Barry K. Worthington is the executive director of the United States Energy Association (USEA). Through its membership, USEA represents 150 members across the U.S. energy sector. In his role, he represents the broad interests of the U.S. energy industry and meets with domestic and international energy leaders to advance information and unearth partnerships to develop energy infrastructure projects across the world.

The USEA helps expand energy infrastructure in developing countries with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and drives policy and technical discussions with the U.S. Department of Energy to expand the use of clean energy technology around the world. USEA also leads DOE’s U.S.-India Gas to Power Task Force to expand the use of U.S. natural gas on the subcontinent.

Worthington is a resource to industry stakeholders, lawmakers, the media and the Trump administration on energy development and the role of our various energy resources to meet a growing global demand. He chairs the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Group of Experts for Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels, and he sits on the UNECE’s Committee on Sustainable Energy.

Worthington has served as executive director of USEA for 29 years. ECC had the chance to ask Barry about several current events in energy.

Q: Energy Consumers of the Carolinas approaches energy from the viewpoint of the customers. What is your perspective on how energy customers have changed in the past decade?

Customers are more engaged than ever, and they’re at the center of every decision we as an industry make.  In the past decade, customers have shown us they want choices. They may want a choice of who their provider is, the fuel they use and which services they receive.

They require reliability; quality of service is paramount. Customers want prices to be fair and relatively low. Many are choosing to become prosumers, where they self-generate electricity. They produce it, but they also buy and sell to the local utility. When it comes to gasoline, customers still want the lowest price and the maximum convenience.

Q: How will customers need to change in the next decade, why? What approach should they take in your opinion?

Some customers will change their habits; many will not. Most will simply flip a switch or pull up to the gasoline pumps as they do now. They’ll pay the utility bill once a month without examining it too closely. The ones who will change will begin to decide from where their electricity is generated–natural gas, coal, wind, solar, hydropower, biomass. They may also adopt “ behind the meter” technologies, creating an interactive grid whereby they adjust electricity use based on time of day and cost.

Some may need to move to new regulatory pricing concepts such as sharper time of day rates, special arrangements for electric vehicles. For transportation fuel, customers may choose different blends of gasoline, and embrace technologies not even envisioned today.

USEA website – lots of energy information

Q: What do you see as energy technologies that ought to be “fast tracked” to benefit the U.S. and world?

  • Carbon capture and storage
  • Electricity storage
  • hydrogen fuel cells with hydrogen from all fuels
  • small modular advanced nuclear reactors
  • digital controls for every aspect of the industry
  • space based energy technology applications
  • (NOTE: ECC will cover each of these in future blog posts.)

Q: Over the years the term “energy independence” has been tossed around. Is that even a relevant term anymore and what does it mean to you?

Energy independence is a bit of a misnomer that means different things to different people. Some insist it means the United States would no longer import energy from other countries. I think it is more strategic than that. Perhaps it should mean the U.S. is no longer reliant on imports but could still import certain types of energy and export others based on long-term plans.

Or, perhaps it could mean the U.S. imports only energy supplies from our allies, such as Canada and Mexico. Those imports could be considered domestic. The U.S. energy industry is a global one. For example, U.S. companies invest heavily in Australia. They oversee the design, engineering and construction of many energy projects in the country. Our industry and its supply chain are intrinsically tied to a global market. Thus energy independence is a term that can be a bit opaque.

One developing issue as it related to energy independence is our reliance on components and rare earth elements required to advance our adoption of renewable energy and energy storage.

The last time I checked, eight of the top ten solar companies were Chinese. And seven of the top 10 wind manufacturers where Chinese. The U.S. had only one wind manufacturer among the world’s top ten and no solar manufacturers. And a lot of the rare earth elements needed in advanced technologies for solar, wind, storage, cell phones are from China.  I think a fair question is “Are we reducing dependence on Mideast oil in exchange for dependence on Chinese components and rare earth elements?