Smart Power: Climate Change, Smart Grid and the Future of Electric Utilities
In a new book, Smart Power: Climate Change, Smart Grid and the Future of Electric Utilities (Island Press, 2010), Dr. Peter Fox-Penner, a leading expert on the electricity sector and the smart grid, examines strategies for the development of an energy efficient business model for the utility industry. In the book, Fox-Penner reviews the current prospects for long-term power generation alternatives, from solar panels attached to our homes and offices, to new coal-burning plants that will allow for the capture and sequestration of carbon emissions. Smart Power explains how and why the utility industry must adapt to the climate imperative by examining the industry’s technology, cost characteristics, ability to function as a sustainable business, as well as the practical and political dimensions of making these dramatic changes.
On The Brookings Institution hosted Dr. Fox-Penner for a discussion of Smart Power. Following his presentation, a panel of experts shared their perspectives on the future of U.S. energy and climate policy and the importance of the development of the smart grid for meeting our energy goals. Senior Fellow Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at Brookings, provided introductory remarks and moderated this discussion.
PETER FOX-PENNER: Good morning and thank you all for coming today. Let me begin by thanking Charlie first for not reading my bio, but also for his leadership of Brookings’ excellent and longstanding energy program and to say what an honor it is to officially unveil Smart Power here at Brookings.
I vividly remember my high school political science teacher telling me that there was a place called Brookings in a city far, far away that was unquestionably the foremost policy institute in the country, if not the world. I doubted everything that teacher ever told me, but I’m sure it was true then. Now I’ve spent 20 years in Washington working just down the street, and I’m sure it’s true today.
I’m also privileged to have such a distinguished group of commenters here today, all of whom I’ve known for quite some time and have great experience and insight to share with all of us. I very much look forward to their remarks and to their feedback on the book.
Along these lines, I must say that it is wonderful and appropriate to have my old friend and colleague, David Owens, as one of the panelists we’ll hear from soon, because in many ways David is the unwitting godfather of Smart Power. About three years ago, David gave me and my Brattle Group colleagues an assignment to look at the future investment needs of the power sector. The realizations I came to while completing that report, which is still posted on the website of the Edison Foundation, sparked my interest in taking an even deeper look at the industry. So thank you, David, and thanks to the rest of the Edison Foundation for setting me off on the journey that has led all of us here today.
Now, most people in this room understand that electric power is one of the few truly transformational inventions in human history. Very few single technologies have done as much to improve public health and safety, productivity or our lifestyles. Most of us would find it impossible to imagine, much less live in, a world in which almost nothing occurred after dark, factories ran on water or animal power, and the only computer available to us was an abacus. Across human history an invention that boosted productivity by 50 percent was considered a revolution and the advent of electricity boosted productivity by hundreds of percent with 2 men doing the work of 10. And it goes without saying that the current revolutions in information and biotechnology would be impossible without the cheap, high-quality electricity supply we have today.
But for all this success, the power industry as we know it is heading into a period of change and threats that are unprecedented. I wrote Smart Power to reflect on this era of dramatic change and to try to avoid a protracted period of financial regulatory and operational turmoil. My goal was to write a simple, easily understood explanation of the forces confronting the industry and offer some modest ideas to help its transition.
Download the full event info and audio from the Brookings web.