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The future of the power industry

Electricity increasingly powers the trajectory of modern culture. Smart phones, lap tops, household devices, and even vehicles require a constant supply of readily-available energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To help make sure this delicate balance of energy and market does not fail, Antonio Conejo, a professor in electrical and computer engineering, as well as in integrated systems engineering at The Ohio State University, recently published the book, “Investment in Electricity Generation and Transmission.”

Conejo said an initiative has begun within the power industry to smartly expand/reinforce networks and electricity production facilities to meet the growing and diverse demand of consumers. His new book emphasizes the importance of the electrical system, as well as the need for long-term solutions on how the power industry should modify the current electrical system. He said these solutions must also be technically sound, environmentally friendly and economically feasible.

“Electrical energy is important, because without it, nothing works in our current world - smart phones, laptops, elevators, heating systems, traffic lights, and many others,” Conejo said.

Just as the world needs freeways and highways to continually meet the demands for the transportation of goods and people, he said, electrical needs require similar paths. Much like roadway infrastructure, the electricity system must be modified/expanded to stay relevant.

Conejo said looking at how road expansion works regionally can help experts  understand how the power industry could make similar decisions when it comes to expanding the electrical system.

“What is the best way to expand the production capacity of the electrical system to actually supply the load, maintaining a very high level of reliability, being environmentally friendly, and minimizing investment and operation costs?” he said.

It is an ever-changing world, he said.

“For instance, 10 years ago, Ohio electricity production was mainly based on coal,” Conejo said. “Coal is not a good idea. It produces major environmental impacts.”

Today, he said, approximately 20 percent of Ohio electricity production is based on natural gas, which has little environmental impact.

“We have a lot of gas around,” Conejo said. “Switching from coal to gas might be a good idea. This is what is happening in Ohio now. Actually, we may decide to move not just to gas, but to renewables like solar or wind. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of renewable resources in Ohio - wind and solar - but in the Midwest there are. Thus, regional planning of the whole Midwest for these resources makes sense.”

Dealing with the electric energy system has significant socio-economic implications as well, he said. Any decisions about changing the power industry regulations must be made in a socially-conscious way.

“Those decisions have to be made pursuing maximum social welfare in the economic sense, for the benefit of producers and consumers, and society as a whole," Conejo said. "A balance must be struck between electric producers and the consumers." 

In this regard, he said, technical details are important. That’s why the analysis in his book intends to provide electricity agents, with the most up to date information and resources, in hopes electric producers make well-informed and socially-aware decisions.

“We do that with a very precise description of the technical details that makes our analysis different from those of other research communities that sometimes simplify the technical details,” Conejo said.

When asked about how he started in electrical power research, the professor said he was a student at M.I.T. in the mid-80s, and had the privilege to work alongside Prof. Fred C. Schweppe, whose work essentially initiated electricity markets worldwide. Conejo spent most of his time after graduation at University of Castilla – La Mancha, in Central Spain. He ended up spending 17 years there, he said, and then something changed.

“I decided that I needed new challenges and the inspiration that a new research environment provides. I was fortunate enough to find The Ohio State University, which has provided me with an extraordinary research and teaching environment,” Conejo said.

Article written with support from ECE Student PR Writer Stephanie Wise