Igor Lobovski is President of the Global Energy Prize, which awards 33 million roubles (approx. US$1.17m) each year for outstanding energy achievements and innovations.
He was responding to written questions by EurActiv’s founder Christophe Leclercq.
You have been awarding a prestigious prize to top scientists at the St Petersburg Economic Summit for ten years. What do laureates have in common so far? Can you mention one research outcome that gained greater visibility thanks to the award?
There are two principal things that all the laureates have: a high innovation level in their achievements and their personality.
Here are some examples: Arthur Rosenfeld, as the advisor on energy for California Governor Schwarzenegger has carried out his ideas in the field of energy saving and energy efficiency. Among those ideas, some obvious ones were to repaint roofs in white, or the development of new LED equipment that consumes less energy while on standby. As a result, energy consumption in California has been stable, while it has increased in the rest of the USA.
The other laureates received the prize for developing the scientific foundations of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor ITER: Robert Aymar (France), Yevgeny Velikhov (Russia) and Massadzhi Yoshikawa (Japan). They created the basis for a revolution in energy. As a result, the international organization ITER was created. It gathered 22 billion euro and started the creation of this unique equipment.
What are the priority research areas for the prize? Is there a place for renewable energy?
The Prize does not give priority to anyone. Every year, the International Award Committee (25 scientists from 10 countries) receives hundreds of nominations and elects the laureates by secret ballot.
Certainly, their decisions might be influenced by the changing trends, etc. However, that is not stipulated in the Statute of the Global Energy Prize, which constitutes the basis for the Committee’s decision.
The Foundation’s board of trustees reads like a 'Who’s Who' of Russian business and political establishment. What role does it perform? Is the Foundation independent from the Russian State? How is this independence guaranteed?
Originally, three organisations [Gazprom, UES Russia and Surgutneftegaz] founded the non-profit Global Energy partnership.
In accordance with the Statute of the Global Energy Prize, their role is limited to the financing of the project. In addition, the leaders of these companies are members of the Board of Trustees. The nomination process is a closed procedure: the founders do have neither the right nor the opportunity to influence it in any way.
One of the foundation’s trustees is Mikhail Gorbachev who is still known in the West for ending the cold war and the communist system. Is his membership meant to convey non-alignment with the Putin administration, or is it due to Mr. Gorbachev's past environment credentials as founding president of the NGO Green Cross?
Mr. Gorbachev is a member of the Board of Trustees. He is keenly interested in the affairs of the Prize and participates in our events. Honestly, his participation in the Board of Trustees is neither a signal nor anything else. For 11 years, he has been a member of the Board of Trustees and actively helps us. It is useless to look for subtext when there is none.
The Global Energy Prize is not well-known yet outside specialised circles, unlike the Nobel Prize to which it is sometimes compared. Do you have plans to make the Prize more famous, and how?
The Nobel Prize has 113 years of existence, Global Energy Prize only 11. How could we compare? Awareness of the project is not a goal in itself. We work a lot with the scientists. This year, for example, we have created a nomination pool of 3,000 scientists and professionals of the energy sector!
Sincerely, we are jealous, and in a good way, of our colleagues and of their enormous notoriety in the world. Let’s come back to the topic of notoriety of the Global Energy Prize in 100 years.
The Global Energy Prize organised a conference on 28 November on EU-Russia Energy Research, hosted by MEPs Vittorio Prodi and Csaba Sógor. What was your objective?
We organise events in Russia and in other countries on a regular basis. We participate in the biggest international forums in the energy field.
The goal is the same every time – to understand the world’s energy trends better and to disseminate information about the achievements of our laureates, and if an opportunity presents, about the winners of the contest of Youth scientific projects “Energy of Youth”.
Russia is a major energy producer, it probably wishes to modernise this industry, also thanks to scientific exchanges. But it could be less keen on energy savings by its users, or competing energies like shale gas. What is the focus of this EU-Russia energy research cooperation?
Global Energy is a scientific organisation; we are not involved in politics. We believe in the perspectives of a scientific cooperation in the energy field, because we all live on the same planet. Now is the time when Earth needs some help.
At the same time I have to admit that currently, nothing is done in Russia in the area of energy savings. I have read today on the Internet that the Russian Ministry of Energy came up with the initiative of creating a Federal agency that would take care of all the real estate owned by the budgetary organisations in order to implement energy saving programmes.
Russia is a major energy producer, and sometimes perceived as 'pushy' in foreign affairs. This was the case lately in the EU-Ukraine discussions, given the risk of gas supplies being interrupted or priced higher. The EU on the other hand is an economic giant, but only a soft power. Is the Award - "approved by Russia's President" as your website states - an effort to soften Russia's image in its core business?
Since I speak frequently and personally to the top officials of companies and founders of the prize, I can assure you that the prize is supported by companies and by the President only thanks to their understanding of the importance of innovation in the energy sector.