ORLANDO-Day 2 of keynotes at POWER-GEN International sounded a timely chord, both of the sad and happy variety.
The event began with a moment of silence for late President George H.W. Bush being laid to rest today. The keynote finale speaker, economic and author Todd Buchholz, was a presidential advisor during that administration.
The other coincidence was having Scott Strazik, the new CEO of GE’s newly restructured Gas Power division. He spoke only within weeks of being promoted to the position to revitalize and refocus the company’s gas business.
Both men spoke of macro and micro economic issues. Strazik detailed the transition of gas over coal atop the U.S. power generation mix, as well opportunities globally, while Buchholz noted how the world has changed Bush 41 was in office and what utilities and other power generators must do to survive the “scissors economy.”
Strazik noted that some 700 GW of coal and nuclear power are going to be retired in the next 20 years. Renewables are on the rise, but they needed a resiliency partner and he argued that natural gas-fired generation offered the most nimble partner.
“Fundamentally, renewables are growing faster,” Strazik said. “In reality, when you look at fuel dynamics there’s a lot of opportunity for natural gas.”
He also highlighted the gas contribution to carbon emissions reduction, noting statistics indicate that two-thirds of the 27 percent drop in CO2 in past years is due to the transition from coal to gas.
Buchholz started by telling a funny story about his former boss, President Bush, noting the American hero’s sense of humor as well as his decency. His talk detailed the trail from a march of freedom which began during that presidency 30 years ago to the wave of anger and anxiousness in the U.S. today.
In short, the fall of Berlin Wall equals economic freedom equals globalism equals competition equals a U.S. labor pinch equals a free trade backlash equals Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump tapped into that anxiety,” he pointed out.
But Buchholz wasn’t play politics but economics. It’s called the “scissors economy” and it’s when the middle man gets snipped out. It’s happening in retail, transportation and even energy. Power generation has challenges such as direct buying, home automation and renewables, among others.
Utilities and all power generators need to adapt and evolve.
“It’s important for you,” he said. “You’ve got to be more than the middle, not simply running turbines, but in the last mile, as well.”