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Exclusive Interview:
Dr. Michael Nobel,
Chairman of Nobel Charitable Trust

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  September- October 2009


The great-grand nephew of Sir Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, calls energy efficiency the lowest hanging fruit to obtain real savings in traditional energy expenditure.

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Interview with Dr Michael Nobel, Chairman of the Nobel Charitable Trust, which gives awards to politicians, scientists and corporate leaders in the area of renewable energy and organises conferences in the same field

About Dr M ichael Nobel

Dr. Nobel was born in Sweden and has been living in Switzerland for many years. He is a citizen of Sweden and Switzerland. After studies in Sweden and America he obtained a doctorate at the University of Lausanne in psycho-pedagogy in 1979. The thesis subject was the evaluation of the effectiveness of substance abuse prevention programs. In the science field he worked for seven years as a researcher in social sciences at the Institute for Mass Communication Research at the Lausanne University and at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in the same city. He has been a consultant to UNESCO in Paris and the United Nation’s Social Affairs Division in Geneva.

Commercially he participated in the introduction of magnetic resonance imaging and developed a highly successful diagnostic imaging service company in Sweden with a quarter of a billion SEK in total revenues over a 15-year period. He is today chairman or board member of ten international companies. These involve diagnostics, treatment and information in the field of medicine; other areas include Internet service provisions, software development, recreational facilities and management consulting.

In his idealistic work Michael Nobel is chairman or board member of several not-for-profit organisations in the fields of conflict resolution, youth education and development. He is also executive chairman of the Nobel Charitable Trust, which gives awards to politicians, scientists and corporate leaders in the area of renewable energy and organises conferences in the same field.Michael Nobel sits on several prominent international prize committees. He has received a number of international citations and awards for his work in the fields of medicine and conflict resolution including an honorary doctorate from Soka University in Tokyo and an honorary professorship from the National Academy of Science of Azerbaijan. He is also an honorary member of two Rotary clubs, in Karlskoga and Miami and in 1997 Rotary International conferred on him the Paul Harris Fellowship Award.

In 2002 he was awarded the Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award from Morehouse College in Atlanta, earlier only given once, to Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan.

In 2004 he became the Citation Recipient from the Midwest Research Institute of Kansas City. Previous recipients include Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb, and Henry Ford. In 2004 he became foreign member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences as well as receiving the UNESCO medal for outstanding contributions to the cultural dialogue between nations.

The same year in Jerusalem he received the Albert Einstein Medal for Outstanding Achievements in Life Sciences and Technology and in 2006 the International Order of Perfection, First Class in Moscow.

He is presently visiting professor at the Frontier Research Centre, Tokyo Institute of Technology, National University of Japan. The Tokyo Tech institute is considered Japan’s equivalent of the MIT and Cal Tech in the US.

Q: Oil price volatility and climate change issues have prompted both developed and developing countries to turn to alternative energy sources. Some are already making progress in renewable energy development. Does that signal better energy security and cleaner environment?
A: Although there has been significant progress in renewable energy technologies in recent years their impact upon the global economy is still insignificant and such sources only account for a few percent of the world’s energy production and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is regrettable that interest in the funding of alternative energy technologies has waned with the reduction in oil prices caused by the current economic recession.

However, even the slight overall progress made in commercial alternative energy production still provides hope and promise to the developing countries of the world for a higher level of energy security and a cleaner environment. Sun, wind and wave power are there for almost everyone and not the exclusive property of some frequently politically unstable

Q: The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has already reached the 100-member mark just five months after it was founded. What is the potential for the agency to close the global gap between renewables’ huge potential and their relatively small share of the energy market?
A: IRENA certainly has the potential to fulfil some of its ambitious goals of supporting the development of and promoting solutions to the very formidable challenges facing the general application of renewable energy. The overall impact of its activities upon the world energy scene remains to be seen. An intra-governmental agency has usually a rather limited de facto impact upon any paradigm shift of this type but can be eminently useful as a coordinating and advisory body for its many members.

Q: Is the fossil-fuel-fed industrial era ending? What does this tectonic shift mean to global trade?
A: Unfortunately not. For many decades to come hydrocarbonbased energy production and consumption will be the totally dominating factor in power use. There is thus no tectonic shift foreseeable in my opinion towards renewable energy and its impact upon global trade although growing, is not a major factor. Still, some recently appearing renewable energy technology breakthroughs in battery, photovoltaic and bio-fuel alternatives, offer some interesting business opportunities for industries and countries alike.

Q: The country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century, said US President Barack Obama. Why should there be a race for green technology?
A: A political statement seemingly intended for the home population. A small country like Sweden or Switzerland, even if it would fully master the rather challenging task of developing and harnessing clean renewable energy, will not lead the 21st century. For that you need political, military, geographical and economical power independent of alternative energy developments. Still, I fully support a race of that kind between nations.

Few things stimulate and generate incentive to move ahead and provoke a sense of urgency as the feeling of being left behind. Competition is a wonderful motivating factor in producing tangible action.

Q: Climate change is a global problem that calls for cooperation, but the United States is considering passing a bill that threatens other countries with tariffs on energyintensive goods, raising concerns over a ‘green trade war’. What’s your take?

A: Again, I support measures even if they are seen as controversial, as long as they have a reasonable chance of producing concrete positive results. Tariffs on products requiring high levels of energy to manufacture could conceivably lead to a search for more efficient and less energy consuming way of producing such items. Verbal exhortations, unless accompanied by tangible negative consequences for non-compliance usually do not have the desired effects.

Q: Certain countries in Southeast Asia, such as Brunei and Indonesia, have significant energy reserves and geothermal potential. Do they still have to bother with energy security?
A: Mankind is facing one of its most important challenges ever, in that traditional energy supplies such as oil, gas and coal will run out in an eye blink of the history of the human race, say in one or two hundred years at best in view of the present worrisome gap in the levels between new sources of such supplies and their present and future consumption.

Having significant hydrocarbon-based reserves will produce significant security risks and challenges for its owners when such supplies start to run out on earth with accompanying elevation in prices. Geothermal power production on the other hand is usually local and can mainly serve as an adjunct to other supplies unless you have an abundance of it like Iceland. Difficulties and cost of its transmission to other countries make it less of a tempting target for acquisition.

Q: Lacking advanced know-how, developing economies are in danger of losing their competitiveness in energy-related businesses. How do they catch up?
A: This is one of the greatest challenges facing developing economies, to which there is no easy answer. However, there is no need for countries in Southeast Asia to reinvent the wheel through trying to develop technologies of their own.



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