Cow manure could be the future of energy in America.

The concept of converting methane gas from cattle waste into electricity is not new; however, to the American public, the idea remains novel. The reason: It has not yet been instituted on a large scale.  That raises the question of why some sustainable energy sources never make it into mainstream production. Wharton alumni weighed in at the 2011 Wharton Energy Conference.

“The most promising nonconventional energy technologies appear to be conventional,” said Lee Edwards, WG’83, and president and CEO of Virent Inc. “They make integration into everyday life seem easy and seamless to the customer and convince people it’s viable and economical.”

Edwards joined fellow Wharton alumni Natalie Halich, WG’95, who is principal investment officer in the International Finance Corporation’s Infrastructure and Natural Resources Equity Group, and Chris Tynan, WG’08, an assistant director of project finance for Summit Power Group, in Philadelphia on October 28, 2011, on a panel during the conference’s Innovation Series.

One message they shared with Wharton students and conference attendees: While it is important to develop novel ideas for sustainable energy sources, it is equally important for companies to consider long-term deployment of new technologies.

“In the energy space, there is a lot of hype,” said Tynan. “There is a lot of incentive to develop technologies, but not to manufacture and distribute.”

Panelists also weighed in with advice for students interested in pursuing careers in the energy industry.

“Work at a place where you can learn the most in a very short amount of time, and where they’re willing to take a risk on you,” noted Edwards.

And they addressed how various areas of the energy industry address the triple bottom line.

“This has played a big role in the extraction industries,” said Halich. “The most successful companies will be those that increase efforts to demonstrate the triple bottom line.”

Entitled “Energy Frontiers: A Global Perspective,” the day was divided into three tracks—Traditional Energy; Alternative Energy; Regulatory, Policy and Finance—and an Innovation Series.   Topics ranged from the challenges of natural gas extraction and constraints of solar energy to government policy in the energy sector.

The Wharton Energy Conference is held annually and is open to alumni and students. Wharton alumni who are working in or are interested in the cleantech and energy field are encouraged to join the Wharton Energy Network, an alumni affinity club.