Herein find my account of another session at the Indiana Energy Conference, entitled “Exploring Emerging Energy Issues” and held on the campus of IUPUI on Oct. 3.
If you go to conferences, you know that after lunch is the killer spot. Everyone’s digestive system has overtaken all other systems, including the intellectual one. So after the lunch session, I was prepared to spend time catching up on email, perhaps start writing about the presentations I’d just seen.
Instead, I was mesmerized by the speaker.
Dr. Fred Beach, University of Texas, took the stage and briefly introduced himself. A chemical engineer. Spent 25 years in the navy. Flew fighter jets. Was shot at. Had to eject from his plane. A no-nonsense sort of fellow.
Over and over Beach stressed that he was “not an environmentalist.” He said he is “fuel agnostic.” He is an engineer. And as an engineer he is into efficiency.
Everything else comes second. Efficiency is king.
Here in Indiana, where coal is king, efficiency is anything but.
In fact, as Beach showed a graph displaying the amount of thermal energy wasted when it comes to fossil fuel production, he proclaimed it: “gross,” “abysmal,” “sucks,” and finally, “unsustainable.” It is, he said, only 30% efficient.
So how do you REALLY feel, Dr. Beach?
“Coal is dead in this country,” he proclaimed, to a pin-drop quiet auditorium. “This is not going to get us where we need to go.”
He shook his head in sympathy at the largely Hoosier crowd at the IUPUI University Place Conference Center — many of whom were connected to the coal and petroleum industries.
He said that even beyond the EPA’s new regulations, our coal plants are old and will have to be replaced. Will it be replaced by fossil fuels?
He said no, it shouldn’t.
With fossil fuels, we are throwing away two-thirds of our energy — something we’ve been perpetuating because the relative low cost of coal, and now, the rock bottom prices of natural gas.
Some answers? Beach said he liked combined heat and power (CHP), otherwise known as cogeneration. In CHP, a heat engine or power station, for example, generates electricity, but it’s possible to capture the useful heat that is a byproduct of that process. In other words it’s less wasteful and thus more efficient.
Future of electricity generation, he said is locally generated energy, from CHPs to fuel cells, solar and wind, to name a few. Beach called himself a “closet nuke” — i.e. an enthusiast for nuclear power — but noted its downsides, including the high cost to build and the massive amounts of water needed to operate.
All in all, Beach had us spellbound. With his transpartisan approach — I couldn’t possibly guess his politics, etc. — his common sense perspective was clarifying. Looking for a compelling speaker for your next energy conference.
Bring Beach back to Indiana.