Considering that more than 70 percent of your power bill goes toward the utility's cost of generating electricity, the commercial application of energy produced by cold nuclear fusion would have a dramatic effect on power rates - a fact not lost on local utilities.
"We're excited about this and would like to support it and any other new technology that could reduce rates," said Val Finlayson, a nuclear engineer and a regional manager with Utah Power & Light Co.Scientists at the University of Utah announced a breakthrough in nuclear fusion research last week, claiming to have produced a nuclear fusion reaction at room temperature using high school level chemistry. Fusion, considered superior to all other forms of fuel, is what produces the energy of the sun and has been previously extremely difficult to create in a laboratory. But, the surprisingly simple experiment conducted at the U. has sent shock waves throughout the scientific world because of its possibility to easily and inexpensively create a clean and virtually inexhaustible energy source.
Researchers say the most practical application of fusion technology is generating electricity, produced primarily today by expensive coal, hydro and nuclear-fission fueled generators. Although it hasn't been proven, researchers believe fusion would be a much less expensive method of generating electricity, particularly if the U. experiment proves successful on the scale of power generation.
UP&L has billions of dollars invested in costly coal-fired power plants in central Utah, but Finlayson says that doesn't mean the utility, which serves 75 percent of the state's population, wouldn't support a less expensive way to generate electrical power.
"It would be pure folly to ignore new technology. We are driven by technology and we're always looking for ways to produce power at a better and lower cost way."
Finlayson noted that it would take at least 20 years for the research in cold fusion to evolve into commercial application. "By that time we would have to replace our power plants anyway, so fusion would be used as a replacement rather than rendering what we have obsolete."
Responding to speculation of small fusion generators in every home, Finlayson said, "Someone still needs to make it, market it and maintain it and we are in that business."
UP&L will keep a close watch on how further research proceeds and give support to the project through funding and other resources, Finlayson explained.
The long-term time frame for common use of fusion energy also gives Mountain Fuel Supply Co. some breathing room to adjust to the possible introduction of an energy source that has no apparent fit into Utah's natural gas industry.
Some observers say Mountain Fuel has good reason to start panicking over the advent of nuclear fusion. But the company says that's not true.
"Naturally we are interested, but at this point the commercial applications or how it would fit into the energy distribution system is too speculative," said Curt Burnett, spokesman for Mountain Fuel's parent company Questar Corp.
Burnett said that Questar doesn't believe natural gas could be rendered obsolete. "Because of its low cost and environmental safety natural gas will play a critical role. No one is sure if nuclear fusion is the answer and if it will exclude all other energy forms."
He noted that the downside to the excitement and talk of nuclear fusion is if it prevents further development of conventional sources of energy.