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The Top 10 Utility Tech Challenges

Innovation must play a key role in each company.

Fortnightly Magazine - August 2006

and market performance.

Using sophisticated agent-based simulations, these models can be used upfront (before the new markets are launched) to evaluate designs, or after a new market launch to fine-tune designs and test market enhancements.

This same concept can be applied across an entire region to evaluate cross-jurisdictional or “seams” issues. In North America, for example, regional transmission organizations (RTOs) are being established alongside other RTOs, large utilities that remain vertically integrated, public power agencies, and other entities. In addition, careful simulation and modeling would help to ensure efficient, broad transmission planning over the long term (10 to 25 years). The latter will be particularly useful when evaluating ways to provide incentives for long-term investments in transmission infrastructure, which has been lagging in recent decades.

Challenge 7 Capitalize on the Opportunity of Next-Generation Nuclear

Another critical area for technological innovation is power generation. Nuclear power provides a significant portion of electricity generation throughout the world. Meeting the electricity needs of nearly 1 billion people in more than 30 countries, the nuclear-power industry has demonstrated that electricity can be reliably produced without contributing to global climate change or emitting other significant pollutants. In fact, a number of industrialized nations rely on nuclear power to provide half or more of their electricity. 3

The latest designs of advanced light water reactors are being deployed in Europe and Japan. For nuclear power to play a larger role in power generation, these so-called Generation III reactors need to be deployed in the United States. Beyond these, another new generation of designs is needed. The challenges to developing these designs are formidable. Next-generation nuclear energy systems must be safe, reliable, secure, and environmentally friendly. They must be low-cost compared with alternatives, and pose financial risk comparable to that of alternatives. Moreover, advanced designs must minimize production of nuclear waste and enable its effective management. 4

Realizing that commercial deployment of these designs requires a sustained high level of technological innovation, funding, and effort over a period of decades, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative leads a group of 10 countries to jointly fulfill these technology goals. Early efforts have focused on what the group calls the Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) because of its potential to safely produce electricity and hydrogen at low cost with zero emissions of greenhouse gasses. 5

Challenge 8 Optimize Use of Coal Resources Via Advanced Coal Generation

While nuclear power plants meet significant power needs, coal-based plants are the workhorse of electric generating systems around the world. In the United States, one-half of all electricity is generated from coal, the only fossil fuel the nation has in ample, long-term supply. Despite the abundance and consistently low cost of coal as a generating fuel, few coal-fired power plants have been built around the world in the past decade, except in Asia. Instead, lower capital costs, quicker construction, and more straightforward permitting have favored natural gas-fired plants. Today, high natural-gas prices and forecasts that they will remain high are making the economics of coal power appear more attractive. But