EPRI Envisions Smart, Clean and Universal Power

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff December 30, 2004

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) argues that for more than 100 years, electricity has been the wellspring and prime mover for technical innovation. And it will continue to be so in the 21st century—that is, if critical development and investment decisions are made now to transform the electricity system for the pressing needs of the new century.

Kurt Yeager, president and CEO of EPRI, notes that there are three high-priority goals essential to assuring global economic health and well-being:

Meeting the precision-power requirements of the emerging digital economy.

Accelerating the development of clean-energy technologies to reduce air pollution and address climate change.

Developing policies and tools to ensure universal access to the benefits of electricity for people throughout the world.

According to the latest edition of the Electricity Technology Roadmap, a report spearheaded by EPRI in collaboration with more than 200 organizations, including energy companies, environmental groups, academia, government agencies, financial organizations and trade associations, the societal benefits of meeting these goals will far outweigh the costs.

Smart Grid

First, what is needed is a smart grid. “Development and full deployment of a modern ‘smart’ electricity system in the U.S. would cost the average household less than $5 per month,” says Yeager. “This cost could be offset many times over by immediate reliability and efficiency improvements.”

In fact, says Yeager, modernizing the electricity infrastructure could translate into at least $3 trillion per year in additional U.S. GDP by 2025.

A truly smart power system, he explains, would include automated capabilities to optimize its own performance, anticipate problems, find robust solutions and heal itself instantaneously without the need for outside intervention. Such a system would deliver the high-quality power needed by sensitive digital technologies while giving consumers much more control over their electricity use. Over time it would also evolve to support dynamic two-way communication with advanced electrical appliances. Architectural design and demonstrations of this smart power system are already underway.

But power must not only be smart, but also clean.

Clean power

Yeager says that addressing potential global climate impacts is also becoming an urgent priority for the energy industry and policymakers alike. “Essential to managing climate change will be cleaner, cheaper more efficient power generation, electrical appliances and machines, as well as commercially viable carbon capture and sequestration solutions,” says Yeager.

He explains that over the mid-term, the greatest gains could come from increasing the portion of world energy that comes from low- or no-emission power sources including nuclear power and renewable energy. This would require accelerated development of these clean energy sources, plus close collaboration of policymakers around the world.

For example, stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 550 parts per million—twice the pre-industrial level—would require that electricity provide the vast bulk of the world’s energy needs, and at least 75% of that electricity be generated from zero-emitting sources by 2100.

Universal electrification

Finally, the Roadmap calls for universal global electrification by 2050, at a minimum level of 1000 kWh per person per year. This would meet basic energy needs, improve most measures of quality of life and enable universal participation in the global economy. Although U.S. electricity consumption is at more than ten times this level, two-thirds of the world’s population remains below this minimum electrification level today.

“Given projected population growth, universal electrification will require bringing electricity to 100 million new users every year for the next 50 years,” says Yeager. “This is more than twice the current rate of electrification. Anything less will threaten global security, economic prosperity, social progress, and the preservation of critical environmental resources.”

To view the latest version of EPRI’s Electricity Technology Roadmap in full, visit: https://www.epri.com/roadmap/ (brief registration required).