As this is being written the whole energy field is so clouded in uncertainties that it would be foolish to attempt any quantitative predictions for the future. However, certain trends are discernible that will control the developments of the Electric Company Utilization in the decades ahead.
Present Generation Mix
No single factor is more important for the future course than the availability of prime energy resources. In 1982, the! United States derives its electricity from the following source.
There is little doubt that petroleum and natural gas will grow increasingly scarce. Most hydropower in the contiguous states is already developed. Future emphasis will thus inexorably shift toward coal and nuclear resources of which the United States has relatively plentiful supplies. Each of these fuels represents both environmental and health perils. It must be realized, however, that no energy form is entirely risk free. Use of energy brought us out of the caves and made possible our present life styles. In the process, the perils of saber-toothed tigers and rickety dugout canoes were replaced by frontal crashes, oil spills, black lungs and radiation leaks. Our technology is not perfect, but it is the engineer’s job to make it better.
Need for Planning and Research
The first century of the development of the electric utility industry took place in an atmosphere of limitless horizons and assumed resource abundance. Environmental and resource constraints are forcing us to approach the future with better planned and researched blueprints. Worldwide, energy research is assuming top priority.
A special cabinet-level energy office, Department of Energy, DOE, was created in the United. States in 1977 in recognition of the special attention that energy matters deserve in the nation’s future. A major private utility sponsored energy research organization, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), has been in existence since 1972. In addition, the largest utility companies have impressive research programs of their own.
The major goals for the future are to develop new primary resources, find better means of generation and transmission, and emphasize better and less wasteful use of electricity. Development of electric storage facilities is also high on the priority list. Let us look briefly at each of these areas:
New Prime Energy Resources
Several possible energy candidates have been identified, of which the more important are:
Indirect conversion can conceptually be performed by letting concentrated solar radiation first generate steam which then will power conventional turbines. Small pilot plants will be in operation in the early eighties to test feasibility.
Any form of solar power is hampered by its cyclical availability and sensitivity to atmospheric conditions. Solar energy definitely offers the best potential, future uses in nonelectrical form, thus helping preserve electric power for uses where no other energy form would do.
Wind, wave, geothermal, and tidal powers
All of these have been tested. Some have been found to have limited geographical usefulness. Others, like wave generators, require very expensive and awkward generator designs. In all cases, the energy availability is of either cyclic or random character.. Except for use in remote or very specific areas it is doubtful that any of these generation methods will have any greater impact.
“Taming of the hydrogen bomb” is a dream that is energetically tackled in many laboratories but where final success, realistically assessed, lies some time into the future. When this generation method succeeds it would start a new energy era, because of the plentiful fuel resources and its expected low environmental impact. In the fusion, like in the present fission process, the atomic energy is released in the form of high-grade heat. Thus transformation into electricity would be the only practical way of utilizing this energy.
Future Generating Equipment
Essentially one hundred percent of today’s electric energy is generated in rotating synchronous generators (Chap. 4). There seems to exist no better alternative on the horizon, so our efforts will probably be centered on making this machine still better. Today’s maximum generator unit size is exceeding 1 GW, and is limited by the allowable current densities used in rotor and stator winding.
Major efforts are under way to develop superconducting machines where the winding temperatures are kept close to absolute zero. The enormous current and flux densities achievable in such machines could possibly increase unit sizes -to 5-6 GW. This would mean better generating economy.
New Transmission Methods
Edison’s Pearl Street system operated with direct current. Since the early Niagara project, the industry has almost exclusively used ac transmission. In the nineteen-sixties and -seventies many high-voltage dc (HVDC) systems have been taken in use around the world. HVDC has advantages to offer particularly on very long lines (see Chap. 6) and we can expect a partial return to direct current
As the population densities increase we may see a trend to go toward underground transmission. Present-day cables are expensive and in addition have high capacitive leakage currents, prohibiting their use in ac systems for other than short transmission distances. HVDC has no such limitation. A recent HVDC underwater line operating at ±250 kV transmits power between Norway and Denmark, a distance of about 150 km.
In the overhead ac field testing is ongoing and the present maximum voltage of 765 kV will probably be increased beyond 1200 kV.
Electric Storage Facilities
With the exception of low-power dc storage batteries, present technology possesses no high-energy electric storage devices. This has many drawbacks. All generating facilities must be dimensioned to handle the peak load, which often is twice the daily average load. As a result, the generating facilities are run, on the average, only partially loaded. When solar-electric power arrives on the scene, we would need storage facilities to tide us over rainy days.
Pumped hydropower and compressed gas represent hybrid electric-mechanical storage facilities.” Conceptually, superconducting magnetic coils represent a possible solution for “pure” electric storage. Here one would use enormous current densities to achieve very high magnetic-field energy levels, according to the formula
The first century of the ” electric age” saw little need for emphasizing elimination of wasteful electricity uses. On the contrary, rate structures were often designed so as to encourage wasteful energy consumption. During the nineteen-seventies, as the world painfully became aware of the realities of the global energy shortages, it also became clear that conservation methods constitute our most effective means for bringing fast balance between demand and supply. Electricity is undoubtedly our most high-grade form of energy and it is prudent, therefore, in an age of shortage to pay particular attention to the optimization of its use.
First, we ought to gradually “unload” our electric supply systems of “low-grade” uses that may be equally or even better served by other means. Solar home heating is a good example. In the overall energy picture, it makes little sense to first burn natural gas in an electric power plant, losing in the process about two-thirds of its energy in the form of unwanted “thermal pollution,” and then use the electricity to heat homes.
Second, we can achieve considerable electric power savings by reducing Unnecessarily high lighting levels, oversize motors
Third,Rate restructuring can add incentives in this process.
Fourth, by various “load management” schemes it is possible to shift demand away from peak hours, thus reducing the capacity need for the power supply companies.
These and other conservation measures constitute collectively a “hidden source” of electric power of which we have only scratched the surface.