Legal & Regulatory

10 Industry Leaders Comment on the Future of Energy, Electricity, and the Grid

Here are selected thought-provoking (and even unexpected) comments made by presenters at the 10th annual MIT Energy Conference on Feb. 27 and 28 in Cambridge, Mass. Comments are summarized and paraphrased unless presented in quotes.

For more on the event, see “Exelon: The Utility of the Future Views Change as Enabling, Not Disruptive” and the forthcoming Speaking of Power editorial in the April issue of POWER.

Marc Laitin, VP of Product Management, Opower

“Energy is fundamentally uninteresting to people not in this room.”

Utilities will endure (Opower’s business model relies on utilities) because people trust their utilities even if they don’t love them.

William A. Von Hoene Jr., Chief Strategy Officer, Exelon Corp.

“An intelligent grid requires intelligent policy.”

The utility of the future is “dramatically different” than the traditional utility.

William M. Colton, VP Corporate Strategic Planning, ExxonMobil Corp.

The greatest source for the future is “using energy more efficiently.”

ExxonMobil’s outlook to 2040 sees 3% annual GDP growth “almost everywhere,” yet the energy growth slope isn’t as steep as for GDP because energy efficiency is “driven by technology.”

Even though OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries will have growing populations, they will see flat demand because of energy efficiency, out to 2040. All the growth is in developing countries, with China expected to have the highest demand growth for electricity.

The number of cars will double by 2040, but efficiency will also double (because of government policies), so they cancel each other out in passenger vehicles. However, there will be growth in energy demand from heavy duty vehicles for long-haul transportation.

Regarding CO2 emissions, we need global agreements, and the “fair” way is to look at CO2 emissions on a per capita basis. Developing countries are right in saying that “equity is a fair argument” and that developed countries have a greater ability to reduce their carbon footprint. ExxonMobil is working on carbon capture because the company thinks it is very important.

Ahmad Chatila, President & CEO, SunEdison

In India, the cost of solar is the same today as imported coal.

Women are most affected by access to electricity—from safety issues to the way that electrification enables them to educate their children at night.

“The time will come” when there is grid defection [in the U.S.]; it will take awhile, but utilities aren’t paying enough attention to the coming challenge. You don’t rise in a utility by being a risk-taker like Elon Musk.

Thomas M. Siebel, Chairman and CEO, C3 Energy

Speaking about grid cybersecurity: Other than a White House event every two years, “Nobody cares and nobody has a budget for it.” It’s “a system that is completely exposed,” but nobody’s going to do anything until someone takes the grid down. “It’s a solvable problem,” but there’s no budget for it.

The future is about “lots of generators”; it’s going to be “complicated,” but “it’s all good.”

Dirk Smit, VP of Exploration Technology R&D, Chief Scientist for Geophysics, Shell

Shell fundamentally agrees with Greenpeace that, “at the end of the day,” in several decades, “most of our energy will come from the sun.”

Eric Bielke, Director, GE Ventures

A totally distributed system, for GE, is “scary,” but it is a potential moonshot.

Moonshots can be technical achievements (like nuclear fusion) or business model innovations (like Facebook). In the energy space, business model achievements—like those in solar, with Sungevity, SolarCity, and SunEdison—have been the bigger innovations.

Dhiraj Malkani, Partner, Rockport Capital

“Dispatchable supply and dispatchable demand” are in the future.

Captain James Goudreau, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy, U.S. Navy

Research and development investment should be less about success than about what you can achieve if you are successful. That approach is “not compatible” with our current “risk-averse” government.

Quoting a colleague at the Office of Naval Research, which invests in people: “Innovation is people.”

Giving the example of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, recognized as the father of the nuclear Navy: People who disrupt and challenge the status quo and break the china “are not popular.” Those people need a champion who protects them.

David Danielson, Assistant Secretary of Energy, Department of Energy

No one person understands every element of the grid, so that’s something to set your sights on if you are starting your career.

—Gail Reitenbach, PhD, Editor (@GailReit, @POWERmagazine)

[Note: The company name C3 was corrected to C3 Energy 3/3/15.]

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