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Bob Catell Chairman of AERTC

June 11, 2010 @ 12:00 am EDT


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Bob Catell was our speaker this morning and when it comes to utility delivered power he has had the benefit of heading up a combined gas and electric company for about 14 years. His prior experience at Brooklyn Union Gas Company makes him an authority on that too.

Bob made a poignant comparison of the electric energy system and the telephone system. "Alexander Graham Bell would look around at today’s world and be amazed at the changes. Thomas Edison would look around and say everything looks like I left it"

Now Catell is the Chairman of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center located on the SUNY campus at Stony Brook. The mission of that center is broad. Not only will the center be looking for new and innovative energy creation solutions, but they will also be looking at ways to increase efficiency, and decrease consumption for the same tasks.

Bob began his talk by enumerating the various carbon based fuels with their liabilities and benefits ( We did not discuss the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but I am sure it was on everybody’s mind). The opinion expressed was that it will be a long transition away from oil, but natural gas which is a fuel we are learning we have much more than we previously thought will likely be the "bridge" fuel. (Jim Powel one of the co-inventors of the Maglev was in the audience, and during the Q&A period he suggested that with the use of electric trains and cars we could transition out of liquid fuels even faster)

Alternative energy such as Wind and Solar has had a very limited use in the past. In fact it is still a small component of our energy picture compared to the capacity of conventional. On the other hand wind is growing very fast. There was a 50% increase in wind generation in the last year. Wind has grown in the United States from a miniscule 2500 Megawatts in 2006 to 35,000 watts last year. According to Mr. Catell the United States leads the world in operating wind power. That’s impressive, but it still pales in comparison to conventional installed generation.

Catell spoke about what is being called "Smart Grid." Smart grid is not easy to simplify, but it will be able to detect where there is stress on the system, and redirect power from other available connected sources. No one seems to know exactly how it will work so AERTC will construct a model of a grid and create the software that it will need. By having this model we can learn what works and improve upon it before it is deployed as a worksble technology. What I got from the discussion was that "smart Grid" would be able to integrate all available methods of generation.

There will be a clean energy incubator located on the AERTC campus that will be paid for with a $26 million grant from DOE. Among the things we expect to see developed here are solar systems that are much more productive. The modern high performing solar panel is able to convert about 16% of the sun’s potential energy. With new technologies we expect to increase that output substantially. The net effect would make solar more competitive with fossil fuel generation.

The AERTC is looking for technology partners that will create the future of energy. The environment where like minded people of science trade ideas will allow them to feed off each other. The results of this formal and informal symbiosis is knowledge that can, and most likely will advance the societal goals that are needed for us to have sustainable growth. We are very fortunate to have this shared enterprise on Long Island..

Ernie Fazio