The "Soft Side" of the Energy Revolution
Every so often, dealing with the energy sector leads to an exciting opportunity, one that allows me to bring my decades of private and public sector advising, academic research, and writings to bear on a truly significant undertaking.
Tomorrow, I have one of those opportunities.
The ongoing discussion of the future of our energy balance often overlooks a range of major ingredients.
Without each of those ingredients, however, we have no chance of pulling off such a demanding transition .
For years, I have been calling those overlooked ingredients the “soft side” of energy.
Saturday afternoon I'll be laying out a major policy initiative on the matter before one of the most distinguished “blue ribbon” audiences I have ever addressed.
The occasion is the TEDx Pittsburgh conference, meeting at the gorgeous Nemacolin Woodlands resort in the midst of the Laurel Highlands in western Pennsylvania.
TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design.” It meets each year in southern California and Edinburgh, Scotland, bringing together an outstanding list of attendees to discuss the most exciting ideas to “push the envelope.”
Occasionally, TED meetings are held elsewhere to address specific issues or regions. These are the TEDx conferences.
My audience tomorrow includes CEOs of major Fortune 500 companies, executives from banks, foundations and financial houses, university presidents, elected officials, and heads of community and civic organizations.
The intention is to propose and debate the next generation of developments from a number of different perspectives to address the most significant challenges to be faced.
I was invited to lay down the energy gauntlet in front of the movers and shakers.
When I submitted my proposal, the conference decided to give me the biggest single position on the program.
Why? Because this proposal intends to rock an entire region.
Pittsburgh's Third Renaissance
The challenge is nothing less than to transform Pittsburgh into the first national hub for the “soft side” of energy development.
The “hard side” of development involves the production, processing and distribution of energy products.
The “soft side” considers structuring the policy, legislative, regulatory, risk assessment, research, logistics, economic development models, business incubations, labor transitions, management approaches, along with the next generation of legal, financial, and advisory services.
In short, if the “hard side” generates the energy, the “soft side” addresses what that means to the people and communities served by that energy.
Pittsburgh is certainly no stranger to energy generation. But it is also no stranger to reshaping itself. The Renaissance I and II movements that began after World War II transformed a smoky place into “America's Most Livable City,” according to Rand McNally.
The movement did so by enticing major businesses to produce elsewhere, but locate their headquarters in Pittsburgh. The city transformed itself from a “heavy lifting” economy to a high-tech and management economy, rising to be the third-largest corporate center in the U.S.
I will challenge the audience tomorrow to embark on Renaissance III.
The focus will be on the massive changes about to take place in how we develop and use energy. What could result is a model for use elsewhere. After all, the urban revitalization resulting from the previous Renaissance stages did just that.
We set up the new Institute of Energy and the Environment at Duquesne University to tackle such problems. As the institute's Scholar in Residence, I will be the first to acknowledge this Renaissance III will require broad-based participation from every segment of the local economy.
The New “Soft Side” Imperatives
In a nutshell, this is what we need to do.
We must integrate new energy sources with traditional ones, address environmental and life style issues, consider positive and negative impacts on the broader business community (before the changes do that for us), and develop a proactive, ongoing, problem-solving approach to meet a number of new dimensions.
As planning begins for a new age of energy, we have to combine bottom-line considerations with those that affect average people.
We need to integrate profit with humanity. And that can only be done at the beginning of the process; it must be built into the way we look at issues and treat them.
We are at one of those rare junctures right now. And Pittsburgh is the perfect laboratory in which to concoct a way to make all this happen.
There is another aspect to this that the academic in me finds very appealing.
I will also be calling upon the university administrators in the audience to accept a related challenge.
We need to recreate history to address the changing energy landscape.
In 1907-1908, New York's Russell Sage Foundation sponsored something called The Pittsburgh Survey. This remains the most famous single study of an American city ever undertaken. It fundamentally revised urban study, planning and perspective.
The reforms resulting from a series of very influential research works coming out of The Survey were the last great stage in the Progressive movement, for the first time humanizing how cities viewed their workers, and the social consequences of what was done within its borders.
It is time to do this again, focusing on the massive shifts demanded by the energy revolution… and Pittsburgh is once again the place to do it.