They’re tackling the Paris climate deal, green building, and energy storage, all in a day

Graduate student Shubham Nainwal is president of the Northeastern University Energy Systems Society, which organizes the Energy Conference every year. Here he conducts research in the Forsyth Building. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

It was a very important phone call.

“My heart was pumping,” Shubham Nainwal said. “How should I talk? What should I say to him?”

Nainwal was asking George Sakellaris, president and chief executive officer of energy giant Ameresco, to be one of the keynote speakers for a conference centered on renewable energy at Northeastern. Sakellaris, a Northeastern graduate and member of the Northeastern corporation, was more than happy to help.

“After a few days, I received an email from him that [Ameresco] wanted to be the title sponsors of the conference,” Nainwal said. “That was the moment when I thought, ‘Oh, this is happening.’”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The 4th Annual Energy Conference will take place on Friday, at the Curry Student Center. In addition to Sakellaris, Nanwail recruited Pete McCabe, the president and chief executive officer of GE’s onshore wind business, as a second keynote speaker. McCabe graduated from Northeastern in 1998, with a degree in mechanical engineering.

The goal of the conference is to give attendees an overview of the current state of the renewable energy industry. That includes the new technologies being developed, as well as discussions of the energy issues facing our society today and how the industry is evolving to meet those challenges.

“That’s where this conference is different from other conferences,” said Nainwal, who is president of the Northeastern University Energy Systems Society, a group of graduate students in the energy systems program who organize the conference every year. “It’s not just engineering. It gives you a bigger picture of everything.”

The conference includes two sets of panel discussions running in tandem: one dedicated to the business and public policy side of renewable energy, and one dedicated to the technological developments. Business and public policy sessions will include discussions of the U.S.  withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and what sustainability means for large corporations. The technology sessions will focus on topics such as green building design and improvements in energy storage.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The conference is also an opportunity for students interested in renewable energy careers to make connections with industry professionals. Nainwal has invited representatives of several major energy companies to spend the afternoon discussing potential co-op positions with students.  

While the conference is run by graduate students in the energy systems program, it is open to everybody. In past years, most of the attendees have been graduate students, but Nainwal is hoping to bring in a crowd of interested undergraduates this year. Tickets are available on the group’s website.

“They have a lot more time to think about their career,” Nainwal said. “We, as graduate students, have just two years and then we have to run along. But they have a little more time to get into these dialogues.”