Saturday, July 07, 2012

Too nice to Fáil: what's wrong with the power grid?

Saturday, July 07, 2012
The temperature is 100 degrees and we have no air conditioning, no running water, no telephone and no Internet. It was swept 60 hours since our household electricity lost due to the super States and the capital, Derecho, a rare surprise storm, the ten US on June 29.

About 5 million of us life in conditions of a century earlier. And as we fumble in the dark, it is easy to see how vulnerable our deep dependence on electricity makes us.

The term of the grid reliability is deeply embedded in the American psyche. We are his absence so accustomed, stream flows, we can hardly understand. By the habit we flip on the light switch, if even after power out has been a room for hours.

We have good reason to trust. Finally is behind the counter of the world's largest machine, the North American power grid. With 211.000 miles of high voltage lines and 5,800 power stations, the use of electricity to our homes and businesses, the system is a technical wonder.

A miracle - until a storm or a heat wave or even a squirrel chewing makes the right wire to the right place, omitted large swaths of the customer.

It is the grid size and networking, which makes remarkable and efficient, but also vulnerable to widespread mishap. We saw that most clearly fell 50 million without power in the Northeast blackout of 2003, when a chain of events causes error which quickly from city to city, State to State, finally leave.

But the American consumers in General to a blackout as a sign of an inherent problem with our power grid. After 9 June Derecho worked about 30,000 workers, some utilities as far away as Texas and Oklahoma, borrowed from recovery makes in the Middle Atlantic and the close to nearby States. However, is angry consumers to the length that it takes time. And if the dispute is so large as was in New England last year after the freak Halloween nor Easter, politician take the case, examines regulatory authorities and some utility executives can threatened their jobs.

If our lights do not and are not quickly resolved, we believe that someone must be blamed. The problem can be not perhaps the the grid itself. In the eye of the consumer is current such as air; It is simple because for us. If it is not, someone mess.

The energy industry this is called power of invisibility. In many ways, it speaks to the success of the product. Anyone over in America whether electricity purchase? It is a given that we our houses to produce grid, pay the monthly invoice and the energy flows.

But this invisibility, this success is a failure.

Power companies in large parts of the nation are trying the grid make less vulnerable by smartening it, and some of those smartening rely on consumer interaction, control of our electricity consumption by new digital technologies. It includes installation of smart meters and energy shows, building Microgrids and development of more solar power and other forms of distributed generation, to decentralize the grid, and therefore at least take some of the exposure that comes with the size. (Think the death star in the movie of StarWars).

Suddenly, we must pay electricity, and we would rather let it remain invisible.

So have the energy industry to smart-grid-work to do, to find out, what work the consumer makes. Much study is now in progress on human behaviour and energy. The goal is to encourage them to embrace us intelligent energy technologies, so that we use electricity more efficiently. It's been hard going. Most consumers see no underlying problem with the power supply. If it's not broken, why fix it?

I can't say that I like without air conditioning and water. But perhaps the occasional loss of comfort, a good thing, is an eye-opener, a reminder that we need to consider our electric system to strengthen inherent weakness and work. The grid can break. It is not too good for failure.

ELISA wood is a long-time energy writer, whose Werk is available under

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