Partnerships can develop energy alternatives

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

Technology leadership is needed to develop practical energy alternatives. Automation companies have knowledge and experience that applies in this arena. End-users and automation suppliers can develop partnerships to tackle the opportunities.

A version of this article was published by:
Automation World, March 2005

There's a problem which needs to be addressed – a big, new market with major opportunities for your company, an inflection point that could bring burgeoning growth for leaders and innovators who are willing to take bold new steps.

The world is running out of oil. As of 2004, there was no major underutilized oil source left anywhere in the world. 94% of all available oil has already been discovered. Many oil company proponents suggest that when oil prices go up, more reserves will magically appear. But the curve is steep, and the shortages will only get worse.

Technology leadership is needed to develop practical energy alternatives. Automation companies have knowledge and experience that applies in this arena. Find ways for your company to get involved. Here are some suggestions.

Developing energy alternatives

The problem with developing new energy sources is that everyone expects this to be done with short-term capitalistic motivation. And that is simply not possible when competing with the current costs of oil, and the tremendous investments already made in the infrastructure – extraction, pipelines, transportation, refining, and distribution.

America already has the technology needed to develop practical energy alternatives. Take solar energy – the US can get 100% of its energy requirements from the power released by sunlight radiating over the desert regions of the Southwest. American solar energy would be cheap, renewable and under our own control. Electricity generated from solar energy can produce hydrogen gas by electrolysis of water. Hydrogen can also be made from many different sources of energy such as wind, biomass, geothermal, fossil and nuclear. Hydrogen is a clean universal fuel that can be used to power cars, trucks, planes, trains, buses, boats and ships. It can heat homes and commercial buildings, and generate electricity. It can replace all forms of fossil fuels.

It’s been pointed out that most energy sources are "energy inefficient" – the cost to produce is more than the energy derived. Many experienced people insist that the only energy efficient source available today is Nuclear, which can easily serve all requirements for the foreseeable future. The problem is safety – the dangers of radiation exposure and contamination. But that is widely misunderstood. Nuclear advocates point out that a nuclear power plant has the lowest environmental impact of anything available today, for the amount of energy produced. The energy density of nuclear fission (energy available per kg of fuel) is the highest of any option today. This reduces both the use of natural resources, and the impact of resource extraction. Clearly, a major investment in clean, safe nuclear energy production must be a major objective.

The solutions to energy alternatives are to be found in technology. The future brings hope with several energy technology alternatives: solar cells, hydrogen fuel and energy-cells, clean coal, CO2 recycling, synthetic fuels and safe nuclear power. New nanotechnology materials and production methodologies are showing great promise. These are just examples of the possibilities. Get involved!

Automation Technology brings solutions

The automation industry has all the background knowledge and experience needed to make a significant impact in these vital arenas. Now, I’m not suggesting that your company can develop new energy solutions single-handedly – that’s probably far beyond its scope and capabilities. What I am suggesting is that you can develop partnerships to tackle the problems.

If you’re an automation supplier, simply waiting for Exxon or Shell to upgrade their plant and equipment won’t win you much new business. Look around for new energy projects that will bring not just extrapolation of your present business, but new burgeoning growth. Some of these companies are already your customers. Don’t wait to be asked to bid controls and instruments after the project is ready for production – you’ll simply be one of the crowd. Instead, seek out energy projects where your company can contribute and offer partnership involvement – low-cost developments in exchange for preferred-supplier status.

If you’re an automation end user developing new energy solutions, don’t go the old-fashioned route and handle projects secretly on your own. You’ll find that there are many automation suppliers who have significant, applicable experience and are willing to share development ideas and instrumentation approaches. Select your best suppliers as partners. Get them working with you now to help develop automation solutions. This will make a difference – in budgets, timing and, more importantly, innovation.

Practical and immediate technology and business leadership is needed. Significant growth and success awaits the companies that succeed!

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Copyright 2003 : Jim Pinto, San Diego, CA, USA