Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Upgrading the Grid

I sometimes hear the criticism that the upgrades to the grid required to accommodate renewable energy will be too expensive. But the grid is like any complex infrastructure system; it would need to be upgraded even if we didn't bring new energy sources online. The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is proposing ways to move the electrical grid into the 21st century:
Power utilities spend only 0.2 percent of their revenues on research and development, less than any other industry except papermaking, said Massoud Amin, a University of Minnesota professor who has long promoted upgrading the power system.

One consequence is increased power outages. From 2000 to 2004, the United States experienced 149 blackouts, each of which affected at least 50,000 people. From 2005 to 2009, that figure more than doubled, to 349, according to Energy Department data.
A smarter grid that would more efficiently dispatch renewable energy would also help reduce the number of outages. It would particularly benefit customers on the east coast, where population density and congestion force us to pay higher prices than much of the rest of the country. By the way, one appealing feature of the Bloom Energy fuel cells is that they can provide reliable, on site generation for large energy users, reducing the need to dispatch power over the grid.


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