If there is a dearth of strategic thinking at your energy company in early October, blame the US Association for Energy Economics.

The energy industry’s deepest thinkers will be gathering in Washington, DC for the Association’s annual summit, a meeting of the minds for the economists whose analysis guides top decision makers at energy firms, regulators at all levels of government and the financiers and consultants moving projects forward across the sector.

Interest in the US energy sector has burgeoned in the past decade as concerns about capacity, safety and emissions have grown, all set to the drumbeat of volatility in most major energy markets that consumers and voters see. From Enron’s collapse to the record crude oil prices of 2008 and to the threatened meltdown at the earthquake-damaged Fukushima plant earlier this year, the energy sector’s news and crises have formed the backdrop for growing concern about security and reliability of supply in a country accustomed to cheap energy in surplus.

People in the US often complain that the country lacks an energy policy at all, US Association for Energy Economics president Ben Schlesinger told AOL Energy, and to clear up confusion Schlesinger called on a host of government representatives to bring their own policies to the table. Among the top speakers at the conference will be the Energy Information Administration’s Shirley Neff, Assistant Energy Secretary for Policy and International Affairs David Sandalow and Deutsche Bank’s Chief Energy Economist Adam Sieminski.

“People really need a better understanding of the issues,” Schlesinger, who is also head of DC-based consultants Benjamin Schlesinger & Associates, said. “We are trying here to set up an opportunity for conversations beyond the conference.”

“Some of the things people hear will surprise them,” Schlesinger added.

Current senior adviser to EIA and past president of the association Shirley Neff called the theme of the conference – Changing Roles of Industry, Government and Research – “prescient.”

Data Disturbance

Part of the conference will be dedicated to the streams of energy data poured out of the US federal government, providing clarity and insight that supports innovation and investment across the sector. Those same streams are now under distinct threat from sweeping budget cuts that one planned attendee called “tragic” for the industry.

“We’re holding a session to raise awareness of the problem,” Schlesinger said, citing the town hall breakfast with EIA’s deputy administrator scheduled to open the conference sessions on Tuesday, October 11.

Association members need to “consider and discuss” the role of government in collecting, analyzing and disseminating independent and impartial energy information, Neff told Breaking Energy, citing the EIA’s statutory mission.

Given the technical nature of many of the papers customarily presented at the conference and in the Association’s journal, Dialogue, Schlesinger said the Association was hoping to use the conference as a platform for its expanded outreach strategy, including a new journal from the organization’s international parent that deals with energy and environmental policy without the mathematical formulas economists prize but laymen find opaque.

Managing The Bounty

One of the most significant challenges facing the US energy economy is how to manage the “bounty” of natural gas that has been developed in recent years, Schlesinger said. How to craft incentives that help consumers save energy in a highly mobile and expansion-minded society remains a challenge for energy economists, and energy efficiency and renewable energy will be part of the USAEE conference’s focus.

In addition to students from around the world presenting their findings in an interactive environment, companies like Anadarko, Chevron, AREVA, Alstom, Aramco, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips will be represented. They are as dependent as policymakers on the data and strategic analysis provided by the economists gathered blocks from the White House, and as eager to access the latest thinking in an increasingly high-profile field.

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For coverage of the USAEE annual summit from October 9-12, visit AOLEnergy at breakingenergy.com and follow the #usaeedc hashtag on Twitter. Join our conference-focused conversations on our LinkedIn group and find our editors at the conference.