Duke Energy's Rogers: Efficiency, shale gas will drive dramatic change in energy industry

Utility CEO delivers keynote at annual energy conference

Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, at the Fuqua School of Business on Wednesday. (photo: Margaret Lillard)

Energy usage that remains flat or even declines over the coming decades and the increasing presence of shale gas in utility portfolios will drive dramatic changes in the energy industry, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers told guests at the annual Duke University Energy Conference on Wednesday.

Rogers began his remarks by emphasizing the importance of efficient energy use: "I believe the most efficient energy plant we can build is the one we don't build."

But, pointing to the overhead lights in Fuqua's Geneen Auditorium, he noted that the end product demanded by customers will not change regardless of which fuel utility companies use to produce it.  "That light is going to be the same," Rogers said.

Rogers, head of what this year became America's largest utility company and the second-largest in the world, was keynote speaker at the conference, which was organized by Fuqua's MBA Energy Club along with other student-led energy clubs and the Duke University Energy Initiative.

The annual event is designed to connect Duke University students with energy industry professionals, increasing the knowledge and understanding of energy-related issues within the Duke community as well as among business, government and other universities in the region.

Panel discussions covered energy consumption, markets and policy, efficiency, cybersecurity, and investment, with representatives from Walmart, Sunrun, Rockport Capital, GE, Accenture, Chevron, Rio Tinto and other companies that have taken leading roles in energy investment, production and innovation.

University President Richard Brodhead welcomed the audience of about 250, and lunchtime and closing keynotes were given by Warner Williams, vice president for Chevron's Gulf of Mexico Business Unit, and Kateri Callahan, president of the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy.

Duke Energy's Rogers emphasized the changing business model of energy providers, citing the recent World Energy Outlook produced by the International Energy Agency. That report, released on Nov. 12, predicted that demand for oil will rise in the developing world over the next 25 years, but will probably fall in first-world nations, especially if they follow through on their plans to adopt conservation policies.

He agreed that energy use in the United States will remain flat or even decline slightly in the near future, largely due to increased promotion of efficiency measures and the growing availability and presence of efficient appliances, buildings and even power generation.

He also forecast a continuing increase in the percentage of shale gas in utility portfolios, thanks to technological advances in production. "Shale gas is going to be even more transformative than nuclear was in the 1960s," he said.

Much of the increase in natural gas use will come at the expense of coal, leading to lower levels of carbon emissions and the continued retirement of coal-fired producing plants, Rogers said. He said Duke Energy has been able to decrease its reliance on coal and reduce carbon emissions by more than 30 percent thanks to shale gas.

He called shale gas a "bridge fuel" between existing technologies and energy sources that have yet to be refined or created, and predicted a continued struggle between regulators and providers, given the increasingly cheap cost of natural gas generation.

These changes and other innovations will lead to a "virtual white sheet of paper" for the utility industry in the second half of the 21st century, he said, with all existing power plants likely to be retired by 2050.

The IEA report also predicted that the United States will, thanks to shale gas, become the world's largest natural gas producer in 2015 and will pass Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer by 2017. 

But Rogers warned that shale gas producers in the United States must beware of exporting too much. He said domestic industries will increasingly depend on the lower cost of shale gas-produced electricity in their business plans, relying on its availability as they grow and create jobs.