CU Expert Discusses Future Energy Sources, Deregulation

February 14, 2001

In the wake of the California energy crisis, people across the nation have wondered, could energy shortages happen in my state?

While the situation in California seems dire, it's not likely to be repeated in other states, and some energy experts predict the tight fuel supplies that have raised prices nationally will ease by next winter. Others, like CU-Boulder's Jan Kreider, founding director of the Joint Center for Energy Management, believes the crisis will spur utility companies to seek alternative energy sources.

According to Kreider, the best alternative energy sources include:

o highly efficient hydrogen fuel cells, which Kreider calls "the ultimate solution." Although the technology is still expensive, it can provide a quiet, pollution-free source of energy that requires "negligible maintenance." Fuel cell technology is already being used in advanced prototype vehicles by the automotive industry, which will open the door for other uses.

o micro-turbines, sterling and clean internal combustion engines are interim technologies usable for the next 10-15 years until fuel cells mature, explained Kreider. They are relatively clean but not pollution free. Renewable energy sources including solar and wind power are increasing their portion of the U.S. energy mix, he said.

o changes in distribution grids toward smaller plants instead of the large, central plants currently in use. The problem, said Kreider, is that central plants are difficult to site and permit where most needed, have up to 10% losses due to long distance transmission lines and require new transmission lines which are increasingly difficult to build.

Kreider said there is no national pattern for deregulation of energy. Many, but not all, states have deregulated power generation and at differing levels. Texas and Pennsylvania have been more successful than California, whose woes stem from a price discrepancy that has kept retail prices below a certain level regardless of the cost of production.

The electric power industry is currently in an uncertain period, Kreider said. But the telecommunications, gas and airline industries all experienced similar problems, mostly because people hesitate to deregulate 100 percent at the start.

"The arguments are valid that if you completely deregulate and have true competition, the price of electricity should ultimately go down," Kreider said.

For more information call Kreider at (303) 492-7603 or Dirk Martin in the CU-Boulder Office of News Services at (303) 492-3140.

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