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October 15, 2000
Life in the Aughts
Experts predict top 10 energy innovations for 2010.
Before we've even agreed on a name for the coming decade , energy experts are predicting life-altering changes by 2010.
A panel of authorities from Battelle Memorial Institute and the national laboratories it manages and co-manages for the U.S. Department of Energy has identified the 10 energy innovations most likely to impact the economy by 2010. The experts based their choices on factors including economics, R&D, worldwide environmental regulation, consumer behavior and preferences, national energy policy, and legal issues.
1. Utilities Converge. Behemoth mega-utilities will emerge from the crowd of players, and likely will be one-stop providers of electric, gas, telecommunications, and water services.
2. Hybrid Vehicles Take Off. The first generation of these vehicles already is here, using smaller, more efficient internal combustion engines with power from electric batteries for an extra boost. The technology will continue to improve, the panelists agree, but it may be decades before we see a full transition to hybrids.
3. Efficiency Gains Through Smart Systems. The efficiencies possible through the use of web-based technology and global positioning systems will continue to impact transportation by reducing congestion and traffic delays, as well as better manage energy used in heating, air conditioning, household appliances, and business equipment. At utilities, smart technology will be used to optimize the operation of energy production and distribution systems.
4. Distributed Gen Makes Up For Shortfalls. The increased demand for more reliable power sources will speed deployment of on-site generation at homes, businesses, and in neighborhoods. Look for growing adoption of microturbines, internal combustion engines, and fuel cells that increasingly rely on natural gas.
5. Fuel Cells Grow More Popular. Fuel cells are expected to become smaller and cheaper during the next decade, for use in transportation and power generation in both portable and stationary applications.
6. Gas-to-Liquid Conversion Enables Storage. The development of chemical engineering processes to transform hydrocarbon compounds from gases to liquids is imminent, and will permit more flexible use and storage of fuels. For instance, the conversion of natural gas from remote locations to diesel fuel will enable the transportation and use of clean fuel that otherwise might be wasted.
7. Batteries Continue to Improve. Next-generation batteries will be based on lithium polymer technology and have about three times the energy capability as those on the market. Not only will advanced batteries play a role in the transition to hybrid and electric vehicles, but they also will improve the convenience of laptop computers and cell phones.
8. Energy Farms Grow Crops For Fuel. Advances in genetic engineering will hasten the use of bio-engineered crops to produce fuels such as ethanol. The ability to grow crops for energy will lessen global dependence on oil.
9. Solar Energy Keeps Kicking. Although work in this area has been underway for years, experts expect big improvements in the ability to capture and store solar energy cost-effectively for use in heating and cooling buildings. Progress also is ongoing in development of efficient photovoltaic cells.