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The Future of Energy & How to Achieve It

If you ask environmentally-minded people or typical liberals/progressives about what sort of energy we should be using and what energy technologies our governments should be promoting, you are sure to see a lot of support for renewable energy like solar and wind, as well as the components that make those options more viable, like large smart grids. Actually, even if you survey the general public, you will find great support for the technologies above.

But, what kinds of results would you get if you actually surveyed experts on this matter (energy experts)?

The good news is, we don’t have to conjecture. As you can see in the video above, ABB recently funded a massive energy survey, conducted by Bloomberg Businessweek Research Services, focused on finding out what actual energy professionals think the future of energy should look like and how we can achieve it. Renewable and non-renewable energy producers, energy distributors, end users, consultants, and government/NGO officials working on energy policy were surveyed, 468 energy industry stakeholders in total.

Here are some of the most salient findings (links below are to PDF files):

  • 76% of energy professionals believe government regulations should require utility companies to produce more energy from renewable sources.”
  • 89% of energy professionals believe government incentives trump markets in driving energy efficiency uptake by consumers.”
  • 81% of energy experts think smart grid technology is important for creating a cleaner, stronger system of the future.”
  • 63% of energy professionals believe the greatest opportunities for improving efficiency in the energy value chain can be found among industrial end users.”

Looks pretty clear: renewable energy, energy efficiency, and smart grid technology need more support from the government, and the private sector needs to be pushed or persuaded to travel down this route to a greater extent.

What’s one of the main reasons we need to focus on these matters? Environmental concerns:

Of course, this is an issue we cover everyday on here and know all too well.

What is Smart Grid Technology?

While this term (and the actual technology) is growing in use, I imagine most people are still unfamiliar with it. So, here’s a quick primer:

Smart grid technology helps people (suppliers and consumers) to monitor energy demand and use and allows for easier and more intricate adjustments to the overall energy flow of a network.

In other words, some technologies allow users to easily monitor their total energy-usage whenever they want, to pinpoint where most of their energy is being used, to automatically adjust usage based on certain criteria (e.g. time of day), and so on. On the flip side, smart grid technologies can also help suppliers to keep a better eye on energy usage across their network and keep the flow of energy in their networks more balanced and efficient. This helps to prevent blackouts and brownouts and also helps to reduce the total energy capacity needed for their network (whether it be from coal, nuclear, or solar energy). And, such technologies greatly help in integrating renewable energy sources into our energy mix, a key objective we all seem to want.

What is ABB Doing to Increase Energy Efficiency and Use of Renewable Energy?

When looking at the results, it is hard not to wonder what the sponsor of the survey is doing with regards to this matter. Of course, to research this matter and publicize the results, you know ABB must be on the cutting edge of this field in at least some ways. Seems to be true. Check out some of the info below on its technologies and some of the innovative projects it’s involved in:

  • “HVDC (high-voltage direct current) power transmission pioneered by ABB 50 years ago and Flexible AC Transmission devices (FACTS)” are helping to move energy from hydro power plants, wind farms, and solar energy power plants to homes around the world efficiently and without disrupting the energy networks they combine with.
  • “ABB can now transmit up to 6,400 MW (megawatts) of clean, renewable hydropower across several thousand kilometers with 93 percent efficiency, at voltage levels as high as 800 kV (kilovolts) to minimize losses.”
  • “In Brazil, ABB is currently building the world’s longest power transmission link.”
  • ABB has just built a 400-megawatt transmission link using HVDC Light technology for a wind park 130 kilometers off the German coast…. With HVDC Light, high power levels generated offshore can be fed into the network without destabilizing it…. HVDC Light transmission systems are also extremely efficient, with very low transmission losses, even over long distances.”
  • ABB is delivering an energy-efficient power and automation package to help operate the world’s largest seawater desalination plant using reverse osmosis (RO) technology, now under construction in Oran, Algeria.”
  • ABB’s intelligent building installation system, ABB i-bus, has helped several landmark buildings in Singapore to cut energy consumption and win industry awards for energy efficiency and low environmental impact.”
  • Processes driven by electric motors consume vast quantities of electricity and even small improvements can lead to dramatic savings. The installed base of ABB drives, which control the power consumed by electric motors, saves an equivalent of 180 million tons of CO2 each year.”

Cool, to say the least. For more on such projects, visit ABB’s Better World section.

What Are World Leaders Doing?

Of course, however, as the survey indicates, creating the energy future we need is going to require a lot more than private sector initiative and innovation. It is going to require government policies that support the rapid development and deployment of clean energy and smart grid technologies.

The Obama administration has done a lot to promote clean energy, jump start the creation of a national smart grid, and push world leaders to shift government subsidies from old, dirty energy to energy options of the future. Let’s hope it keeps up the hard work, achieves more success in the next two years, and the public recognizes this in the 2012 national elections.

The European Union has been working hard for a long time now to promote energy sources and technologies of the future and with great success. I don’t imagine it is going to change course any time soon.

And while they started a bit later on this matter, leading economies China and India have lunged into the field with great speed and enthusiasm in recent years. These countries, and China especially, look set to sprint ahead of the rest of the world on this matter if it doesn’t pick up the pace.

The question is, are we moving fast enough?

More thoughts on where we are, where we need to be going, and how to get there? Share in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Duke Energy




5 comments
  1. F. Kozlowski

    Is this a press release? Sure reads like one.

    Anyhow, not mentioned, but surely critical is nuclear power. It is one of the safest and cheapest ways of generating electricity. If Global Warming is every bit as dangerous as we are being told, then I would think we would embrace the one technology that actually has a reasonable chance of saving our world. I know Nuclear has a bad rap, and in some cases deservedly so. The dangerous part of nuclear power comes from the type of fuel being used. Because America (and the Soviets) were gearing up for nuclear war, the decision was made to use Uranium so it could be dual used for weapons.

    However newer plants could, and should be using Thorium (appropriately named after the Norse god Thor). Thorium cannot go critical, it cannot be used for weapons and is quite plentiful. It does not need an expensive enriching process either. All of which makes Iran’s claims for a peaceful nuclear program ring hollow – but thats another story.

    Any story that omits nuclear as an option is incomplete. Our populations are rising, standards of living are increasing and the gadgets we use proliferate. In short we (all 6 billion+) are going to be increasing our personal per capita use of power ad infinitum!

    We will never “get there” with power which only happens when the wind blows or when the sun shines. Sure its great as a back up power source (if they could just STOP USING NF3 to make solar panels that is — google “NF3” if you want to be freaked out by solar.)

    Like all technologies solar, nuclear, wind, hydroelectric – all have their plus and downsides. Its up to us to manage them to the best of our ability. My personal favorite would be geothermal power – always on – and infinitely accessible to any location on earth – including your house!

    Cheers!

    PS:NF3, Nitrogen Tri-Fluoride is far more dangerous than CO2 and was recently measured to be 400x higher than expected due to environmental release in Chinese factories making solar panels. Its not even on the Kyoto list! Why aren’t people making noise about this? Read the Wikipedia article that shows up as first link: 17,200x more potent than CO2. It gets worse as you read on. Giving China more latitude to pollute just so they sign on to environmental regs is a fools game. We all share the pollution no matter where it happens.

    P.P.S. China is no leader in clean energy. While there are a few projects which are foreign sourced and financed, China is ruled by coal. Always has, always will. Yes they are a leader in manufacturing solar and wind equipment but for purely capitalistic reasons – because there is a customer for them.

    1. Zachary Shahan

      thanks for the extra comments, F. of course, not a press release, coverage of an interesting study.

      there are some that agree with you on nuclear and some that don’t. renewable can generate the power needed, if there were the political will to implement it so fully. nuclear has improved, from what i’ve read, but there are still critical economic and financial reasons why it is not the best option for governments to invest in. i don’t see many governments cutting it out of the solution mix, though

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