Tonight, we had the pleasure of welcoming Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, to our school. He gave a pragmatic yet charismatic speech regarding our country’s energy future. A few takeaways:
- The story of the 20th century was providing affordable power to the entire country. The story of the 21st century is making that energy clean
- Climate change is real. Science is our most powerful tool and we must continue to have faith in it
- The best method for moving the hearts and minds of people to address our energy/climate crisis is NOT to highlight the challenge of climate change. Rather, we should make a rallying cry for America to “get its Mojo back!”
- We have five sources of electricity, including coal, natural gas, biomass, nuclear and renewables. When each is ranked on a scorecard of affordability, reliability and cleanliness, none score well on all marks
- Duke Energy supports the need for cap and trade legislation vigorously. They want a predictable timeline so that they can make sound business decisions. Makes sense
Anyone from UNC Kenan-Flagler who goes on to work for Duke Energy is lucky to work for someone like Jim Rogers. His points were clear and the company’s values are in a great place that make business and societal sense for the long term.
While the talk was spot on, I also left understanding the limitations of electric utilities much better. They are bound by the immutable laws of large firms which make them averse to developing wildly new innovations. They will always make incremental change: A new, more efficient nuclear reactor, a cleaner coal facility, a wind farm with more efficient turbines.
This incremental is needed, but it is not enough. Humans use 15 TW of power, and that is projected to double. When the numbers are crunched, we simply don’t have the technology to meet the growth in power demand AND meet climate reduction targets. For a more in depth conversation on the details, see this talk by Saul Griffith. Bill Gates argues that we need a new breakthrough in his TED Talk, Innovating to Zero. I agree. While Duke Energy will make our five sources of electricity better, it is resoundingly clear that we need a sixth.
We cannot expect the utilities to generate the next technology that will revolutionize the field. But we CAN expect them to implement it. I have faith that Jim Rogers and Duke Energy will be at the front of the pack in implementing more sustainable technologies.