Converting the green energy movement into a profitable economic engine was the central theme of “Green to Gold: Growing the Green Energy Economy,” sponsored by the McDonough School of Business and Georgetown’s Energy and Clean Tech Club on Saturday. The keynote speaker was former Central Intelligence Agency Director R. James Woolsey.

Woolsey addressed what he felt were the three main issues in America’s ability to deliver energy by looking at the issue of clean energy through the eyes of three historical figures: naturalist John Muir, U.S. Army General George Patton and peace activist Mohandas Gandhi. With these figures in mind, he concluded that the solution had to be secure, clean and affordable.

Addressing Patton’s concern for America’s energy strategy, Woolsey commented on the present Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system in control of the electric grid. According to Woolsey, the ability to hack into the SCADA systems is the greatest problem with the cyber vulnerability of the grid.

“The entire infrastructure of the United States, I’m afraid to say, was put together, with the exception of some security measures for nuclear power plants, without a single thought given to intentional interference,” Woolsey said.

Woolsey described the security measures used in the SCADA system as inadequate, using standard firewalls and other basic techniques against interference from the Web.

The government is working on a new version of the grid, called the smart grid, which should update the outdated grid to serve modern needs, but Woolsey was not convinced the work is headed in the right direction.

“One of the biggest needs is getting the people who are working on the grid, the smart grid, to listen to Patton. He’s got a big point. I would consider that the biggest electricity problem,” Woolsey said.

Woolsey also offered some insight on other potential solutions, considering Gandhi’s perspective, because merely solving America’s energy dilemma is not enough. Though advancing America’s green technology would be a positive step, he said it would not influence the global environmental picture. The emissions from developing countries that must still use coal for power would cancel out American efforts.

“Gandhi would spend two hours a day to spin cotton, and he did it precisely with the purpose to say you can be self-sufficient,” Woolsey said. “The same thing is true in the developing world.”

According to Woolsey, the key to new models of energy delivery is to use a distributive energy system that directs power to smaller areas with a total electric demand closer to 20 gigawatts instead of 100 gigawatts. This system allows rural villages to be independent in electricity generation.

“Big power plants in the developing world do not work. They do not have more electricity now than they did [30 years ago], because the big projects the World Bank funds and other institutions funds don’t work,” he said.

Distributive energy was Woolsey’s take-home message regarding electricity, but he also addressed the use of energy in transportation.

Oil is the energy source that powers America’s transportation infrastructure and it raises a wide range of strategic, economic and environmental challenges, according to Woolsey.

“We borrow a billion dollars a day just to finance our import of oil . But if we have a problem, think of Bangladesh. Gandhi, to put it mildly, would be very worried about oil. Muir, of course, would be concerned about the carbon emission, but he would also be worried about straight local pollution.”

In addition to the environmental and health concerns of oil, Woolsey said Patton would not be happy with America’s vulnerable position just to obtain its oil.

“Not only are we going in debt . we borrow from [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] with interest, only to go into greater debt with them.”

Woolsey narrowed his solution to the oil problem to simple low-cost changes that are feasible in the present. Natural gas, according to Woolsey, is the key element of that change. Natural gas requires only small, relatively inexpensive alterations to vehicles, after which they are capable of running on gas.

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