Funding innovation in renewable energy: a roundtable

The MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative held its 3rd Renewable Energy Finance (REF) Roundtable on October 13-14, just before MIT Energy Night. Once again, the event brought together MIT Sloan alumni who are leaders in renewable energy, along with students and faculty to address issues surrounding renewable energy finance. Through REF, the Initiative aims to create a community of practice surrounding one of the most serious obstacles to sustainability and develop pathways for collaboration.

The Sustainability Initiative works to create value at the intersection of our student, alumni, and faculty communities,”said Sustainability Initiative Director and Senior Lecturer, Jason Jay. “REF is a great mechanism for this to happen. We have seen students learn about the renewable energy landscape and even get hired. We have seen alumni depend on each other's expertise to inform their investments, and we have seen faculty research shape alumni decision making.

For example, this year’s Roundtable included an alumni-student “speed-dating” session, during which over two dozen participants had multiple ten-minute conversations -- providing alumni the opportunity to speak one-on-one with students from across MIT Sloan and MIT, and giving students a chance to network with industry leaders.

The REF Roundtables feature faculty and researcher presentations as well as challenge workshops that allow alumni to tackle issues ranging from economic justice to returns on specific business holdings.

During the October Roundtable, visiting professor Ignacio Perez-Arriaga presented on the economic complexities of energy solutions for poor communities in emergent markets. Perez-Arriaga provided an overview of MIT’s cutting edge work on the Utility of the Future, and then gave participants a closer look at electrification planning in developing countries. He provided additional international context, emphasizing the economic challenges and opportunities associated with rural electrification -- and how financing plays into this.   

Kerry Bowie, BS ‘94 MBA ‘06, managing partner at Msaada Partners, led a challenge workshop; Ben Wolkon MBA ‘16, Manager of Sustainable Investments at MUUS Asset Management Co. co-led a second challenge workshop with Michael Sonnenfeldt, BS ‘77 MS 78’, Chairman of the Board at Carmanah. The challenge workshops provide an opportunity for alumni to present on a specific business challenges in a closed-door setting, and receive feedback from a diverse, trusted and expert audience. In this way, the Roundtable not only fosters industry relationships, but also provides an opportunity for alumni to leverage the Sloan community to advance their work.

"We should take a step back, and realize this is really hard stuff,” Michael Sonnenfeldt said. “We are all trying to do something that is incredibly challenging. It’s challenging enough to build vibrant businesses, and we’re doing it through an angle that is also sustainability oriented — one of the great challenges of our time. To create a community for people from recent grads to the oldest guy at the table is a gift to both ends. It's pure gold."

The next REF Roundtable is scheduled for March 2017.