The US electrical grid has insufficient storage capabilities. Thus, power must always be available from generating plants when needed. In total, the US has enough power to meet most any demand. However, getting power from one grid to another can be problematic.
The Texas ERCOT grid was designed to be self-contained and not need outside sources of power, a laudable goal indeed, but it may have backfired a bit on them . ERCOT is projected to be below target capacity this summer. But, due to its design, it is difficult to import electricity into ERCOT quickly. This is a good example of the problems faced by the grid. (And before someone gets snarky about Texas, it has vastly more installed wind power than any other state.)
Welcome to the increasingly unstable power situation in the US. We’re getting like the Third World, aren’t we?
No it’s not Yemen, where power outages in the capital Sana’a have sparked a new round of protests. It’s the United States of America, where corruption converges with a moribund electricity distribution system to produce increasingly frequent blackouts across the Midwest and East Coast.
Blackouts in these areas are becoming the norm. Too many power companies fired support staff assuming they would get temp help when needed. After all, “shareholder value” must be boosted so screw the reliability of the electrical grid.
I grew up in Connecticut and have family and friends there. An admittedly freak snow storm last October took down trees across the state. Power was out for over a week for many homes. Had the power company been trimming tree branches as they should have been, much of this would have been avoided. Worse, they had to hire contractors from other states to clean up the mess because they’d laid off much of their own staff to cut costs and boost that all-important stock price. Also, the Connecticut grid and interconnects are old and feeble. This contributes to unstable power and the grid should have been upgraded years ago. Stable electricity is too important to be left in the hands of companies solely interested in making a profit.
Everyone would like to know why [more blackouts are happening]. The answer is simple, and three-fold: An outdated electricity distribution system, corruption and mismanagement.
The World Resources Institute reports on the growing problem with our electrical grid, which was never meant to handle renewable energy, where generation starts and stops quickly and comes from all directions too.
Renewable energy resources are location constrained and often available only in remote areas. Their energy must therefore be transported via connected transmission lines (the grid) to demand centers, such as cities. Second, because RE resources are typically intermittent, this energy must be stored or managed with other generation sources to provide a stable and reliable service to consumers.
Widely distributed power could help here, but the only practical way to do that is solar on rooftops. This means the grid must be able to handle power generation from thousands of sources that can generate furiously then stop within seconds, like when a cloud passes overhead.
United States electricity generation and transmission planning and siting are managed in a highly local and fragmented manner. Renewable energy goals are currently set by states, rather than by the federal government, complicating broader regional planning for renewable electricity generation and supporting transmission.
A national grid requires national policy. That’s what we need to work towards.
Yes, Exxon. One reason is that once installed, wind has no fuel costs (the same is true for solar, geothermal, and hydro) while coal, gas, and nuclear do. Over time, this cuts costs dramatically.
However – and this is a big However – this chart from ExxonMobil notes at the bottom that their wind and solar projections do not include the costs of an upgraded grid and energy storage. Both of these are essential for renewable energy to be effective at grid-scale.
Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.
But the programs weren’t activated and no damage was done. Unnamed sources said the attacks probably came from Russia and China without offering any actual proof.
I’m always a bit suspicious of unsourced warnings like this, especially with their timing, like maybe someone has an agenda – and indeed…
The Obama administration is weighing whether to expand the [cybersecurity] program to address vulnerabilities in private computer networks, which would cost billions of dollars more.
However, the US electrical grid is creaky, aging, and probably simple enough to penetrate. All the more reason for a new smart grid, which is redundant, secure, and delivers power reliably and consistently.
John Sweeney ran his fridge, freezer, wood stove fan and even his television and lights using his Prius for three days while the power was out in his town. By using an inverter to convert the car’s DC power supply into household AC, Sweeney was able to generate 120 volts.
And he only used five gallons of gas to do it.
This is a glimmer of what a smart grid could be. Stored energy feeding back into the grid or to wherever it is needed.
Much of the energy we generate is wasted in the process of generation or transmission (56.2%, here in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration). As I understand it, by wasted we don’t mean that it’s used, but not used effectively. We mean that it is not used at all. It is the current dumped into the ground by power plants whose generation exceeds demand and other generated energy that accomplishes no task.
Imagine how much money, energy, and emissions we would save if we just used what we generated and the grid was smart.
Former CIA director James Woolsey turned “green hawk” cleantech venture capitalist asks a panel at a Google/Brookings conference what is being done to prevent our aging electrical grid from being hacked, with potentially serious damage resulting. He cites two major blackouts he believes were caused by “Chinese paragovernmental hackers.”
While some panelists thought he might have overstated the case,Â “the grid now is too inefficient to be taken out” completely (golly, how reassuring) but the “capacity to destroy hardware” through attacks exists now and there is a “very real security threat from doing nothing.”
Interestingly, a primary way to prevent attacks is by decentralizing the grid, which is precisely what we need to do anyway as we create additional sources of renewable energy and make the grid smarter and more resilient.