ORIE Alums Comment on Sustainable Energy Conference
A record number of alumni, students, and faculty attended this year's annual Cornell Engineering Alumni Association (CEAA) conference, chaired by Augustus Y. Noojin III '69. The conference, entitled "Sustainable Energy Systems: Investing in Our Future," provided a full slate of talks that outlined the relationship between energy and climate challenge and considered the viability of an array of solutions ranging from conservation, petroleum and coal to nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and biofuels sources. (Videos and slides from most of the talks are available).
|Michael Zak, ORIE '75, at the CEAA Conference|
Michael Zak, ORIE '75, was particularly impressed with the way in which his undergraduate classmate, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Professor Richard Allmendinger, described the interplay between climate change and energy, making it clear to Zak that "we have less time to fix some of these problems than perhaps any of us think." A partner in Charles River Ventures (CRV), one of the oldest and most successful venture capital firms, Zak said he is especially interested in investing in companies involved with alternative energy. In his College of Engineering update to CEAA members at the conference, Dean Kent Fuchs commended Zak for his support of the sustainability effort at Cornell, particularly for the assistance Zak provided to Professor Frank DiSalvo in getting Cornell's Center for a Sustainable Future underway. As a student at Cornell Zak pursued both Operations Research (OR) and Asian studies. After a stint in the Marine Corps, he worked at Motorola and the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. before joining CRV. In 2005 his gift to Cornell of $5 million led to the establishment of the China and Asia Pacific Studies (CAPS) program.
|Brooke Schumm, ORIE '77, during a break in the conference.|
To Brooke Schumm, ORIE '77, a key takeaway from the conference was learning that " the number of power plants that would have to built to achieve even modest projections of energy demand is staggering," with the potential to "jeopardize everyone's lifestyle and health" unless alternatives for generating energy are developed and used. Following his undergraduate degree in ORIE, Schumm went on to a law degree at the University of Michigan and employment by Amoco and then at a large Chicago law firm. He is now President and Managing Partner of Daneker, McIntire, Schumm, Prince, Goldstein, Manning & Widmann, P.C., a Baltimore law firm.
Schumm said he has been interested in alternative energy for many years, "primarily hydro, and to a lesser degree solar." He holds a patent on the use of planetary machines for certain Stirling machine applications and recently completed the second stage of installation of a 2800 Watt photovoltaic (PV) system on his home near Baltimore. He has documented his experience with the legal, regulatory, political, pricing, and other issues illuminated by his PV system installation.
|Eric Hamburg, ORIE '85, at a the conference luncheon|
Eric Hamburg, ORIE '85, was "shocked to understand how serious a problem [greenhouse gases] already are" and that "technology exists to fix the problem yet we are doing nothing to deploy it on a mass scale." He pointed out that "movers and shakers [need] to get the word out and world leaders to begin taking action." Hamburg said he came to the conference both to identify investment opportunities and trends and as a concerned citizen and parent to "better understand how we can lessen or dependence on fossil fuel energy" and improve the environment. Hamburg is founder and President of Industrial Renaissance, a private equity firm that acquires, transforms and builds businesses. He was an industry pioneer and practitioner of just-in-time and lean manufacturing when it was introduced into the U.S. in the mid-1980’s, and buy-build strategies when they became popular in private equity in the mid-1990’s, and has been partner and lead investor in the acquisition of more than 35 companies and had operating and management roles at more than 30 businesses in a wide variety of industries.
|Dwight Collins '68, ORIE M.S. '71 Ph.D. '73, at the Sustainable Energy Systems Conference|
Dwight Collins, '68, ORIE M.S. '71 Ph.D. '73, also said he was impressed by "the urgency with which we need to address global climate change in order to minimize major disruptions." As a result he said he was particularly pleased to learn from Dr. Frank DiSalvo, John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science, about the formation of Cornell's Center for a Sustainable Future, which DiSalvo directs. Collins, whose undergraduate Cornell degree is in Engineering Physics, teaches sustainable operations management at the Presidio School of Management, a new institution at an historic former Army base in San Francisco whose primary offering is an MBA in Sustainable Management. Collins also partners with ProfitPoint, a 13 year old supply chain optimization consulting firm, to offer green supply chain optimization consulting services. Previously Collins worked in the Air Force, at the Logistics Management Institute, at Exxon and at Chesapeake Decision Science and its acquirer, Aspen Technology.
At Presidio Collins is Director of Project Oriented Learning. As a member of the INFORMS Roundtable, the primary forum for organizations involved in the practice of OR, he observes that "the OR profession is missing out on some major opportunities for leadership in the field of sustainable business." He has been working with the Roundtable to promote OR modeling in many fields related to sustainable business, particularly in introducing sustainable practices to save or recycle resources in existing manufacturing and other businesses.
Like Collins, Zak, Schumm and Hamburg also said they see high potential for use of OR in dealing with sustainability. Hamburg expressed concern that there is "not much time to study the problem" but that once the seriousness of the problem is acknowledged and resources are deployed, Operations Research can be used to develop factories producing energy solutions on a mass scale, to optimize networks to deploy energy and to determine the best portfolio of energy sources to meet demands. Zak pointed out that the underlying disciplines and thinking of OR are applicable "beyond the solving of any specific problem" since both global energy needs and reduction of carbon entail a "vast system of interacting sub-systems[and] thinking about complex systems is what OR folks tend to be pretty good at."
During his visit to Cornell for the conference, Schumm shared breakfast with Andrew Schultz Professor of Industrial Engineering Emeritus William Maxwell, who good-humoredly observed that in describing issues raised at the conference Schumm seemed to have absorbed Maxwell's teaching theme of "parameter limitation," i.e. the availability of resources (human, material, capital) imposes constraints on action. In commenting later on the conference, Schumm pointed out that in the sustainable energy area, "the problems of supply chain development and optimization, investment under uncertainty, systems interdependence and multivariable control" present major challenges for constrained optimization, particularly because of the nonlinear nature of the underlying systems.
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