Just a few years ago, Americans talked about running out of oil and feared energy shocks lurking in the near future. But look today and you get different picture. Oil remains expensive, but innovation, new technologies, and competition brought the cheapest natural gas is a decade, boosted renewables like wind and solar, reduced energy imports, sparked a manufacturing renaissance, and fueled the economy. “This is an incredible opportunity, and not just for the United States,” said John Krenicki, CEO of GE Energy. He said that the new technologies are “greener, more competitive, and productive. We are on that trajectory and shame on us if we don’t take advantage of that.”
GE invested $500 million in the development of the innovative FlexEfficiency 50 power plant. The plant will help utilities incorporate renewables, quickly ramp up and ramp down power output, and deliver electricity when it is needed. The Flex 50 links a number of GE technologies, including a generator, a steam turbine, and a natural gas turbine.
Krenicki was speaking at the Energy For Tomorrow Conference held in Manhattan on Wednesday. The summit brought together energy experts, executives, environmentalist and journalists, including U.S. Energy Secretary and Nobel winner Steven Chu, energy legend T. Boone Pickens, Duke Energy Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers, and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Speaking on the opening panel, Krenicki said that growth in the developing world presented the energy sector with a huge opportunity, but that companies had to embrace technology and innovation to increase efficiency, and learn to deal with shocks caused natural disasters by building robust and flexible infrastructure.
How big is the opportunity? Krenicki said that it took the United States 100 years to build enough power plants to reach the 1,100 gigawatts of generating capacity the country has now. But the growing world can’t wait a century. “Four United States will be created over the next 15 years” in energy generation, he said. “Just in gas, we are going to create the equivalent of the U.S.” over the same period.
He also stressed the importance of technology in drawing more energy from existing resources. GE, for example, is using advanced electric submersible pumps to reopen old oil wells. “Today, the average oil reservoir only recovers one third of oil,” Krenicki said. “If you could squeeze another one or two percent out of the existing reserves, that’s roughly the equivalent of finding another Saudi Arabia.”
Krenicki finally focused on the need of energy infrastructure to deal with shocks. “Our estimates show that the world averages about 800 major natural disasters per year,” said. He said that the future will call for flexible energy solutions and a sturdy infrastructure to keep power flowing to consumers and the industry.
“The United States is in the lead in many of these sectors,” Krenicki concluded. “But we need to keep moving. The rest of the world is not going to stay still.”