ENERGY & UTILITIES
LINK TODAY'S DREAMS WITH TOMORROW'S REALITIES
For the last two centuries, the production methods of the industrial sector and our lifestyles have led to an increasing demand for energy and a set of unique challenges. There is significant pressure to optimize our use of global resources and this can only be achieved through greater scientific and engineering innovation. We will have to create new, more efficient, clean-tech and sustainable materials, products, processes and facilities.
This is the driver of the strategy called “Sustainable life for the 21st century”, meeting the challenges of this complex operational environment and providing with digital and experience-based solutions that introduce efficiency savings, productivity gains and waste minimization across the entire supply chain.
Discover in the compelling stories below what is already possible today!
The world’s population has passed 7 billion on its way to 10 billion around 2100, based on estimates from the United Nations. Coupled with increased industrialization in developing countries, this growth guarantees escalating demand for energy. But where will it come from, and in what form? Worldwide, every country is answering that question differently.
Is the energy glass half full or half empty? The answer often depends on who is looking at the glass:
- The US is now awash in natural gas, but concerns about groundwater pollution and other side effects are on the rise.
- Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant, residents of Germany have turned against nuclear power.
- In rapidly industrializing China, reliance on coal-fired energy from older power plants has threatened residents due to the health risks of smog.
From one country to the next, different yardsticks in evaluating the energy mix will dictate extremely different energy policies, depending on affordability, availability, reliability, and environmental concerns.
The US natural gas boom has created an outlook for the low-priced fuel so positive that some pundits say the country is poised to become “the Saudi Arabia of gas.” However, the industry still faces uncertainties, according to Public Utilities Fortnightly editor Michael Burr. “Concerns over groundwater contamination and the potential seismic effects of fracking could bring stringent regulations at federal, state, and local levels,” he said.
Gas is nevertheless recognized as the “cleanest” of the fossil fuels, able to meet air quality restrictions more easily than coal. “In this gas-price environment, I don’t know how anybody builds base-load capacity that isn’t gas-fired,” David Crane of NRG Energy, which operates one of the largest power-plant fleets in the US, said in Fortnightly’s 2012 CEO Forum. “I don’t know how you justify coal or nuclear.”
But other countries clearly do believe investment in such sources can be justified, said Ken Barry of the Advanced Nuclear Technology Program at the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute. Barry noted, for example, that 66 nuclear power plants currently are under construction around the globe, led by China, Russia, and India. Another 487 plants are proposed or being planned. However, nuclear does face political roadblocks in some countries, he noted, particularly over the storage of spent fuel.
What about Coal?
Despite all the alternatives, coal remains the world’s leading fuel in terms of shares of electricity generation – more than 40% – according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). As IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol wrote in the current World Energy Insight report, coal “remains the backbone of electricity generation and has been the fuel underpinning the rapid industrialization of emerging economies, helping to lift hundreds of millions of people out of energy poverty.”
Rapidly emerging China has now changed from a net exporter to a net importer of coal (leading the US and India in consumption rates). But the burning of coal can exact a heavy environmental toll. “Clean coal,” plus carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, could eventually reconcile coal’s continued use with the need to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, Birol noted.
However, CCS remains exploratory. RWE npower, a UK energy retail business, recently marked a significant milestone by successfully capturing the first metric ton of CO2 at its Aberthaw Power Station in Wales. “This pilot plant will provide invaluable data on the viability of capturing carbon at an industrial scale, and help RWE to better understand how this technology could be used to reduce carbon emissions at coal-fired power stations,” said Kevin Nix, head of Hard Coal and Gas, UK, for RWE Generation.
And the alternatives
Alternative energy sources like wind remain part of the mix, becoming more cost-effective as investment in new technologies continues. “There are a lot of things in the technology pipeline that will make wind turbines more profitable,” said Paul Dvorak, editor of Windpower Engineering. “Advances in materials and technology should make it both more energy efficient and cost effective going forward”.