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The 2006 Arthur M. Bueche Award was presented to Dr. Chauncey Starr, President Emeritus, Electric Power Research Institute, “for leadership in the development of nuclear power, contributions to the creation of the field of rish analysis and leadership in electric power R&D as the founding president of EPRI." These remarks were delivered on October 15, 2006, at the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Engineering.
I deeply appreciate the opportunity to accept the Arthur M. Bueche award at this annual NAE meeting with a recorded tape. Although I’d much prefer being with you in person, physical limitations make travel too difficult for me.
It is an honor to be included in the list of Arthur M. Bueche awardees, most of whom I knew from sharing NAE committees. Art Bueche was a professional friend. He co-chaired with me the 1977 World Electrotechnical Congress in Moscow, sponsored by the USSR Ministry of Electricity. It was illustrative of the international bonding that technology provides. Art spoke about electricity applications, and I reviewed electricity supply options.
My ties to the NAE started with my early participation in its pre-formation struggles with existing professional societies, each certain it could expand to include NAE objectives. I was NAE’s 1970-1974 Vice-President, and temporarily its acting head during that period. Historical threads keep me interested in the NAE’s growth. I now find it particularly rewarding that the NAE is a nationally recognized member of the Academies complex. I wear with pride my 40 year membership pin of the class of 1965.
My personal experience has been in the past century’s electrification of the U.S. Our national electricity network has been a called a major 20th century engineering accomplishment. It now needs up-dating with innovative engineering. Such innovations today must include the Academies’ full spectrum of science, engineering, and health. Thus I found refreshing the Academies recent report on “Rising Above The Gathering Storm:“ to provide guidance to a multi-decade national education program. It stimulated me to urge the Academies to more often explore vital long-range topics, and not wait for current events to motivate “tasking” by a slow moving Congress. I realize this requires funding, but I believe the Academies could raise funds for significant issues.
Inherent Inefficiency of Electricity Supply
Electricity supply now has a national role that urgently needs such anticipatory attention. The electrical kilowatt-hour (kWhr) has become an essential commodity for our daily existence, as contrasted with electricity’s luxury status a century ago. The formation of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in 1972 was utilities’ recognition of electricity’s vital national role. I had the honor and pleasure of being its founding president and now a retired and active emeritus.
Most challenging to me are the projections (~2%/yr) that in several decades we will need to supply twice as many kWhrs of electricity as we use today. Routine expansion of our present network of localized private, public, and government utilities could eventually result in a congested network and a sub-optimum asset mix. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) has recently urged a national efficiency program to achieve a modernized national grid to minimize such an outcome. I suggest the NAE undertake a “Gathering Storm” exploration of such a program, covering the complete scope of future efficiency options for our electricity network, from primary resource to end-use.
Energy and Conservation Costs Versus Level of Conservation
Innovative technologies worth exploring need to start now. It takes decades to commercialize new power equipment, and more time to optimize network subsystems, and eventual consumer adaptations. Unfortunately, the daily pressures on utilities for economic optimization of capital assets discourages the funding of long-term R&D programs. Sponsoring such programs requires political, public, regulatory, and technology collaborative support. The biggest obstacle is the high cost of achieving high efficiency targets, plus the cost of restructuring today’s decentralized utility systems into a national network. In the final accounting, end-users always pay for the integrated costs. The practical question today is who pays for the intermediary subsystem improvements to a national network, all heavily influenced by regional utility economics -- like a highway with a sequence of independent toll stations.
Nevertheless, I’m optimistic about achieving integrated national efficiency by innovative steps. Some innovations shape events that over time lead to functional system changes on a huge scale. Traditionally, the utilities have been concerned with generation, transmission, and local distribution, but storage has been a minor concern. The present low interest in the bulk storage of kWhrs provides a range of opportunities for innovation. The missing bulk storage is the primary reason that makes distributing electricity different from the distribution of fossil fuels. The gasoline tank in every auto and gas station is a distributed storage system. We need the kWhr equivalent of the gas tank.
American Driving Patterns
The missing storage for kWhrs forces the supply/demand “instant-matching” that dominates present electricity networks. Storage would also make renewables such as solar and wind less handicapped by their intermittency. On a familiar small scale, the transportability of the common laptop computer shows the effect of storage in enabling a new function to become a common end-use system. Consider the applications of a much improved automobile storage battery that had ten year lifetime, high energy density, minimal maintenance, short recharging time, and low cost. Provided it allowed a 180 mile range, it would shift many automobiles from gasoline dependence to the electric “Plug-In” car. DaimlerChrysler’s Plug-in Hybrid Sprinter Van and several electric hybrid car enthusiasts are assembling demonstration vehicles that have a few of these virtues. These are a start, but are some years from achieving a commercial electricity storage package.
The EEI has made the “Plug-In” car a specific industry goal. It is foreseeable that the onset of its commercialization might significantly minimize the oil import factor in both our foreign policy and in our internal environmental economics. On a longer time scale, a successful Plug-In car might create a precedent for a national electricity systems based on storage supplementing today’s supply/demand “instant-matching”: i.e.,a hybrid network system.
Such an outcome would eventually result in a major change in our national network. Importantly, utility executives need not be concerned that the suggested storage based supplement would conflict with their responsibilities today. They will continue to be the producers of kWhrs. The R&D time scale will assure very slow accommodation to any supplementary change.
All innovative projects need stable R&D leadership and patient funding with a steady growth rate – a familiar combination. I believe the NAE is capable of sponsoring such practical efforts. To repeat my message, it is timely for the NAE to assume a leadership role in multi-decade R&D technologies for an efficient energy future. I have suggested a kWhr storage target and a long-term national hybrid network for a “Gathering Storm” study. These suggestions should provoke questions worth discussing.
Again, I thank the NAE for the Arthur M. Bueche Award honor, and its patience in allowing me to suggest fresh endeavors to its leaders.
Electric Power Research Institute