Society`s Needs Determining Energy Future
By Paul L. Wattelet, Sargent & Lundy
Congratulations to Power Engineering from a fellow centenarian.1 The intrigu-ing aspect of making 100-year prognostications is only the most optimistic of us plan to be around to validate our predictions. In reality, whether or not lifespan advances result in some of us being here in another 100 years may have more relevance to determining our energy future than what technologies and fuels will be in vogue. The primary driving forces behind the energy technologies that will be employed on a large scale, and the resulting mar-kets, will be the socio-political issues associated with population, availability and use of natural resources, the environment and global politics.
Over the next 100 years, the energy trend will be toward those technolo-gies that can best serve the greatest population with the least use of otherwise valuable resources and having the least adverse impact on the environment. The issues most popular today will probably turn out to be high frequency noise on a low-frequency trend cycle. The current frenzy over deregulating the electric power industry into competitive markets will be replaced by the issue of how best to regulate the industry for the long-term benefit of our citizenry (back to the future?). Granted, the key players may be different, but the fundamental socio-economic issues will still have to be addressed.
During the next 25 years, the United States will face a major crisis of where to turn for future energy production. As a result, energy politics and policies will most likely set us on a few false starts along new technological courses that will be heavily influenced by short-term gains at the expense of long-term energy self-sufficiency. We will see the usual assortment of new genera-tion and distribution concepts that promise to be panaceas but will eventually prove to be impractical alternatives on a mass scale. On the application side, we will see the electric automobile begin to emerge as the predominant means of ground transportation, which will in turn have a major impact on the oil industry as well as the electric power industry.
Within this 25-year window, the current “gassing” of America will become much better understood from a long-term technology/supply/ distribution/economics perspective as will the need for nuclear power. We`ll find out if natural gas can hold its own for long-term, large-scale electricity production or if it will again retreat to limited use. My forecasting says coal technology, as a major source of new generation, will con-tinue at about its current level in the United States.
Internationally, particularly in developing countries, coal will continue to be a primary source of new generation where it is economi-cal. As those countries become more affluent, environmental concerns will increasingly become major issues. Many of these countries, however, are pursuing a coal/nuclear strategy for their long-term future and are less likely to follow the U.S. path of abrupt energy policy shifts.
Between 25 and 50 years from now, nuclear power will reappear as the technology of choice (and necessity) for new electric generation, with fast breeder reactors becoming politically and socially acceptable throughout the world. Plutonium will be recognized as an extremely valuable energy resource rather than viewed as a fuel to be feared. The benign effect of nuclear power on the environment will be a key factor in this movement. As nuclear power reemerges, so will regulatory requirements for greater reassur-ance to the public. This in turn will drive increases in all other forms of competitive regulation. During this period, the greatest technological advances will be made in the areas of materials and the use of computer technology in all phases of power generation and distri-bution. Information technology will continue to drive gains in produc-tivity and efficiency of engineering, design, operations and maintenance. However, there will continue to be a strong demand for knowledge workers who can sort through the information overload to provide assessments based on judgment and vision.
Beyond 50 years my vision begins to get a little hazy. However, nuclear power will remain the predominant source of new electricity generation in a very populated, highly educated and heavily regulated world. And–perhaps some of us will still be around to read the 200th anniversary edition of Power Engineering, that is if reading is still in vogue.
1Sargent & Lundy celebrated its 105th anniversary in power this year.
Between 25 and 50 years from now, nuclear power will reappear as the technology of choice (and necessity) for the new electric generation, with fast breeder reactors becoming politically and socially acceptable throughout the world.
Dr. Paul Wattelet`s extensive project and business management experience includes serving as Sargent & Lundy`s chief operating officer, chief operations and finance officer, Power Services and Engineering director and project director for Sargent & Lundy`s initial nuclear projects in Korea. He joined Sargent & Lundy in 1972 as a project engineer. He earned his doctorate degree in nuclear engineering at Purdue University and his bachelor`s of science degree in physics at Illinois Institute of Technology.