EnergyBiz Leadership Forum Keynoter says Waste Issue Can Be Conquered
America is up for the challenge of leading the world in energy technology, says a leading expert in business and energy innovation. Nicholas M. Donofrio, a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, says that the United States will be able to assert its technological leadership developing the next generation of safe, reliable nuclear power plants.
Nuclear power plant construction is undergoing a global resurgence, particularly in China. A program of federal loan guarantees is intended to spur a nuclear renaissance in America. But many industry experts say that for nuclear to take off a business case must be made for it free of government supports.
Donofrio, the lead keynote speaker at the 2011 EnergyBiz Leadership Forum, Feb. 27 - March 1 in Washington, is a 44-year IBM veteran and serves as an IBM fellow, the company's highest technical honor. From 1997 until his retirement in 2008, he served as executive vice president of innovation and technology.
Donofrio recently discussed the energy frontier with EnergyBiz. His comments, edited for style and length, follow.
EnergyBiz: Some believe we're losing our edge in energy innovation and the Chinese are increasingly developing cutting edge technologies in nuclear power and renewables.
Donofrio: One of the things you can't ever take away from us is that we're a very innovative country because our people are free to be who they want to be and to do what they want to do. That's what's going to keep this country ahead. China has the lead in a number of these energy issues. We'll be more innovative. We'll be more creative in the way we deal with this.
EnergyBiz: Where to we start?
Donofrio: We can bring nuclear energy back. We need it. It's the only base load replacement we have for fossil fuel. I'm all for wind and I'm all for solar and I'm all for hydro but in the end that's not enough to replace the base load of fossil fuels. That's what this country has got to come to realize. We've got to use 21st century techniques and ideas to build up the nuclear industry. We can build what I call a super PLM structure focusing on product lifecycle management for the nuclear industry from beginning to end. So the only way you can build it correctly is with the entire lifecycle in mind. You hear lots of people talking about manufactured nuclear power plants and modular nuclear power plants, modules that click in and click out, modules that are totally self-contained and replaceable. You scale not by building new and unique footprints but by just simply scaling the footprint that you build in a manufacturing facility.
EnergyBiz: Is the federal government leading the way?
Donofrio: There are signs of hope in the new current administration. They've done lots of wonderful funding efforts. They've got a nuclear energy simulation hub running right now and Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the lead integrator for that. So we're going to get a lot of ideas out of it over the next 3 to 5 years.
EnergyBiz: For the record, what is the problem with fossil fuel?
Donofrio: Well, we're going to run out of it. It's non-replaceable. People talk about kicking the can down the road. That's the biggest kick the can down the road I've ever seen and nobody wants to say that. Secondly, it seems to be destroying our environment and you've got to do things to deal with that. For those two reasons alone it seems to me that nuclear is the answer. It's green. If I can convince you it's safe why wouldn't you start to think about it differently?
EnergyBiz: Can we solve the waste issue?
Donofrio: There's absolutely no doubt in my mind. There are so many different things that are being thought of and innovated on here. What we need to do is to continue to invest in those innovations.
Continue the conversation with Nicholas Donofrio at the 3rd Annual EnergyBiz Leadership Forum, the most influential gathering of power industry executives in the United States. Visit www.EnergyBizForum.com for more information.