Deanna Rodriguez can still hear the silence.

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, the newly-minted chief executive of Entergy New Orleans, surveyed the damage. But it was the quiet that struck her most.

Less than 90 days in the role, Rodriguez encountered a fatality, tornado, hurricane, and a public relations storm that swirled around the company’s new peaker power plant.

Rodriguez clearly realized that her charge of leading the utility into a more resilient and cleaner future would not come without costs.

“It’s expensive and requires a lot of communication,” Rodriguez said during the keynote address at POWERGEN International 2024 in New Orleans.

Rodriguez’s role requires her to think about the future. An order from the New Orleans City Council to submit a resiliency plan in response to Hurricane Ida further solidified the imperative.

Seeing into the future, though, can be daunting. Especially without a roadmap.

Brian David Johnson, an applied futurist and professor who headlined the POWERGEN keynote, pushed attendees to embrace the power of “dumb ideas” when planning for the future.

An idea is only “dumb” until someone realizes its genius, he said. The exercise also triggers imaginative collaboration that will be critical as the power industry evolves in the coming decades.

Johnson himself went through the process as an internal futurist at IBM, tasked with predicting consumer behaviors for chip investments that take 10-15 years to materialize.

“You’ll see your team, and yourself, do some crazy stuff,” Johnson said. “You have really important things to solve, and this is a way to actually go through and begin to solve them, and come up with some of those things that people have never thought of before.”

Large corporations, like Microsoft, are dependent on the power industry to evolve and embrace The Next Big Thing, in large part due to ambitious climate and clean energy goals.

Todd Noe, Microsoft’s director of nuclear technologies engineering, told the POWERGEN International keynote audience that nuclear energy stands to play a pivotal role in the company’s carbon-negative efforts. He added that small modular reactors (SMR), hydrogen, and long-duration energy storage technologies could also prove crucial.

“Our vision is we seek to have a decarbonized grid, not just for Microsoft, but our customers around the world,” Noe said. “We don’t see any one carbon-free technology that’s going to be the answer.”

A piece of that puzzle, particularly in the future, is carbon capture and storage.

Brad Crabtree, assistant secretary for the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, said scaling carbon capture retrofits for aging coal fleets will be “critical” to meeting international climate obligations.

“Demonstrating U.S. leadership here at home, scaling up the technology, reducing costs, and building industry confidence can have a global impact,” Crabtree said.

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