeast”, and featured a diverse array of speakers from industry and academia (speaker list here: http://www.inta.gatech.edu/sam-nunn-forum/2014/schedule). The keynote was provided by Secretary of Energy Moniz, with some opening remarks from Senator Nunn.

Overall, it was a good event, with interesting questions from the crowd during the Q&A sessions and diversity of research focuses. Unfortunately, I thought just about everyone was on the same page on the future of natural gas being a benefit to the US, that smarter grids are necessary, and that the market is overly regulated. The two most interesting speakers, in my opinion, were Sarah Ladislaw of CSIS and Azerbaijan Ambassador to the US Elin Suleymanov, who both spoke to the greater geopolitical implications of natural gas, as well as the confidence building that develops over time from integrating energy markets between states. Ladislaw made two key points during the presentation that I found extremely important: the perceived negative externalities arsing from a boom in natural gas in the US for EU, specifically a less competitive EU and a more aggressive US foreign policy, unconstrained by energy insecurity. Further, the point was made that the current uncertainty in the future effects of US natural gas on international markets, plus the fluid geopolitical atmosphere  arising from Russian actions in Ukraine, will perpetuate policies promoting stability and risk-aversion, hampering growth and competitiveness. 

One last point on the Forum, something that struck me as odd: only one speaker discussed cyber-security. Several speakers discussed the role of integration and interconnected sensors as a way of increasing efficiency, but all lacked mention of the potential for elevated vulnerability or decreased resiliency. A fellow grad student of mine discussed this missing element after the Forum. Both of found this promotion of cyber integration with lack of adequate security discussion odd. Our discussion quickly turned to individual power production in conjunction to a smart grid system, in order to increase resiliency of the energy system. Perhaps a white paper there.