Why The Pentagon Should Worry About Lack Of Innovation In Electric Utility Sector
Electric utilities spend scandalously few dollars on research and development.
The electricity sector in the United States spends at most a few tenths of one percent of net sales revenue on R&D. To put this in perspective, the electronics and pharmaceutical sectors typically invest between 8% and 12% of net sales in R&D.
“In fact, investment rates for the electricity sector are the lowest of any major industrial sector, with the exception of the pulp and paper industry,” wrote Massoud Amin, a professor of engineering at the University of Minnesota, in 2008.
The lack of innovation in the electric utility sector has curtailed the commercialization of new defense-related energy technologies. In particular, the limitations of electric generating technologies has derailed deployment of “directed energy” technologies.
The Pentagon has prioritized deployment of directed energy technologies for fiscal reasons. Depending on the power source, laser weapons are dramatically cheaper than conventional weapons. Missiles and mortars are expensive. Depending on the power generating technology, power is cheap and abundant. Lasers also have speed-of-light reaction times and far greater precision than conventional weapons.
“Directed energy weapons could become hugely disruptive from a cost standpoint, because they could kill targets for a lot less than traditional missiles and guns,” wrote Ariel Robinson in National Defense Magazine. “Supporters believe they are among the innovative technologies that will allow the U.S. military to retain its advantage.”
The problem is less with the weapons themselves than it is with the lack of adequate power generating technologies to support them. There are no power generating technologies capable of supporting directed energy weapons in battlefield conditions.
“There are still issues with respect to getting the power, getting that much energy density on target,” David DeCroix, a congressional fellow on the House Committee on Homeland Security, told National Defense Magazine in 2015.