By Corey Barnes (MBA ’14), CSE Leadership Fellow
In order to tackle the energy problems that face us, the average citizen needs more information about our energy system: where our energy comes from, how it’s transmitted, and how it’s used. On February 6th, 2013 the Switch Energy Project and UNC came together to bring some of that much needed information to the people of Chapel Hill. The rainy Wednesday night did not bode well for attendance, but over 240 people steadily streamed into the theater, filling it to capacity. People hungry for this information filled the seats and the isles.
Switch, the documentary:
I am a fervent believer in giving people the information to make a right decision. And that is exactly what Switch does. Throughout the documentary, geologist and professor Scott Tinker takes a balanced and scientific look at all of our current energy sources, measuring them in a way that is intuitive to all viewers: the amount of energy one person uses in a year. From this we see the incredible power of traditional energy sources, but the problems with making them clean; we see the vast potential of renewable sources, but the problems with bringing them to scale; finally, we see the immediate impact that energy efficiency can have and just how overlooked an opportunity it is.
After the viewing of Switch, there was a panel moderated by the president of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Energy Club, Natalie Birdwell. Panelists spanned the gamut of the energy industry: from Jonas Monast of Duke University’s Nicholas Institute discussing energy policy, to Hans Hartenstein of STAEG Energy Services discussing the implementation of change, to Miriam Makhyoun of NC Sustainable Energy discussing how to change the structural advantages of conventional energy. There was a lively discussion with questions ranging from the potential for implementation of CAFÉ standard for power plants to who bears the cost of climate change mitigation tactics. All through this lively and knowledgeable conversation you could see and hear the engagement of the crowd; this is truly a “charged” issue.
At the end of the night, there was no resolution or consensus about where the energy system is headed, but everybody in the theater left with the information needed to make better choices about their energy future.
The Switch screening was part of the 2013 UNC Global Sustainability Symposium, “Water and Energy in the Crosshairs,” a collaboration between the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Center for International Business Education and Research and UNC Global’s Center for European Studies; Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies; and African Studies Center, and the UNC Institute for the Environment.