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1,000 Shots On Goal: GE’s Culp, At Milken Institute Talk, Says He’s Optimistic About The Energy Transition

Will Palmer
May 05, 2022

At this week’s Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, GE Chairman and CEO Larry Culp said there was “no one technology that will carry the day” when it comes to the energy transition. Instead, he said, the world needs to deploy a variety of approaches to address what he called the “trilemma” — reliability, affordability, and sustainability. “In many respects, we need just about everything that we can muster, both in terms of what we have today and what we’ll have as a result of innovation going forward,” he said.

The problem is bigger than bringing more renewables online. It also involves making sure that people everywhere have access to reliable and affordable power. “We’ve got the better part of a billion people on the planet today who do not have access to reliable electricity,” Culp said. “As we move forward and navigate the energy transition, our view is we can’t leave those folks behind.”

Culp said that to meet the world’s energy needs, natural gas will need to help, as well as innovation and new technologies like small modular nuclear reactors. “If we just solve for sustainability, I’m not quite sure how we solve for those other social issues, which are pressing too,” Culp said. (See this map of breakthrough technologies that GE is already working on all over the planet.)

The discussion, Breakthrough Technologies Redefining Our Energy Future, was moderated by CNBC’s anchor and senior national correspondent Brian Sullivan, and it included Bill Gross, founder and CEO of Heliogen; Bob Mumgaard, CEO of Commonwealth Fusion Systems; and Sascha von Meier, adjunct professor of electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley.

The speakers shared the view that meeting net-zero goals by 2050 is within the world’s grasp but will take a multi-pronged effort — including major changes to the grid. Because of the intermittency of sources like wind and solar, Culp said, “we’re going to need to modernize the grid, and that’s a challenge both from a hardware and from a software perspective. There’s a whole host of things that we’re doing to make sure that as we ramp those intermittent sources, we can deliver those electrons properly,” he said.

When asked about breakthrough technologies that may help change the energy landscape in the future, Culp said that innovation was “an unstoppable force. I think we agree with the idea that we need 1,000 shots on goal,” he said, recalling a comment made by Heliogen’s Gross.

Sullivan concluded by asking Culp whether he thinks we can accomplish the transition by 2050. “I’m optimistic,” Culp said. “I think everyone’s touched on the fact that we have to. And if you think about what all of our companies, Sascha’s students, what we as a country can do here, not only with respect to global technology leadership, but to meet the challenge of sustainability and have that translate into American jobs, I think this is a setup for the next several decades that this country is wired for. But this has to be a decade of action. It absolutely has to.”

Top image credit: The Milken Institute