So last week I was up in Vancouver for the International Student Energy Summit and I must say it was a really inspiring event which completely changed my view on the energy industry. That being said, Vancouver has also been a lot innovative than i had imagined, it is indeed a very green but also sustainable city.

I enjoyed being at the conference as I had the opportunity to debate on merits of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline debate as well as presenting in the final rounds of the FortisBC community energy challenge, which was to design a system proposal for the mayor of Sustainaville.

Aside from those activities though, some of the speakers had really new and interesting topics to present. My biggest takeaways from the conference are as follows:

Emissions Trading: There have been a string of government initiatives to promote the adoption of clean tech and abatement, but an effective emissions market is the only long term solution. With OECD countries up to their neck in debt, the distortion caused by the government cannot last.

It is only when you have market that can effectively quantify the externalities of emissions that clean technology and abatement become economically viable. It is the economics that ultimately underpins the success in our efforts. Despite all the criticism of the EU ETS, including windfall profits for utilities, emissions markets must be established for the long term. The introduction of the California ETS is vital for it acts as a model for other US states.

Nuclear Renaissance: Despite the Fukushima incident we are in a new nuclear renaissance. The stigma associated with nuclear technology has been attributed to incidents occurring at first and second generation facilities built in 60s and 70s. Even though there has been a public outcry against fission technology, it is very important to distinguish between sensationalist reactionary remarks and the realities of generation IV fission reactors.

Technology such as the pebble bed or travelling wave nuclear reactors are much more safer and advanced than the reactors which have faced troubles. No matter what the public has to say about fission technology, the reality is that nuclear energy is a low hanging fruit to addressing our emissions issues. Ultimately it is up the government to decide and with China’s continued push, there stands a very real chance that countries such as US and other developed nations will be coerced to pursue nuclear technology to prevent the growth and international expansion of a domestic Chinese nuclear industry.

Fusion is a Possibility: Fusion technology is not scifi anymore, it is very realizable within our lifetime. General Fusion gave a talk and their magnetized target fusion technique is very innovative, but could also achieve net gain fusion which the publicly funded institutions such as ITER much sooner.

The whole idea behind magnetized target fusion is a combination of traditional magnetic fusion (Tokamak design) and confinement fusion (NIF laser driven fusion). The use of pistons to generate acoustic waves to compress the plasma is very interesting and could provide net gain fusion by the end of 2012. On this track, a viable fusion plant could be achieved by 2020.

General Fusion is indeed a very exciting startup and if successful, their fusion technology could capture 80% of the world’s electricity market which would allow them to become the world’s first trillion dollar company by valuation.

Overall, I did learn a lot from the conference as the speakers really did bring refreshing ideas. It was a fun few days in Vancouver especially given my opportunity to debate and to present in front of an esteemed audience of industry experts and graduate students.