ExxonMobil Chemicals Vice President Elissa P. Sterry, ORIE BS '79 M.Eng. '80, Discusses Worldwide Energy Outlook
For many years, ExxonMobil has produced a periodic "Energy Outlook" that builds up a picture of long range worldwide energy supply and demand from the analysis of economic growth, sector energy consumption, and available supply options. The "Energy Outlook" provides a basis for corporate decision making and is shared with the public on the company's web site.
At the March 12, 2008 Engineering Enterprise Colloquium, Elissa P. Sterry, ORIE BS '79 M.Eng. '80, discussed the latest version of this outlook and commented on her current role as Vice President of the Intermediates Unit of ExxonMobil Chemical Company. As Manager, Economics and Energy in ExxonMobil's Corporate Planning Department and as Deputy Manager of Public Affairs for the corporation in earlier assignments, Sterry has participated in the development of these projections.
According to Sterry, energy intensity, which is a measure of the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of Gross Domestic Product, has declined over the past 25 years at an average rate of 1% per year, while Gross Domestic Product worldwide has been increasing at a rate of 2.9% per year. This has meant a doubling of worldwide GDP while total energy demand increased by only about one third.
Looking forward over the next quarter century, ExxonMobil sees average GDP growth accelerating to 3% and energy intensity declining at a faster average rate of 1.6% per year as a consequence of technology (includingl improvements in vehicle fuel economy), so that by 2030 the amount of energy to produce a unit of GDP will be only half what it was in 1980. Combining GDP growth and energy intensity reduction, the average rate of total energy demand growth will slow from 1.8% to 1.3% per year. Even so, ExxonMobil expects energy demand in 2030 to be more than double that of 1980. While Sterry showed high growth rates for biofuels (7.6%/year), wind power (10.5%/year), solar (9.9%/year), she needed a separate chart at a much finer scale for the impact of these alternative sources to be visible in the overall global picture.
With the increase in energy demand comes the challenge of CO2 emissions. Sterry showed an ExxonMobil projection of slow annual growth in such emissions over the next 25 years, but went on to consider the sensitivity of this growth to possible changes, including a doubling of biofuels growth, a doubling of the rate of improvement of new car efficiency, the replacement of half of the projected growth in coal use by nuclear plants and/or carbon capture and storage technology, and the replacement coal plants more than 40 years old with nuclear and/or carbon capture and storage. Only with all four of these changes (or other equivalent changes) does the projection show a leveling off of CO2 emissions. Moreover, such emissions are projected to grow much more slowly in the group of countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Korea) than in the the rest of the world. "If we are going to curtail emissions it requires participation of all countries," Sterry said.
In discussing her current assignment as Vice President for Intermediates, Sterry said that her unit is the world's largest producer of PVC plasticizers and hydrocarbon fluids. If it were a separate company, it would be number 428 on the Fortune 500 list, with 25 plants and 2000 employees around the world. She noted that she "spends as much of my time on public policy issues as I spend on running the Chemicals business."
Since joining Exxon Chemical Company in a Houston information management organization in 1981, Sterry has been on the move with a variety of line, staff and managerial positions in Illinois, Connecticut and Texas. She was advisor to the President of the Polymers business, marketing manager for the Adhesion business unit and a manager in a polyethylene plant. Later she served as General Manager of Polymers Applications, Vice President of Ethylene Elastomers, and Vice President of the Global Oxo units of the ExxonMobil Chemical Company. From 2002 to 2004 she worked in the corporate headquarters in Dallas as Deputy Manager of Public Affairs and Manager, Economics and Energy in the Corporate Planning Department, after which she became Manager of Business Planning and Support for the ExxonMobil Gas and Power Marketing Company before returning to ExxonMobil Chemical Company and her current position.
At the conclusion of her talk, Sterry pointed out that ExxonMobil is a company of engineers - "I'm an engineer, my boss is an engineer, and many of the people working with me are engineers" - and that she "can't imagine doing anything more important to the well-being of society" than her chosen career.
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