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Electrification Essay


E. Linn Draper, Jr.
Chairman, President and CEO
American Electric Power Company, Inc.

When I embarked on a career in engineering, I hoped and believed that it would be a fascinating and rewarding occupation. It certainly has lived up to expectations. Playing a role in electrification's transformation of America and the world has been tremendously exciting.  But I had no idea that my engineering background would ultimately lead to the chairmanship of a multibillion-dollar corporation with a long tradition of pioneering achievements in the generation and transmission of electricity.

Early in my career I spent 10 years as a member of the nuclear engineering faculty at the University of Texas. Those years involved immersion in highly technical subjects such as nuclear reactor design and nuclear waste management, an intense training that has been invaluable in the senior management roles I've held since then, whether supervising engineering and construction or managing a fleet of fossil fueled power plants. I now head a company whose generating capacity is two-thirds coal fired. My nuclear engineering background notwithstanding, it's difficult for me to envision another fuel in America's energy mix supplanting coal as our nation's workhorse fuel.

Today more than half of America's electric energy comes from coal. The good news is that coal is being burned today more cleanly than ever before, thanks to a series of remarkable engineering advancements. Electrostatic precipitators remove more than 99 percent of the particulates from a plant's emissions, while scrubbers reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by up to 98 percent. Low-NOx (nitrogen oxide) burners and selective catalytic reduction technology reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide, a precursor of smog, by between 25 and 90 percent. Since 1970 emissions from coal-fired power plants have fallen by nearly 50 percent, even while the amount of electricity generated has tripled.

I believe that further advances in engineering will enable the next generation of coal-fueled power plants to use coal with even greater efficiency and fewer environmental impacts, by converting it into a stream of gas. At American Electric Power Company (AEP) we're already taking voluntary measures to reduce, offset, or sequester emissions of greenhouse gases from coal-fired plants. We're participating in a project to study the injection of carbon dioxide emissions under the ground, and we're involved in carbon sequestration projects with forests in Bolivia, Brazil, and Louisiana.

Because we take electricity for granted, it's sometimes hard to imagine that two billion people on our planet live without access to electric power. Yet history has shown that the supply of reliable, affordable electricity is an essential prerequisite to economic and social progress. Recently, I've had the privilege of working with electrification projects in remote parts of the world as chairman of the E7 organization.  A group that includes leading electric utilities from the G7 nations, the E7 is committed to promoting sustainable development through electrification and through projects to build human capacity in developing countries.

Looking ahead, our nation's energy future depends on the engineering students studying at colleges and universities today. There are many talented people in these schools but not enough, in my view, to meet our future needs. At AEP we're partners in education with scores of local elementary and secondary schools, helping to boost interest in science and math. We also have co-op and internship programs for promising engineering students. If electrification's next century is to be as successful as its last, we need to do everything we can to encourage our best and brightest to pursue careers in engineering and science.


     1- Early Years
     2- Rural Electrification
     3 - AC or DC?
     4 - Power Generators
     5- Looking Forward
     Essay - E. Linn Draper, Jr.

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