EPRI unveils future scenarios to guide strategic planning

By Plant Engineering Staff April 5, 2006

If you had a crystal ball to predict the future for the energy industry, what choices would you make today to ensure you saw that future? The Electric Power Research Institute has recently unveiled four new scenarios to give the energy industry’s top decision makers a glimpse of the future with a hope to guide critical decisions in the present.

The scenarios explore a range of technologies critical to meet future energy needs, given 100 market drivers with a high potential impact on the evolution of the U.S. energy and electric power industries including: fuel prices, environmental policies, and the availability of natural resources. Rather than predict the future, these scenarios serve as planning tools for utility executives to strategically prioritize technological improvements to yield the most benefit in the future.

“EPRI is committed to empowering the energy industry by relaying the most relevant research to deliver cleaner, safer, more reliable electricity to communities across the globe,” said Clark Gellings, EPRI Vice President for Innovation. “It is our hope that these scenarios will provide insight and guide strategic decisions to make critical investments for an innovative, balanced portfolio of new generation, enhanced power delivery, and improved end-user energy efficient technologies.”

One of the scenarios is titled “The Double Whammy.” In this scenario, both fuel prices and environmental mitigation costs are high, reflecting a significant shift in popular belief that human behavior is harming the global climate and must be addressed. The US joins the international community in a consensus to accept sudden shifts and sustained high prices for traditional energy sources, with the expectation that the resulting technology upheaval and shift in investments will moderate energy demand and costs while sustaining the environment.

This policy shift sets off a boom in investment and innovation in the power industry. A mutually supportive atmosphere evolves to shift-energy use patterns toward a cleaner and more sustainable path. The initial focus is on conservation, improved end-use efficiencies, combined heating and power, and renewable energy sources.

Over time, innovations occur that generate surprising impacts on efficiency, cost and environmental quality while delivering enhanced features. Clean coal technologies emerge as a transition fuel leading to a low or zero-emissions future. Nuclear power also plays an important role in the generation mix of this world.

The other scenarios explore different assumptions about the evolution of fuel prices and CO 2 costs. Full details are available in the “Electric Power Industry Technology Scenarios Preliminary Report.” Now that the scenario frameworks have been developed, the specific technical implications of each scenario will be developed; EPRI plans to publish those this summer.

The Electric Power Research Institute, with major locations in Palo Alto, CA, and Charlotte, NC, was established in 1973 as an independent, nonprofit center for public interest energy and environmental research. EPRI brings together member organizations, the Institute’s scientists and engineers, and other leading experts to work collaboratively on solutions to the challenges of electric power. These solutions span nearly every area of power generation, delivery, and use, including health, safety, and environment.

EPRI’s members represent over 90% of the electricity generated in the United States. International participation represents nearly 15% of EPRI’s total R&D program. For more information on these scenarios or EPRI, visit www.epri.com .