Saturday, May 05, 2007


Power Generation Folks Gather at CERA 2007

Dr. Daniel Yergin, founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and author of the Pulitzer Prize winning "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, & Power", chose the theme "Strategies for a High Stakes World: Innovation, Investment, and the Future of Energy" for CERA's 25th annual conference held in (where else?) Houston, TX. I am a little behind the times on this one, as the conference took place in February.

As with much of the discussion in the power generation industry lately, carbon dioxide regulation was a hot topic. Given the regulatory environment in Washington D.C. lately, with leading generation companies requesting well-defined and market-based CO2 regulations, companies playing here are interested in doin whatever they can to reduce their emissions. Mr. Jeff Sterba, CEO of PNM Resources and Chairman of EPRI, reminded the audience that the generation sector contributes roughly 1/3 of the United States' CO2 emissions, or about 2,400 million metric tons. In a carbon constrained world, with a "business as usual" scenario, that will increase to ~ 3,300 million mt in 2030 (see graph below); not what we are looking for.

The speakers covered various strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and though they are in the business of selling electricity, they all addressed technologies to prevent the neeed to build more power plants (or at least reduce the urgency to build). Mr. Sterba suggested the following actions:

> Increase the efficiency of appliances and lighting to reduce annual demand growth from the current 1.5% to 1%. This step alone would reduce CO2 emissions 9% by 2030.
> Build 50 GW of wind farms and solar power plants by 2020, and an additional 2 GW/year thereafter.
> Add 24 GW of nuclear capacity by 2020, and another 4 GW/year thereafter.
> Target raising the efficiency of new coal-fired plants to 46% by 2020 and to 49% by 2030.
> Make 90% of the new coal plants carbon capture–ready by 2020.
> Strive to have electric cars constitute 10% of all U.S. vehicles by 2017, and 30% by 2027.
> Increase distributed generation's share of U.S. installed capacity from
less than 0.1% today to 5% by 2030.
Mr. Sterba followed these recommendations with calls on Congress to take action on climate change to provide a more stable regulatory environment to ensure adequate investment.

Thiery Vandal, CEO of Hydro-Quebec, enthusiastically recommended the continued development of plug-in hybrids, encouraging the combination of R&D innovation between two large carbon dioxide emitting industries. Charge up the car in the evening when power is inexpensive (and power plants are "taking it easy") and use them during the day, taking advantage of the infrastructure we already have. The cars could also remain connected during the day, potentially becoming a multi-million unit electricity injection system (if they are not needed that day). The emerging ubiquity of wireless technologies will make this future easier to achieve.

David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, sees the need for reducing CO2 emissions as an opportunity for the industry to expand into other areas. His enthusiasm for plug-in hybrids included the fact that there would be a greater need for the power they produce, especially in "off-peak" times. In other words, replace CO2 emissions from transportation with CO2 emissions from electricity generation? I do not know enough about the engineering analysis to understand intuitively what mode would be more efficient overall. I'll ask one of my friends from the MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, Mr. Steve Connors, to read this post and fill me in on what I am really talking about.

I came to a realization later in the day that the suggestions mentioned by the CERA attendees were all outlined in S. Pacala and R. Socolow's paper "Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies". Pacala & Socolow introduce "stabilization triangles", as illustrated below:



The authors suggest that the business as usual upward trend of CO2 emissions can be stabilized in steps by adopting current technologies for energy efficiency, etc. that will lessen our emissions. A few examples are:
1. Efficient vehicles - Increase fuel economy for 2 billion cars from 30 to 60 mpg
2. Reduced use of vehicles - Decrease car travel for 2 billion 30-mpg cars from
10,000 to 5000 miles per year
3. Efficient buildings - Cut carbon emissions by one-fourth in buildings
and appliances projected for 2054
4. Efficient base load coal plants - Produce twice today’s coal power output at 60%
instead of 40% efficiency (compared with 32% today)
Now, from a capitalist perspective, these are all tremendous business opportunities! All these efforts (and these are only a few) provide immense entrepreneurial potential. New companies are already springing up by the hundred, motivated as much for saving the planet as they are for the renewed billions pouring into "Cleantech" start-ups by venture capitalists around the country. Existing companies will also require a raft of new service providers to help them reduce their energy consumption to play in the future CO2 emissions marketplace. Commercial building owners are already entering into agreements with companies like SunEdison and EnerNOC to reduce their carbon footprint and become better corporate citizens. There are limitless applications and opportunities to recreate our energy landscape to generate jobs, reduce pollution, and help move our world into the next millennium with confidence and hope

Am I becoming an optimist?

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