From CASE Reports, Volume 12,3 (August 1997)

CASE Annual Forum: A Call to Action

Connecticut Companies Seek Partnerships with State’s Colleges, Universities to Develop Energy-Related Technologies for the Future

Officials from Northeast Utilities (NU) and United Technologies Corporation (UTC), speaking at the CASE Annual Forum on “The New Energy Marketplace,” issued a strong challenge to Connecticut’s colleges and universities, urging them to become more involved in research activities in the areas of energy technology. The two companies, both Leading Patrons of the Academy, sponsored the forum, which was held at Northeast Utilities’ Berlin headquarters on June 25, 1997.

Following opening remarks by CASE President Anthony DeMaria, Northeast Utilities Vice President for Corporate and Environmental Affairs Barry Ilberman welcomed forum attendees, noting the “importance of the vital connection of engineers and scientists in helping energy-related technologies work in concert with public policy and our environment.”

Citing the nationwide restructuring of the electric utility industry currently underway, he noted that in the energy marketplace of the future, customers will have a choice of energy suppliers. Pilot NU retail programs in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, he said, have demonstrated that the industry is changing quickly and that additional technology-based products and services are valued by customers. “We clearly have a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor with new technologies that meet customer needs, are environmentally responsible and are efficient and economical,” he stated.

Describing the evolution of this “new energy marketplace of the 21st century” and touching upon some of the many research opportunities in the fields of future electricity and energy needs, senior executives from both companies outlined plans to encourage research proposals in these areas from the state’s colleges and universities. In addition to encouraging submission of such proposals (see From the Academy, page 2), the companies vowed to help ensure that promising projects move from the initial “proof-of-concept” stage toward commercialization. This assistance might come in the form of finding appropriate funding, assisting or jointly submitting an application, or co-funding a project.

William L. Stillinger, director of research and environmental planning for Northeast Utilities, suggested that solar photovoltaics offers one promising field for investigation. This energy source, currently suitable only for limited use, could be transformed into an environmentally sound, reliable way to generate commercial energy with the development of more efficient equipment coupled with advanced technology and design improvements, according to Dr. Stillinger. He noted that similar opportunities exist in the development of more efficient energy storage devices, new applications for waste heat, and high technology programs to better organize and manage energy resources.

Dr. Stillinger also announced that NU has applied to the federal Department of Defense for rebates applied to fuel cells, and is working to find other applications for this Connecticut-grown technology. NU owns and operates a fuel cell at the Groton landfill, where methane gas from decomposing refuse is converted into enough electricity to power almost 100 homes.

UTC vice president and CASE member John F. Cassidy, Jr. urged scholars to pursue research in alternative energy systems and components such as optimized energy-efficient building controls; gas cleanup for natural gas, air cleaning, and water transport; low-cost air quality sensors; and advanced fuel cell technology.

Another speaker, Robert L. Suttmiller, president of International Fuel Cells (IFC) in South Windsor, cited his company’s success in the field of fuel cell development, noting that “our fuel cells operate so cleanly that they don’t need air quality permits.” The company is currently engaged in projects designed to reduce manufacturing costs and increase fuel cell popularity worldwide.

Dr. William Marshall, deputy director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO, also addressed the forum. He predicted that energy issues “will play out internationally” in the future as nations such as China seek to strengthen their economies. He noted that three main factors—heightened environmental sensitivities, restructuring of the energy industry, and the growing need for non-consumptive resources—all offer important research and development challenges and opportunities.— Martha Sherman, Managing Editor

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