2013 and the Transformation in Power Production

National Public Radio recently reported on the transformation of the power industry from coal to natural gas; it focused on Georgia Power’s growth in electric generating plants from natural gas.  This transformation is part of a broader, global move from coal to natural gas in power generation.  The World Energy Outlook 2012 report forecasted that, even with new, restrictive policies, global demand for coal will grow at 1 percent compound average annual growth rate between now and 2035.  Growth in natural gas consumption on the other hand will surpass that with a compound annual growth rate of 1.6 percent and a whopping 47 percent increase in consumption between now and 2035.

Without any change in policy, the World Energy Outlook 2012 forecasts substantial growth in demand for electric power.  In OECD countries it will grow by 16 percent, but in non-OECD countries electric power consumption will grow by 54 percent under the same scenario of no change to policy.  Much of this growth in power production will continue to depend on traditional fossil fuels including coal.  However, the extent to which there is an increasing transition to other fuels is evident in the report.

Across the globe, the report forecasts that gas-fired power generation will grow by almost 80 percent under a scenario that includes introduction of some new policies associated with carbon restrictions.  The report also forecasts that two-thirds of new plants will be built in non-OECD countries.  There are many reasons for the growth in natural gas-fired power plants.  They require lower capital costs and they permit shorter construction times.  With the increased production of natural gas from fracking, especially in the United States, prices for natural gas remain low as another advantage for power production from natural gas-fired plants.  As this blog has also noted in the past natural gas also produces fewer carbon emissions.

Changes in power production will come from increased use of renewables as well.  The production capacity from renewables almost triples in one scenario, but its growth is disproportionately in Europe, India and China.  Nuclear power will grow at a modest pace as a result of the disaffection with nuclear power that resulted from the disastrous earthquake in Japan, and power production from oil will continue to decline.

Where there will be the greatest change in power production is in from natural gas.  The US stands to benefit from this change with its very large available natural gas supply, its sophisticated technology, and the potential for favorable regulation associated with fracking.  What is unlikely to change is the demand for energy from developed countries and especially developing countries, as I wrote in my last entry.


Higher Education?


American higher education has remade itself into a vast job-training program.

-Diane Ravitch


While training students for careers is a departure from the traditional view of higher education as educator rather than trainer, there is something to be said for arming students with the tools necessary to succeed in their intended careers – especially in this economy. In his recent book, Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money And Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do About It, Professor Andrew Hacker argues that colleges and universities are failing by not putting the students first. He opined in a recent NPR interview that we must make math, science, language, reading and foreign language the top five priorities at all levels of education – placing the importance of a liberal arts education well above the need for real world skills.

Although Mr. Hacker appears to argue against training and for education as the responsibility of higher education, it is clear to me that his argument for a graduate’s capacity to perform fundamental mathematics and to read and communicate effectively is really in support of a graduate’s capacity to be marketable and contribute to society.  So I cannot disagree.  On the other hand, what about other marketable, usable skills as a means of also putting students first? Why are we not putting students first by teaching them skills that will propel them into a career? As an educator, I sincerely understand the necessity of improved education in mathematics, science, etc. – knoweldge that you can build upon for the future. However, students also need to meet employers’ expectations for an ability to contribute upon entry into the workplace .

Consider this. Thousands of students spend upwards of $40,000 per year on tuition at traditional universities but end up with jobs paying far less than that once they graduate. To top it off, many of these jobs are not even within their fields of study. Is this fair? No, but it is a reality. On the other hand, students at private sector institutions generally pay a less in tuition and graduate with hands-on experience in a field. These students have marketable skills and can step into their jobs on day one, fully trained.

Education should enable the student and enrich society.  Both traditional schools and private sector ones have a place – and both have a responsibility.