By Teresa Hansen
Electric Light & Power, Utility Automation and Engineering T&D
Energy Secretary Steven Chu addressed industry executives June 25 at the annual Edison Electric Institute (EEI) conference and expo in San Francisco.
The secretary, who speaks like the scientist he is and not the political figures who in past years filled the secretary position, talked primarily about climate change. He thanked EEI for supporting the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, which passed the House of Representatives the following day, and emphasized that the industry’s outlook is not doom and gloom, but instead one of optimism and hope.
“Sooner or later we will be living in a carbon-constrained world,” Chu said.
He listed five things we need to do to get where we need to be.
1. Alignment of financial incentives “We need to break the business-as-usual model of making more money by selling more energy,” he said. Policies that provide utilities with return-on-investment incentives on things other than energy sales need to be developed. He said the DOE’s goal is to create demand response programs that will lower peak demand by 20 percent. This goal is one of the reasons the department is allotting $3.9 billion in stimulus funding for smart grid investment. He also said that the minimum grant amount is $200 million per grant, and the office has made $615 million available for smart grid demonstration projects.
2. Energy efficiency Chu stressed that energy efficiency is important, announcing that the department was making $90 million available to California for statewide energy programs. Chu said that efficiency gains made in household refrigerators has saved more energy than all the energy produced by nonhydro renewable energy sources in the United States. “Energy efficiency does matter,” Chu said.
3. Renewable energy Chu said that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is designed to double all nonhydro renewable energy generation in the next three years. He said that 20 percent of U.S. energy can be supplied by wind power. For renewables to meet their full potential, Chu said the nation’s grid must be modernized and the smart grid must be developed. He discussed the need for smart grid standards, saying that the National Institute of Standards and Technology has already identified more than 80 of these standards.
4. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and nuclear energy The United States leads the world in coal reserves, so much so that little prospecting for new coal supplies is being done, Chu said. He said an international collaboration in CCS technologies is necessary and it needs to occur right away. “Even if the United States turns its back on coal, and I don’t believe it will, China and India will not,” Chu said. He said there is a worldwide goal to have 20 CCS pilot plants operating, which is one of the reasons the DOE is reviving FutureGen. Chu said it is also important to find technologies to retrofit existing plants with stack capture technology. As for nuclear power, Chu said that it is needed for carbon-free baseload generation. He said the nuclear waste issue is solvable scientifically and politically, but he didn’t elaborate how the DOE plans to handle it.
5. Transformational energy technologies Chu said that the DOE has always funded basic science and it provides an opportunity to enlist “knowledge horsepower” to solve the nation’s and world’s energy problems. Because buildings consume 40 percent of the energy produced in the United States, the department and industry should be looking for new ways to design them. He also said the new energy crops being developed for biofuel have much potential and make more sense than corn-based biofuels.
Chu talked about the DOE’s history of employing some of the world’s smartest scientists and researchers, including 30 Nobel Laureates (including himself). He emphasized that the organization is ready and able to address the energy challenges our nation and world face. He also emphasized the urgency of addressing these challenges.
“For the first time in human history, science has shown that human beings are altering the destination of our planet,” Chu said. “The consequences of what we are doing today will not be fully realized for at least 100 years from now.
“One of the ironies about climate change is that the ones who will be hurt the most are those yet to be born.”