Graphic courtesy of Sadie Jonson.
The Payne Institute for Public Policy recently launched the Mines Global Energy Future Initiative, which will include an online seminar every Thursday, featuring energy policy leaders from around the world. The initiative, developed in combination with Mines’ Office of Global Initiatives and Business Development, aims to integrate the goals of the Payne Institute with the broader Mines campus on a deeper level and make Mines a more widely recognized leader in the global energy space. “We think Mines is one of the most important universities in the world as it relates to the energy expertise on campus,” says Gregory Clough, the Strategy and Operations Manager at the Payne Institute. “[The initiative] was created to put Mines at the forefront of those global conversations, and to showcase the experience that Mines has across the energy system from an interdisciplinary standpoint.”
The university has been a historic leader in producing strong, technical graduates who have helped define many industries, particularly energy, explains Clough. This has required an internal focus on the students, which is a strength of the university, but it can also mean that people aren’t aware of the influential roles Mines has played in many issues beyond energy. The institute hopes to complement the uniqueness and advantages of the Mines experience by opening new avenues for students and making the policy sector less intimidating. “We don’t want to change the campus; we want to add another layer to the experience,” says Clough. This is also in support of Mines President Paul C. Johnson’s goal to create well-rounded students who can be effective professionals and tackle problems in a wide range of industries.
The Payne Institute was created in part to achieve this goal. It was founded in 2016 by a generous donation from Jim Payne, a long-time petroleum engineer and Mines alumnus, and his wife Arlene, who both saw the value of creating an institute on campus to connect Mines’ technical expertise, scientific knowledge, and data focus with the broader conversation in the world on a number of policy issues, primarily energy. The success of the institute is partially due to the impressive faculty that have been recruited. Clough, who has worked in finance, administration, project management, and as a Director of an international NGO, says that the institute has grown significantly since hiring Dr. Morgan Bazilian as Director in 2018. Dr. Bazilian previously worked at the World Bank and has a broad array of academic, industry, and international experience. Their combined expertise in economics and energy, particularly their international backgrounds and extensive stakeholder relationships, has helped drive the growth of the Payne Institute in recent years.
Models such as the Baker Institute at Rice University have demonstrated how a university’s strengths can be highlighted through a policy lens. While these schools have more visibility, they don’t necessarily have more expertise compared to Mines, especially in the interdisciplinary energy space where Mines has a competitive advantage. “The focus [of the Payne Institute] is connecting the students with that policy realm, but also connecting the policy realm with the expertise of our students and faculty and showing the importance that we have across the entire energy system, which is a unique aspect at Mines that not many universities can claim,” says Clough. “It’s really important for us to demonstrate to the broader world how impressive the [Mines] campus is as a whole, and how relevant it is to the conversation.”
Another advantage of Mines’ interdisciplinary expertise is its ability to remain relevant regardless of what the future energy sector looks like. A mix of energy sources will be necessary to combat our energy and environmental challenges, and Mines touches on nearly every aspect of that energy mix, says Clough. Instead of focusing on a limited number of energy production methods, we need to pay attention to the tangential impacts that each method can have; reducing the footprint of oil and gas is a common concern, but it’s equally important to understand the effect of utilizing renewable energy sources as well. For example, the amount of minerals required to power a fully renewable energy infrastructure could decimate rainforests including the Amazon, which is a problem that isn’t always considered when pushing for a switch to purely clean energy.
These complex issues are part of the reason the Payne Institute has so many focus areas; in addition to research on various methods of energy production and materials mining, they also focus on circular economy studies, water technology and innovation, and energy security and resilience, among others. Clough explains that it’s important to look at “the interconnections between the different aspects of energy and present that to the world as a more holistic approach, so you’re not creating these negative externalities… to get to our net-zero goals, when there might be a better, balanced way to do that” and avoid having equally detrimental environmental impacts as those associated with fossil fuel usage.
Some of these technical aspects can be overlooked in the energy conversation because it has become so political, says Clough. People can talk at a high level about policies such as the Green New Deal, but while ambitious plans are important to propel innovation, it’s equally important to understand the reality of the energy system and how it can change when considering new policies. The main goal of the Payne Institute is to connect these two worlds: the technical and the political. As Clough explains, “That’s what we are trying to reintegrate into [the energy conversation]: there are practical aspects to this that need to be understood by the people making those policy decisions. And it also needs to be understood by the technical people – some of these policy, regulatory, or legislative challenges that exist in this space – so it’s hopefully creating relationships that can benefit both sides of the equation.”