Energy panel proposes steps for change

Experts: Country should increase production, reduce reliance on imports

 

 Energy expert Elwyn Roberts says that “business as usual” is not going to cut it as the U.S. tries to move toward energy security and sustainability in the coming decades.

The country’s best hope, according to the USC Visiting Professor in mechanical engineering and a supportive panel of experts in various fields of energy, lies in improving energy production technologies and shifting toward reliance on a mix of fuels for power generation and transportation usage.

“We don’t want to be ‘business as usual.’ We want to make changes,” Roberts said.

Speaking on his recent paper “U.S. Energy: Present State and Future Perspective,” Roberts was joined by Steve Byrne of SCANA Corporation, Sumit Ray of Westinghouse Electric, Bill Summers of Savannah River National Laboratory and USC professor Dr. John Regalbuto Thursday night as part of USC’s weeklong observance of National Engineers Week.

Roberts said that competition for energy worldwide will heighten as developing nations increase their energy consumption in coming years. Greater competition will mean higher fuel prices and less energy security for the United States, he said.

“There is indeed going to be considerable competition for ... energy resources,” Roberts said. “By 2035, China alone is going to be importing the same (amount) as U.S. production.”

He and the other panelists emphasized the country’s need to reduce its reliance on energy imports and improve the sustainability of its energy use. Their proposed solutions focused on improving production technology in the areas of natural gas, nuclear power and gasoline made from cellulosic biomass.

According to Roberts, one proposed a fuel mix for power generation, which would consist of equal thirds fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable energy sources by 2050.

“There’s a lot of technological changes to happen in the next few years if we’re going to meet these goals,” Roberts said.

One of the fossil fuel alternatives discussed was natural gas, specifically shale gas. Summers said production of shale gas has “really changed the whole energy landscape” in recent years.

“There’s no doubt that this is revolutionizing the U.S. energy picture. And it’s got implications across the whole economy,” Summers said. “It’s no doubt that natural gas combined cycle plants right now would be the most economical way to generate electricity.”

Summers said the country should look to natural gas as a “bridge to sustainability” while it develops the technology for longer-term sustainable fuel options like hydrogen energy and third- and fourth-generation nuclear reactors.

However, steps in the direction of energy development and sustainability will “require an awful lot of work and will require a government that works,” Roberts said.

 


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