The Top Ten most economically impactful energy innovations by the year 2010 are predicted to be:
1. A shifting energy industry structure: Substantial innovations in the energy industry and its energy technologies are occurring. Deregulation of the natural gas and electric utilities will continue, resulting in more competition and more mergers. Small, independent utilities will decline and be swept up into the emerging Super Utilities. Oil companies will become energy companies, competing in both the mobile and stationary energy markets. New players, such as automobile companies, may emerge as formidable influences in the energy industry. "The convergence of the electric, gas, telecommunications and water industries likely will result in one-stop shopping," said Henry Cialone, VP and General Manager of Energy Products at Battelle.
2. Hybrid Vehicles: With $2 a gallon gas prices still fresh in the minds of consumers, the idea of hybrid cars doesn't sound so bad. Mileage of seventy-miles-per-gallon will create a lot of converts. The first generation of these vehicles is already here in a sporty two-seater from Honda. Hybrid vehicles use smaller, more efficient internal combustion engines and use power from electric batteries for an extra boost during acceleration. "U.S. automakers have produced a next-generation of hybrid concept cars that will pave the way to 80 mpg, five-passenger sedans," said Tony Schaffhauser of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. However, while making progress in the next ten years, full transition may require decades.
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3. Smart Energy Management Systems: In the way that computers and the Internet are radically changing our economy today, they'll change energy systems even more so in the future. Computers, the Internet and Global Positioning Systems will increase the efficiency of transportation. They'll reduce congestion and traffic delays and be used in heating, air conditioning, household appliances and business equipment. They also will play vital roles in efficiency of energy production and distribution systems such as pipelines, refineries, power plants and transmission lines.
4. Distributed Power Generation: Some experts are saying the current national power grid may not be able to meet skyrocketing demand. Power grids of this scale are on the way out. Major blackouts due to storms and overloading of the grid will become a thing of the past. "People and businesses are demanding more reliable power sources," said Bobi Garrett, from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. "The economic cost of a power disruption in information-driven business like finance and e-commerce, is extremely high," she said. Power may be generated locally for neighborhoods and individual residences and businesses. This will be done via micro-turbines, internal combustion engines and fuel cells. There will be an increased used of natural gas because it's clean, cheap and available.
5. Fuel cells: There has been a lot of progress in fuel cell technology over the past ten years, but much more needs to happen over the coming decade. Fuel cells will become increasingly popular for transportation and for portable and stationary power generation over the next decade. "These systems will provide power at competitive rates while drastically reducing the impact of power generation on the environment," said Don McConnell, Associate Lab Director for Energy Science and Technology at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Before being accepted by the public, fuel cells must be made smaller and cheaper.
6. Gas to Liquid Conversion: Scientists predict the development of chemical engineering processes to transform hydrocarbon compounds from gases to liquids. This will permit more flexible use and storage of fuels. One example is the conversion of natural gas to diesel fuel for transportation. "Gas to liquids technology offers an exciting, economically attractive opportunity to convert natural gas from remote locations-which otherwise would be wasted-into easily transported and inherently clean fuel," said Denny Stephens, Senior Research Scientist for Battelle's Energy Products.
7. Advanced Batteries: Batteries will continue a 20-year trend of advancements into the next decade. These next-generation batteries will be based on lithium polymer technology and have about three times as much energy capability as those currently on the market. These developments will play a more crucial role as we make the transition to hybrid and electric vehicles. Consumers also will see better batteries for laptop computers and cell phones.
8. Energy Farms: The use of bio-engineered crops for fuels will be hurried along by the genetic revolution that permits cultivation of crops to produce fuels such as ethanol. "We will grow gasoline, so to speak, to lessen our dependence on imported oil," Millett said. "With advances in DNA engineering, we will be able to grow energy as well as food crops."
9. Solar Energy: We've heard about this for a long time and it's still hanging tough. That's because it's considered the ultimate sustainable energy form. It's also difficult to capture and store large quantities in a cost-effective manner. But Battelle experts see substantial improvements over the next decade. "Advancements have been made using solar energy for the heating and cooling of buildings, and recent advances in the solar cell efficiency hold the promise of making widespread terrestrial application a reality," said NREL's Bobi Garrett. Progress is continually being made in the development of efficient photovoltaic cells.
10. Methane Hydrate Crystal Mining: Geologists have discovered rich deposits of frozen natural gas crystals on the ocean bottom. "Tapping this reserve would be a quantum leap in our ability to provide energy for the future. Although some new government programs are exploring recovery methods and associated ramifications, there haven't been any commercial attempts to retrieve this vast reserve," said Gary Brawley, Program Manager in Battelle's Equipment Development and Mechanical Systems Department. It is expected that this energy source will emerge in the next decade to add to our natural gas production.