Electrifying The Future: The Case for Electricity Research and Development
Remarks by Craven Crowell
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for that very kind introduction. I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you here today and to talk about the future of electric power and the work of EPRI. Im equally excited about EPRI and about the chance to work with President and CEO Kurt Yeager and the EPRI team on the new frontier of electricity research and development.
I think weall of us on this planetface some serious challenges in the years and decades ahead and I believe electric power can provide some of the solutions. Ive made my career in electric power and Im a true believer in the important role electricity plays in our lives and the contribution EPRI makes to it. You know, of course, that EPRI is located right in the heart of Silicon Valleythe computer capital of the world.
We all know how computers and the Internet have changed our lives, but I read something awhile back in The New York Times that puts all of these technological revolutions in perspective. Americas engineers, they said, had been asked to list the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. Itll interest you to know that 30 professional engineering societies and the National Academy of Engineering ranked the Internet only 13th on the list.
Up there at No. 2 was the automobile, which was ahead of the telephone, and at the top of the list: electrification, the number one engineering achievement of the 20th century. No surprise to me. But the purpose of my remarks here today is to tell you that if you thought electricity was important in the last century, it will have an even bigger role to play in this one.
The Great Enabler
Electricity powered the factory floors and the automobile assembly lines, and in recent times electric power enabled the development of the computer industry, which is changing our lives in ways were only beginning to appreciate. Thanks to electric power, our Gross National Product grew by 1600 percent in constant dollars in the last hundred years. The average life span rose from 47 to 76, and because electrification helped mechanize factories and farms, thus reducing the demand for teenage labor, the percentage of young people earning high school diplomas increased from 6 percent to well over 80 percent.
But in the next century, electricity will be needed to tackle the big problems and continue our progress. ElectricityThe Great Enablerneeds to power the technology that will feed our ever-growing population, manage the increasing database of human knowledge, and transport us from point A to point B with less damage to our natural environment. Electricity needs to help us manufacture and run high tech medical equipment that will save lives and relieve sufferingtechnology researchers are only dreaming of now, but which could become a reality in the years and decades to come. And electricity needs to turn on lamps in millions of dark homes where children in the developing world need light to read and study by so they can learn the skills theyll need to lift their nations up from poverty and despair.
Electricity has a big job to do, but it wont meet the challenges of the 21st Century without a stepped-up commitment to the milk of human invention: R&D. Without a bigger commitment to research and development, promising new scientific leads wont be pursued and theoretical breakthroughs wont become the radios, the televisions, and the Internets of tomorrow. But youll be disappointed to learn that the budgets for energy R&Din both the public and the private sectorsare actually declining.
At EPRI, they call this patient money. Lets talk about whats at stake here. A hundred years ago, London and New York were the biggest cities in the world and there wasnt a city on the planet with more than 10 million people. By 1950, there were four of these mega-cities, and 20 years from now there will be 30. By 2050, population experts tell us there may be as many as 60. Thats 60 cities with populations over 10 million, and some of them probably double that size. These population numbers translate into a staggering increaseover a relatively short period in historyin the worldwide demand for energy.
As we gather here in Washington today, more than a billion people in the less developed parts of this world still lack access to commercial energy in any form, which means menial tasks must still be done by hand and reading and studying can only be done in daylight. It goes without saying that the Information Superhighway doesnt run through these underdeveloped neighborhoods. For these folks, the door to the global economy remains shut.
It took 123 yearsto 1927to add the next billion. It then took only 47 yearsto 1974to double that figure to four billion, and in the past 25 years, weve added another two billion people. Based on those figures, the population on the planet is increasing at the rate of one billion people every 12 years.
To meet that kind of demand, well have to bring on line the equivalent of a 1,000 MW power plant every two-and-a-half days for the next 50 years, a staggering challenge for our conventional power generating technology. Clearly, well need new, more efficient technology to meet this enormous demandtechnology that will be developed only if we commit ourselves to an intensive program of R&D. The growing population in the developing world, and their growing demand for electric power, will also require accelerated research on green power-generating technologies, since continued reliance on fossil fuels will produce unacceptable levels of environmental pollution.
But inventing new and better technology for producing electricity isnt just a priority in the developing world; its also the key to progress in the developed, or first world, and for that reason, researchers at EPRI arent just working on new and more efficient ways to generate power; theyre working on new ways to make power generation more reliable, more dependable, and environmentally friendly. As many of you know, the U.S. electric power system is one of the largest and most complex structures of the technological age, and it is the essential infrastructure for human progress. The magnitude of bulk power transactions in the United States has increased fourfold in the last decade, and shows no sign of slowing down.
In many parts of North America, the transmission network is already operating at the limits of stability. Summertime brownouts and rolling blackouts are already being predicted for this summer in some parts of the country. Its May, and the temperature has already hit the 90s in many parts of the country.
A Crisis in Reliability
We read about e-Bay going down for four or five hours and losing millions of dollars. Well, you can only imagine what would happen to our economy if several major American cities lost power for hours or even days because of power outages, and its important to point out that when we talk about reliability, were not just talking about the quantity of electric power; were talking about quality as well. To the high tech businesses that share EPRIs neighborhood in Silicon Valley, for example, reliable, high-quality electric power is business critical.
And if we are to bridge the digital divide for our citizens, reliable, high-quality electric power must become a national priority. For factories turning out the latest generation of semi-conductors, even minor fluctuations in the power supply are unacceptable. The fact is, we have technologycurrently in developmentthat would dramatically increase the reliability of the U.S. power grid.
Fuel cells could help with delivery; transmission lines could be upgraded with power electronics to make them operate more efficiently. But as it now stands, these technological innovations are just too expensive. More research is needed to help bring the costs down, and to make broad deployment cost effective.
The mile markers along the way are a clear guide to the steps we need to takethe R&D pathways and the technology development destinationsto reach our electric power goals in the 21st century. But despite the challenges, I remain optimistic. EPRI is bringing the will and the vision to the pursuit of basic and applied research on electricity. Following the Roadmap guidelines, we can deliver on electricitys promise for the future, to Electrify the World.
Rural electrification transformed the Tennessee Valley, where I live, in the 20th Century, and I know electric power can transform the developing world in the 21st. Here in the United States, electricity has taken us from the Industrial Age to the Internet Age, and Im confident it will take us to the next level of technological evolution as well. But electricity can only deliver on this promise if we invest patient money in research and development.
Our current technology wont take us there. So the stakeholders in electric power must commit themselves to doing more. On a rolling green patch of land in Palo Alto, California, researchers at EPRI are working every day to meet tomorrows electric power needs. Im honored and proud that they invited me to serve as their Chairman, and I look forward to working with Kurt Yeager and the entire EPRI team on meeting the challenges of our electrified future.
Thank you all very much. Its been a pleasure being here today, and Im grateful to all of you for your kind attention. .
Craven Crowell is Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority
All site content ©2004 Craven Crowell