Energy leadership center sees no energy shortage
Oct 28, 2009 - Elwin Green - Post-Gazette
Contrary to the popular notion that the United States and the world are facing an energy shortage, Andy Hannah believes that the planet's resources offer enough potential energy -- if we can just figure out how to harness it.
"The puzzle isn't where it's going to come from. The puzzle is how do we make it work together, and how do we deliver it economically to the people who need it," Mr. Hannah said. "How do wind and solar and natural gas plants work together?"
Mr. Hannah, the CEO of Plextronics, a Harmar-based manufacturer of solar cells, has pulled together a group of energy CEOs to wrestle with that question.
The U.S. Center for Energy Leadership consists of Mr. Hannah and five others: Aris Candris of Westinghouse Electric Co., Paul Evanson of Allegheny Energy, Murry S. Gerber of EQT Corp., J. Brett Harvey of Consol Energy and Keith Schaefer of BPL Global.
Their mission: to help create "a stable energy environment" for the world.
Mr. Hannah decided to form the group after reflecting on the distinctiveness of Pittsburgh as an energy center.
"I was struck by the critical mass that we have in Pittsburgh in terms of the companies and the research and the resources around the diversification of energy," he said. That critical mass includes coal companies, natural gas companies, electricity companies, solar companies and a big manufacturer of nuclear power plants.
The "stable energy environment" that the group seeks will have three characteristics: energy independence, stable energy pricing and a portfolio approach to meeting increasing energy needs.
Mr. Hannah said that for his members, "energy independence" means "you're not reliant on any one energy source or any one country or any one supplier" for energy.
"There is independence in that you have a choice," he said.
He said it also implies an abundance of energy, an abundance that can lead to stable energy pricing.
Mr. Hannah acknowledged that the idea of abundant energy goes contrary to much of current discussion, which assumes a lack, or at least a pending lack, of resources. While not blind to increasing demand -- he cited an estimate that in 40 years we will need three to four times as much energy as we do now -- he also said that in his view, there is enough energy to meet the demand.
"There is no doubt that the potential for the energy that we need is available," he said. "The amount of power potential coming from the sun ... it could power everything that we need on the planet."
But he does not expect that we will exploit all of that potential any time soon, which leads to the matter of meeting energy needs through a portfolio approach.
"There seems to be people in each industry [who] believe that there is one solution to our energy issues," he said. In their conversations, the group members concluded that the solutions to the nation's energy challenges lay not with a single technology or energy source, but in a portfolio.
"If you think about it broadly, we have to increase the availability of fuels of power sources in general," he said.
At this early stage, the group does not have office space, staff or a Web site.
It does not even have a specific agenda of actions to pursue. But it does have monthly meetings, and Mr. Hannah said he expected an agenda to be set in January.
U.S. Center for Energy Leadership does have objectives that will guide the creation of the agenda.
The first is to "provide expert opinions" to policymakers regarding energy; second, to promote national funding strategies to speed up technological improvements in energy industries; and third, to assemble "a critical mass" of companies and individuals to help shape the future energy landscape.
While the group is not yet recruiting, Mr. Hannah said that as a matter of course, it would grow beyond its current roster to even more broadly represent the energy field.