Craven Crowell
         
 

Biography

Articles
By Craven Crowell

Speeches
By Craven Crowell

Email

 

 

Electrifying The Future: The Case for Electricity Research and Development

Remarks by Craven Crowell
Chairman, Electric Power Research Institute
Chairman, Tennessee Valley Authority
IEEE Energy Reliability Symposium
May 24, 2000, Washington, D.C.

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. I’m 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 we—all of us on this planet—face some serious challenges in the years and decades ahead and I believe electric power can provide some of the solutions. I’ve made my career in electric power and I’m 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 Valley—the 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. America’s engineers, they said, had been asked to list the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. It’ll 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
Why? Because electricity is The Great Enabler. It enabled engineers to develop marvelous technological wonders like the telegraph, the telephone, radio and TV, x-ray machines, the vacuum cleaner, air conditioning, incandescent lights, and dozens of kitchen gadgets that do everything from open tin cans to pop popcorn.

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 we’re 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. Electricity—The Great Enabler—needs 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 suffering—technology 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 they’ll need to lift their nations up from poverty and despair.

Electricity has a big job to do, but it won’t 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 won’t be pursued and theoretical breakthroughs won’t become the radios, the televisions, and the Internets of tomorrow. But you’ll be disappointed to learn that the budgets for energy R&D—in both the public and the private sectors—are actually declining.

Declining Revenue for Research
The makers of pet food spend more money researching dog food than our industry spends researching electricity. For the benefit of society as a whole, it is our responsibility to reverse the trend of declining revenue for research. We need a stepped-up commitment to R&D and, more specifically, we need to increase our commitment to long-term funding for the kind of research that takes time—research that doesn’t necessarily pay off in the next quarterly stock report, but which, in the long run, will greatly impact and enrich our lives.

At EPRI, they call this “patient money.” Let’s talk about what’s at stake here. A hundred years ago, London and New York were the biggest cities in the world and there wasn’t 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. That’s 60 cities with populations over 10 million, and some of them probably double that size. These population numbers translate into a staggering increase—over a relatively short period in history—in 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 doesn’t run through these underdeveloped neighborhoods. For these folks, the door to the global economy remains shut.

Population Challenges
As we struggle to meet the energy demands of 2000, we can only imagine the challenges we might face in 50 years, when the earth’s population could increase to 10 billion, and the demand for electricity could require as much as 10 million megawatts of generating capacity. Let’s think about those population figures for a moment. It took all of history until the year 1804 to get the first billion people on the planet.

It took 123 years—to 1927—to add the next billion. It then took only 47 years—to 1974—to double that figure to four billion, and in the past 25 years, we’ve 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, we’ll 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, we’ll need new, more efficient technology to meet this enormous demand—technology 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 isn’t just a priority in the developing world; it’s also the key to progress in the developed, or “first” world, and for that reason, researchers at EPRI aren’t just working on new and more efficient ways to generate power; they’re 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. It’s May, and the temperature has already hit the 90s in many parts of the country.

A Crisis in Reliability
We’re in a precarious situation now, and it’s likely to get worse. We are indeed facing a crisis in the reliability of our electricity supply, and the consequences for our economy, and our country, could be significant. The reliability of our electricity supply is critical to the normal operation of our economy and our society, particularly in the areas of transportation, telecommunications and our financial systems.

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 it’s important to point out that when we talk about reliability, we’re not just talking about the quantity of electric power; we’re talking about quality as well. To the high tech businesses that share EPRI’s 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 technology—currently in development—that 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.

Electricity Technology Roadmap
A couple of years ago, Kurt Yeager and the executive team at EPRI embarked on a long-term strategy to help meet the challenges I’m outlining here today. They created the Electricity Technology Roadmap to guide our R&D through the first half of the 21st Century. The Roadmap is an ongoing initiative involving about 150 organizations, and it represents the most strategic vision of the future of electric power I’ve ever seen.

The mile markers along the way are a clear guide to the steps we need to take—the R&D pathways and the technology development destinations—to 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 electricity’s 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 I’m 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 won’t 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 tomorrow’s electric power needs. I’m 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. It’s been a pleasure being here today, and I’m grateful to all of you for your kind attention. .

Craven Crowell is Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority

 

 

All site content ©2004 Craven Crowell