EDITOR’S NOTE: Gil C. Quiniones recently assumed the chairmanship of the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent group that researches electric power technology. The Energy Times invited him to reflect on the role of R&D in advancing the power sector.
If Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse were around today, I suspect they would be right at home at an Electric Power Research Institute meeting.
They would hear about bold visions being realized and how the status quo in the utility business is constantly altered. At the same time, those pioneers of power would be bowled over by how far the electricity industry has come since 1896, when current first flowed from their hydroelectric plant in Niagara Falls and forever changed the world.
However, I also suspect they would recognize how much more is left to accomplish.
As we grapple with the rapid and exciting change that is the utility world’s new normal, we need a sound technology roadmap to guide the industry. And it doesn’t come cheap. We have to do more than simply talk a good game about research and development. It’s something that must be nurtured and not treated as a line item that can be sacrificed when budgets get tight. That’s why EPRI, an objective, nonprofit research organization, matters more than ever.
No question, many utilities are devoted to R&D, but they can’t do all that’s needed on their own. The New York Power Authority has long been an enthusiastic participant in EPRI’s collaborative research model, which leverages funds from multiple companies into joint projects and produces shared results. Siting new renewable energy projects, investigating why cables or insulators fail, and coordinating research about how eels can safely pass through hydroelectric projects, like NYPA’s, on the St. Lawrence River, are some of the many projects it is involved with.
EPRI research will allow us to optimize generation and transmission at a time when digital technology and the rush to embrace renewables redefine what it means to be a utility in 2015. EPRI is also an invaluable ally for the more prosaic activities of daily plant operation. For example, NYPA relied on EPRI research to minimize the possibility of damage caused by exceeding the design limits of steam tubing and heat transfer equipment. The result was higher plant efficiency without sacrificing reliability.
But EPRI is nothing if not holistic. NYPA, for one, may have 17 power plants and 1,400 circuit miles of transmission lines. But that’s just part of our story. That’s why we provide funding for the eel research and are working with EPRI on how to make turbines at two of our hydro plants more fish friendly. We’ve also supported an accreditation program created by EPRI—now managed by a third party—that looks at how methods of integrated vegetation management comply with established standards for rights-of-way stewardship. Such issues may have nothing to do with electricity generation per se, but they are core to many a utility’s mission. EPRI has long recognized that.
Such research also acknowledges the fact that EPRI’s purpose is ultimately for the benefit of the public. Its findings may be implemented by utilities, but the people, businesses and institutions we serve are the ones who reap the rewards of the exacting work done by the scientists and engineers who make EPRI’s work so vital.
And worth paying for.
Gil C. Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, is chair of the Electric Power Research Institute. He is on Twitter at @GQEnergy.