director

After 13 years of directing the Longhorn Band, director Robert M. Carnochan will depart the University this summer to become the University of Miami’s wind ensemble director.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jerry Hayes | Daily Texan Staff

After 13 years directing the Longhorn Band, Robert M. Carnochan will leave the University this summer to become the University of Miami’s wind ensembles director. Carnochan said he chose to move on to Miami to focus on composing music and conducting the wind ensemble. 

Carnochan said the band has made minor changes to some of its shows, but its core aspects have remained the same during his tenure as director. 

“I give a lot of credit back to Vince DiNino and his building of the band from 1955–1975 to create what exists now,” Carnochan said. “My job is more of maintaining it. I’m a steward here of carrying on the tradition of the greatness that was developed during the DiNino years.”

Carnochan said he wants the band to know that LHB members need to work together to carry on a tradition of excellence into the future. 

“This is not my band,” Carnochan said. “It’s the University of Texas band, and all of us have the privilege of being involved with it. We need to respect it, and we need to carry on the great traditions.” 

Carnochan said his biggest achievement while directing the band was bringing people together from all walks of life. 

“The group is so diverse with so many people from different walks of life,” Carnochan said. “[My biggest achievement is] trying to get all of those people from all over the state of Texas and work toward a common goal and, most importantly, to act with great class and respect toward the institution itself.” 

Director of bands Jerry Junkin said he will miss Carnochan’s warm personality. 

“He was a very stable influence,” Junkin said. “Certainly we hope to find those qualities in addition to his obviously strong musicianship.”

Junkin said the next band director has not been selected yet. 

Garrett Maples, electrical engineering junior and cymbal player, said he hopes the incoming band director will move the band
forward while still respecting its traditions. 

“I want a band director who will come with a passion for perfection but respect for our traditions,” Garrett said. “LHB is a very old band with lots practices unique to us and our style. We are the showband of the Southwest, and I hope any new director will help us maintain that proud title.” 

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Former NASA mission leader Michael Watkins will become the next director of the Center for Space Research at the Cockrell School of Engineering.

After working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 22 years and leading teams for many missions, including the Cassini and Curiosity missions, Watkins will assume leadership at the Center for Space Research in July.

“My experience at NASA gave me a very deep understanding of the how space missions are really developed and implemented, which will help us successfully propose new instruments and missions,” Watkins said in an email.

The center focuses on using space-based data to learn about Earth itself, as well as the interior of other planets,according to Watkins.

“The best place to study the Earth as a planet is from space since satellites can observe the entire Earth essentially all day, including over deep jungles and over the ocean, over Antarctica and those places that would be almost impossible to constantly observe from here on the Earth,” Watkins said. “Satellites really provide our best scientific data.”

Todd Humphreys, assistant professor at the center, said the center’s focus can impact research into topics like climate change.

“A lot of what we understand about Earth and how it’s changing comes from space,” Humphreys said. “It’s much better in some cases to research about space than to scratch the surface of the Earth. By gathering data from space satellites, we have data that is useful in the climate debate because those data are stable and span decades of research.”

Humphreys said he believes Watkins’ experience at NASA will benefit the program overall.

“I think he’s going to bring a lot of good connections and a head for finding the right big problems to solve,” Humphreys said.

Noel Clemens, chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, said Watkins will continue the advancement of the center’s satellite research program and expand into new areas of research.

“We expect Watkins to continue the center’s focus on remote sensing of the Earth from space but also to expand its mission to include planetary missions, increased emphasis on small satellite development and increased collaboration with Earth scientists,” Clemens said in an email.

As the climate continues to change, satellite-based sensing of the Earth will become increasingly important, according to Clemens.

“CSR’s signature satellite program, GRACE, is making important measurements that show the ocean levels are rising, the ice sheets are receding and the magnitude of drought in California,” Clemens said. “When coupled with advanced computer models of the water cycle, the data provided by CSR will help scientists predict how climate change will impact water sources for cities and agriculture.”

As the University’s needs increase, the Concho Community Garden, located just east of campus, faces an uncertain future. The student-run garden along with the Microfarm are home to various fruits, vegetables and a wide array of flowering plants.
Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

Campus construction plans will currently not displace the UT Microfarm and Concho Community Garden, but future campus expansion could put their locations in question, according to Jim Walker, director for the Office of Sustainability. 

UT student-volunteers manage the garden areas, which produce vegetables, fruits and herbs. Since the community garden and Microfarm were initially built as temporary locations in 2011 and 2012, respectively, the areas were viable options for 2015 campus development plans that could have relocated the gardens, Walker said. 

“The University administration has definitely seen that the gardens are popular and a positive experience for our students to have access to,” Walker said. “We are committed to helping the garden experiences. … However, whenever we build buildings, it’s going to take precedence on [the gardens].”

The campus development plan outlines the expansion of campus and locations of new facilities, mainly into East Campus. In the initial planning stages, Walker said there was a possibility new tennis courts would be built in the current locations of either the Microfarm or the community garden.  

Lily Nguyen, geography junior and Concho Community Garden director, said fall 2013 was the first time she heard about the possibility of relocation.

Walker said the University ultimately found a way to expand campus as part of the plan without jeopardizing the gardens’ locations.

Audrey Nguyen, philosophy and plant biology junior and assistant manager at the Microfarm, said the group has been told there is a possibility the Microfarm and the garden will now be incorporated into the development plan and will be able to remain where they are.

“If this ends up being the case, [the Microfarm] would love to be involved in development talks,” Nguyen said. “Future plans for the area will directly affect us [and] our operation.”

Audrey Nguyen said the Microfarm leaders discussed developing land at the Pickle Research Campus, located in north Austin, when they were told they might have to relocate. 

Audrey Nguyen said the group still wants to keep its location in East Austin, although the leaders are still considering expanding to the Pickle Research Campus. 

“We’ve put a lot of work into the land over the last three years, and we love how close we are to Main Campus,” Audrey Nguyen said.

Lily Nguyen said the Concho Community Garden, founded in spring 2011, has also looked into relocating. The main option was to disperse the gardens into multiple smaller areas on campus. She said that would have made the gardens more convenient for students.

Lily Nguyen also said she was surprised the two groups were not consulted about the possible move.

“I wish that community gardens were a priority for the University, and I wish we had a say in the conversation deciding whether they should stay, or the permanence of them,” Lily Nguyen said.

Walker said the UT System Board of Regents will vote on the campus master plan in May, but it cannot be released until then. With the new plan, Walker said the garden and Microfarm should remain where they are, but continual campus growth could put their current locations in question at some future point.

“We’re hopeful that they can stay where they are,” Walker said. “I can’t guarantee they’ll always be there.”

Photo Credit: Leah Rushin | Daily Texan Staff

Franchises have been around since the early days of film. The “Flash Gordon” and “Adventures of Captain Marvel” serials dominated the cinematic landscape in the 1930s and the 1940s, respectively. 

The most anticipated pictures of 2015 are the next “Star Wars” and the new “The Avengers.” These films have stories and spectacles that attract wide audiences. Smaller films have been around for a while, too, but their place is shrinking. 

Studios once funded a multitude of deep, adult-oriented films. They allowed directors Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now”) and William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”) to make the movies they wanted, even though the films didn’t target a broad range of demographics.

Studios are reluctant to green light smaller films because they don’t have wide appeal. Director Steven Spielberg (“Jaws,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”) struggled to create “Lincoln” because of lack of studio support, while Coppola had to self-finance his pictures with his wine business. 

Radio-television-film professor Tom Schatz said studios tend to fund recognized blockbusters over original stories because every film release is a gamble.  

“We’re getting to a point where the production and marketing costs of modern big blockbusters are in the $400 to $500 million range,” Schatz said. 

The low price of film tickets means studios have to coax as many people to see their pictures as possible in order to make a profit. 

The domestic box office, defined as theaters in the U.S. and Canada, is the film industry’s primary market. Studios, generally, try to release their films on as many domestic screens as they can.

However, studios also need to rely on the international box office to make a profit in case they don’t make enough money domestically. 

For example, last year’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” cost about $435 million to produce and market but only made $203 million domestically, but it grossed $709 million worldwide.  

The average film ticket costs $8.30, according to Box Office Mojo. 

Studios invest more money in previously successful franchises because there is less risk involved. Familiar titles catch public attention and have established themselves in
the marketplace. 

Big studios are so focused on producing blockbusters that they have sacrificed funding for smaller pictures. The big studios had 15 indie divisions 10 years ago. Today there are only three: Fox Searchlight, Focus Features and Sony Pictures Classics. 

Studios are also reluctant to support original blockbusters. 2013’s critically-acclaimed “Snowpiercer,” a sci-fi action picture, was a commercial flop because The Weinstein Company was not confident enough to give it a wide release.

Studios are limiting filmmakers’ creativity. It is less likely today for a director to make a great drama on the level of “The Godfather” or even a new franchise comparable to “Star Wars.” As a result, film won’t be an exciting medium because it lacks originality. 

Schatz said many talented filmmakers have moved to television in response to the film industry’s lack of support for mid-range and low budget films, citing director Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic,” “Ocean’s Eleven”) as an example. Soderbergh was able to produce “Behind the Candelabra” for HBO, proving that filmmakers could express their voices on the small screen.

Unless studios decide they should value artistry over a quick buck, they will remain reluctant to finance pictures that don’t have mass-market appeal. The modern cinematic landscape is an unforgiving one, but smaller films and original blockbusters can survive the franchise onslaught if their creators play their cards right. 

 

Celena Mondie-Milner will be the next director of New Students Services, the Office of Student Affairs announced Tuesday. 

As director, Mondie-Milner will oversee UT orientation and such programs as Longhorn Welcome and the Start Fresh Organization Fair. Mondie-Milner said she hopes to enhance the overall student experience and increase graduation rates. 

“Students come to college with apprehension, excitement and expectations,” Mondie-Milner said. “We need to create a welcoming environment where students and families can gain helpful resources, information and support in order to start working quickly for success.”

New Student Services serves roughly 10,000 freshmen and transfer students each year, according to Joshua Cook, assistant director of the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.

“We guarantee [new students] have everything they need to successfully transition to campus life,” Cook said.

A committee composed of faculty, staff, undergraduate students and transfer students conducted a national search before selecting Mondie-Milner. 

Soncia Reagins-Lilly, senior associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said the committee sought someone who understood college transitions, the first-year experience and how to make the large university feel comfortable.

“Milner’s energy, enthusiasm and intelligence was very inspiring to those that interviewed her,” Reagins-Lilly said. “She is innovative and creative. Change is imminent based on her vision and partnership with various offices.” 

Mondie-Milner was the director of orientation and new student programs at Clayton State Universtiy in Georgia for eight years. Mondie-Milner said her experience at that school taught her to encourage feedback in order to understand student development and create new initiatives. 

“We are going to look at what is happening in 21st-century higher education, take a look at what’s been done, and then find a balance of bridging what currently exists with new initiatives and ideas,” Mondie-Milner said. 

A former track and field athlete, Mondie-Milner trained in Austin for the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials. While living in Austin, Mondie-Milner served as a tutor and mentor to Texas football players.  

“[Her] biggest challenge will also be her biggest opportunity — reuniting with the Longhorn family and identifying all the ways to build on the success that has occurred since she was last on campus,” Reagins-Lilly said. 

Mondie-Milner will take up her post June 1.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chiller Films | Daily Texan Staff

Director Craig Macneill tries his hardest to make the disturbing transition the titular character in “The Boy” undergoes very subtle. The trouble is, that transition is too subtle. The child, Ted, is supposed to be warping into a murderous sociopath, but the clues pointing to his horrific destiny are too spaced out and too insignificant. Instead of coming off as a budding monster, Ted seems to be a sympathetic, socially inept kid. Although the acting is remarkable, “The Boy” dives into a dull tale of a boy who experiences an unconvincing transformation into a vicious creature.

In 1989, young Ted (Jared Breeze) is a lonely kid whose dad (David Morse) operates a run-down motel in a mountainous wasteland. Ted is neglected by his despondent father and dreams of traveling to Florida to be with his mom. The kid’s obsession with dead animals and an inner hatred of being trapped in the motel seem to stoke an inner rage. His fascination with death strengthens when he meets the mysterious William (Rainn Wilson), a drifter who just cremated his deceased wife. Ted’s burning desire to leave the motel and morbid outlook on life begin to lead him down a dark path.

The film takes a tedious amount of time chronicling Ted’s dangerous transition, but it picks strange moments to highlight as "examples" of his sociopathic tendency. Sure, he collects roadkill off the highway for his father in exchange for quarters, but this comes off as disgusting than than disturbing. The first instance when Ted shows a capability for hurting other people, which is when he nearly drowns another kid while they play in the hotel pool, comes late in the second act. It, too, could be written off as something a hyper, unsupervised boy would do. There are simply no definite acts that indicate that Ted is dangerous early in the film.

It’s odd that the director chooses these ineffective moments to illustrate Ted’s murderous desires while ignoring other would-be examples in the film that are as neatly set up as bowling pins. Early in the movie, Ted is shown to have a pet rabbit. Usually, seeing a cute animal in the first act of a horror film is a clear sign that said animal will not make it out alive by the end. But here, the rabbit disappears completely from the plot, presumably unscathed. This exemplifies a missed opportunity to show Ted’s savagery in his journey to becoming a complete monster. When Ted finally jumps into his final metamorphosis into a psychopath at the film’s impressive climax, it feels unearned because of the character’s lack of development.

Although the story is weak, the actors give great performances, and they all channel significant dissatisfaction with their lives. Breeze excellently portrays Ted's frustration and emotional instability. It’s easy to sympathize with his plight, which makes it all the more harder to see him as a cold-blooded killer. Wilson is also fascinating as the drifter who befriends Ted, although a few plot threads that involve him are left dangling by the end of the film.

“The Boy” is a misguided take on a kid’s descent into madness. Macneill tries to ignore certain stereotypes associated with child sociopaths, such as desires to inflict pain on smaller creatures, and replaces them with examples that don’t make much sense. A lack of engaging incidents involving Ted make the film tedious. While it boasts strong actors and gorgeous cinematography, “The Boy” feels like a movie so desperate to be different that it fails to focus on the believability of the world and its characters.

  •  
  • Director: Craig Macneill
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Runtime: 105 minutes
  • Rating: 5/10 Mountain Motels
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Director Kenneth Branagh clearly wants people to grasp that this adaptation of “Cinderella” is a straight retelling of the classic fairy tale. 

There are no major twists or unexpected endings awaiting moviegoers. Disney learned its lesson after its last attempt to create a live-action remake of a Walt-era classic, “Maleficent,” resulted in a mediocre spin on a well-known film. “Cinderella” treats the fairy tale story seriously. The result is a visually stunning remake that develops a sense of originality and fun, despite a few story and character flaws.

Ella (Lily James) lives a happy life with her mother and father in medieval England. Tragically, her mother dies of illness, and her father soon marries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), a widow who shrewdly hides her cruel nature. After she and her atrocious stepdaughters move in,Ella’s father also dies from illness. Ella is left in a state of constant abuse by her new relatives and is mockingly rechristened “Cinderella.” After learning of a ball, Cinderella is determined to outwit her stepmother, win over a prince named Kit (Richard Madden) and reclaim the life she once had.

The film’s visuals are astoundingly beautiful. The special effects bring this world to life, even though the film relies heavily on computer-generated imagery. Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage shines gold and is a elegantly carved wonder, and Prince Charming’s columned castle could not exist without help of CGI wizardry. Special effects make the crystal-like glass on Cinderella’s famous slippers gleam brightly in every shot. 

James is charming as Cinderella and definitely sells the famous princess’ image of being kind and courageous. One flaw is that she is sometimes too carefree and optimistic. When her stepmother locks her in a tower, Cinderella’s feeling of hopelessness is strangely short-lived before she reverts to her usual, light-hearted self. It’s disappointing that James fails to give more agency to her character. 

Cinderella has often received criticisms for being a heroine who relies on luck rather than her own actions. James makes her version of the princess likeable, but she doesn’t do much to change that perception.

The supporting cast make all these familiar characters seem original. Cate Blanchett is chilling as the villainess stepmother. Rather than being over-the-top, she portrays a cold, calculating sort of the menace. Helena Bonham Carter, who portrays Cinderella’s fairy godmother, is certainly memorable. Although her appearance is brief, she takes every opportunity to make the character original. Instead of the elderly, mother figure from the original, Bonham Carter’s spin on the role makes the character frantic, yet warm-hearted. There are a few problems with the film. The first act, which centers on Cinderella adjusting to her new life under her stepmother, is really slow. The action doesn’t pick up until right before the ball begins. 

Another issue is the constant narration from an omnipresent observer. This aspect was also featured in “Maleficent,” and it’s grating and unnecessary. Disney is obviously afraid to edge away from this annoying trope in fantasy films.

“Cinderella” is proof that good can come out of Disney’s determination to remake their animated classics as live-action spectacles. Some aspects of the story and Cinderella’s characters are failures, but the film, overall, proves that a fantasy movie with computer-generated mice and fairy godmothers can still be taken seriously.  

Kevin Hart, right, teaches Will Ferrell how to survive a stint in prison in Warner Bros. Pictures’ film “Get Hard.” The film is just one of the headliners premiering during SXSW.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

From all corners of the globe, movie fans are streaming into South By Southwest to catch the latest cinematic treats the festival has to offer. As always, several high-profile films will make their debuts at venues scattered throughout Austin. Here are just a handful of the big films playing at SXSW. All of them will screen during the film portion of the festival, which starts Friday and ends March 21. 

Get Hard (100 Minutes)

Monday, March 16, 7 p.m. at Paramount Theatre

Comedic powerhouses Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart team up in this comedy about a hedge fund manager who must learn how to get tough before he begins a prison sentence. This R-rated comedy aims for belly laughs, banking on the manic personalities of its lead actors. This is the first film the duo has starred in together, so it will be interesting to see how they play off each other.

Ex Machina (108 Minutes)

Saturday, March 14, 8 p.m. at Paramount Theatre

Fans of science fiction and general creepiness will likely crawl toward “Ex Machina,” a movie that explores what happens when artificial intelligence software starts to develop emotional attachments. This is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, whom movie buffs may recognize as the writer of horror-film favorite “28 Days Later” and the action-packed “Dredd.” Fans of Garland’s work can expect the same cyber-punk elements and chilling characters that line most other items on his résumé.

Manglehorn (97 Minutes)

Saturday, March 14, 2 p.m. at Paramount Theatre

Al Pacino returns to the silver screen with “Manglehorn,” a film in which he plays a small-town locksmith who struggles to retain emotional connections with his son, his protégé and others after his wife dies. Not much else is known about the film, except that it’s new territory for director David Gordon Green. Green, who is known for his well-received comedy “Pineapple Express” and the widely hated “Your Highness,” has a hit-or-miss record as of late. Perhaps a small-scale, dramatic film will show Green’s strengths as a director.

Spy (120 Minutes)

Sunday, March 15, 9 p.m. at Paramount Theatre

Having already played a comedic role in buddy-cop film “The Heat,” Melissa McCarthy will now step up her game as a deskbound CIA agent who is unexpectedly tossed out into the field. McCarthy’s brash, funny personality has been a reliable hit with audiences, and her role in “Spy” will likely continue the trend. McCarthy’s pairing with co-actor Jason Statham is an interesting choice that could lead to hilarious results. The actress reteams with “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig for “Spy” and will also star in the director’s reboot of “Ghostbusters” next year.

BRAND: A Second Coming (118 Minutes)

Friday, March 13, 6:30 p.m. at Paramount Theatre

Perhaps the strangest film in this year’s lineup, “BRAND: A Second Coming” explores comedian and actor Russell Brand as he delves into popular culture and to apparently argue that it depraves the world’s population. Brand is an odd figure in the Hollywood spotlight, so naturally, a biography about him seems destined to be as weird and avant-garde as its subject. It’s likely that the critical reception of the film will be based on whether viewers are attracted to Brand’s irreverent personality or repulsed by it.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (127 Minutes)

Saturday, March 14, 3:30 p.m. at Vimeo Theater

Considering that the last cinematic exploration of Steve Jobs was a critical failure, this documentary may finally give audiences what they’ve been waiting for — full insight into the mind of the deceased Apple guru. The film promises to show multiple sides of Jobs and won’t shy away from addressing claims that Jobs was a tyrant. This documentary may hold the power to change the audience’s perception on the man who made Apple what it is today. 

Check the SXSW website for additional screening times and venues.

In honor of Texas independence, The Daily Texan embraced its state’s stereotypical cowboy image and assembled a list of the best western films to watch this weekend. 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

No western film is as iconic as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Featuring an international cast led by Clint Eastwood, the film tells the epic tale of three outlaws racing to a fabled treasure. 

Director Sergio Leone employs long shots and extreme close-ups to build tension in many scenes and add stylish flair to the film’s gun battles. The movie’s depiction of the Old West can only be described as mythical: It’s a fantasy world that bears only passing resemblance to the real American West. 

Since its release in 1966, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” has influenced several directors, including Quentin Tarantino, who calls it “the best-directed film of all time.” It’s an important movie in the western genre to be sure, but it’s also a landmark achievement in cinema.

The Magnificent Seven

One might not expect it at first glance, but “The Magnificent Seven” is actually a 1960 remake of a Japanese samurai film. Both movies are about seven heroes who protect a village from bandits, but “The Magnificent Seven” replaces samurai with gunslingers. It’s an exciting action picture with likable protagonists and a strong villain to root against. 

Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson lead the cast, several of whom achieved superstardom thanks to the film’s success. Director John Sturges made his mark on the western genre by dealing with the gravity of sacrifice and illustrating that heroism is not always easy.

True Grit

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the 2010 remake of “True Grit” is an unexpectedly heartwarming tale of old-fashioned revenge. Jeff Bridges is impressive as Rooster Cogburn, the tough, one-eyed U.S. marshal, but Hailee Steinfeld steals the show as Mattie Ross, a girl pursuing the criminal who killed her father. Ross hires Cogburn to track down the killer, and they forge an uneasy alliance that gradually turns into a friendship. 

It’s ironically refreshing to watch the usually unusual Coen brothers bring the viewer something more traditional. “True Grit” examines the fragility of human life through the harsh setting of the Old West. 

Shane

Released in 1953, “Shane” is set in the dying days of the Old West, a time when gunslingers were relics of the past. The titular character Shane (Alan Ladd) is one of these relics, and he’s struggling to fit in with the new world. 

He wanders into a town a greedy cattle baron (Emile Meyer) and his minions rule. Over the course of the movie, Shane befriends the townspeople and grows to care for a little boy named Joey (Brandon De Wilde). He eventually decides to save them from the bad guys.

While “Shane” tells a simple story, it has multiple themes, including choice, forbidden attraction and the bond between a surrogate father and his surrogate son. Director George Stevens knows how to stage action moments, but his focus on the human element of “Shane” is what makes it so memorable.

Unforgiven

Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” won the Oscar for Best Picture thanks to its unconventional take on the western genre. Released in 1992, the film abandons the tropes of evil outlaws and heroic cowboys and instead suggests they are not as different as we may think.

Eastwood, who also directed the film, plays Will Munny, an aging farmer and former bandit trying to repent for his sins. In need of money, Munny joins a young, naïve gunslinger (Jaimz Woolvett) on the latter’s journey to hunt down two criminals for a reward. 

The outlaws’ quest is unsatisfying and psychologically damaging for both of them. Along the way, they encounter a tyrannical sheriff (Gene Hackman), who can be just as cruel as Munny. Their conflict isn’t a battle of good versus evil but rather one of who wronged whom — Eastwood lets us decide who’s in the right. 

Morally ambiguous and dark, “Unforgiven” explores the ugly nature of the Old West and depicts violence for what it is: horrific.

Business professor David Spence spoke as part of a panel Thursday for the University's Energy Week. Spence is part of a research team creating an online calculator that looks at the efficiency of different sources of electricity.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

Researchers are working on new ways to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels for energy, according to Benjamin K. Sovacool, director of the Danish Center for Energy Technology at Aarhus University in Herning, Denmark. 

Sovacool, a professor of business and social sciences at Aarhus University and associate professor of law at Vermont Law School, spoke Thursday about the progressive measures Nordic countries are taking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions linked to climate change. The lecture was part of the University’s Energy Week, a series of conferences designed to showcase emerging technologies in the energy field.

Nordic countries have harnessed the power of renewable energy sources, including wind and waste, which has created more energy efficient buildings, according to Sovacool. He said the countries have made use of carbon capture and storage technology, which captures 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuels. 

Denmark has also worked to join its energy resources and make them more efficient, Sovacool said. 

“The country has a lot of combined heat and power facilities,” Sovacool said. “There’s talk about integrating systems together, so we can provide heat, steam and pressure [energy] in one go.”

While Nordic countries have made advancements in renewable energy, they still have to make more changes to energy consumption if they are to reach their goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, according to Sovacool.

Sovacool said Nordic countries have worked on using renewable energy for decades, starting with the oil shock of 1973, when the price of oil spiked worldwide after an embargo by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.

“There was a national push for independence and sufficiency,” Sovacool said. “There was a desire for job and technological innovation and a rush to experiment with local sources of energy like water and waste.”

While Nordic countries have taken great steps towards using renewable energy, the city of Austin has also worked towards positive change, according to Matt Weldon, a member of the board of directors for Solar Austin, an organization that works to promote renewable energy.

“Austin was an early investor in wind projects, [and] Central Texas has low solar rooftop installation costs,” Weldon said. “The city of Austin is arguably ahead of its renewable energy goals.”

Kevin Merrill, a graduate student at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said he was concerned about the cost of implementing similar measures in the United States.

“We need to focus on our inefficiencies and focus on a better way of transporting electricity,” Merrill said. “We need to focus on what is suitable and feasible.”