I am in Geelong today. I had to give a brief talk at a breakfast forum of scientists and business people yesterday morning which was a follow on from a previous event in Melbourne. It was hosted by Deakin University and
built on feedback from the last business forum breakfast event that the Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science held late last year.
The reason that it was successful was that unlike most meetings of this kind presented by scientists, instead of the scientists presenting their stump speeches about the work that they were doing and the big vision stuff – which came later in the day in a formal conference/seminar setting – business people were invited to get up in front of the gathered group comprising of some of the leading researchers in the field of energy conservation and talk about what they needed.
It was therefore an opportunity for the scientists to hear what was important and immediate. There were some really interesting problems posed – one of them being about how to inexpensively store the power generated by renewable energy sources until it is needed. Clearly one of the big problems associated with power generation via solar, wind, tidal, resources is that the generation event is not in sync with the need. So you have to find somewhere in the grid to store the energy until the demand is there. This has to be economical.
The outcome from this event was that I was able to get a commitment from several of the industrial representatives present to sit down at a near future time and start to drill down into the problems and create the beginnings of a specifications document. After all its good to share the information, but the key to success is to start working through the execution requirements. Armed with this kind of knowledge and insight one can start to understand the scope of resources that are going to be necessary and equally importantly how to structure the undertaking so as to meet the state and federal goals for providing funding.
All the great ideas ultimately get down to one key thing: Who is going to pay. The answer to that, of course, is the public. The public pays either through the continuing funding of research that those who understand how to write grant applications effectively are able to secure. Or the public pays because industry and research get together and develop solutions that are able to secure funding through the schemes that government provides via industry. Or the public pays because the solutions are not invested in and therefore energy costs too much in the first place.
One of the greatest problems for modern society is how to actually create benefit for the public from the money invested into academic research. Meetings of the kind that was help yesterday in Geelong are the first step toward building a very real process of making economic sense of research by giving its use immediacy and relevance.