March 1, 2012 - We interviewed Maggie Koerth-Baker from www.boingboing.net about where our infrastructure came from, where it is now, and what it needs to become. In her own words,
“1) What the electric grid is:
The key thing here, it’s not just wires, it’s a circuit of wires connecting power plants to your house and then back around to power plants. You have to have that complete circuit, or the whole thing fails. In that way, the grid is a lot like a lazy river at a water park. You always end up back where you started. Along the same lines, the grid has to operate at a constant speed (frequency) and a constant depth (voltage). In order to make that happen, we have to have an almost perfect balance between electric supply and electric demand. That balance is extremely important and it’s not easy to maintain.
2) The electric grid was not designed, it evolved. More importantly, it evolved in the hands of people who had no idea what they were doing.
The big idea here is that the electric grid as it currently operates is not an ideal system. It’s weak. It exposes us to risks we shouldn’t have to take with something so vital to everyday life. And all of this goes back to the fact that the grid was built to be cheap, to go up fast, and to get the job done. And it was built by lots of different people who weren’t coordinating their efforts, at least not for the first five decades or so. It wasn’t planned out to be the best system it could be. And that affects both how it works today and what we can do with it in the future, particularly in regards to renewables.
3) There are things we can do to make the grid better
Adding storage to the grid will make it more stable and allow us to better integrate wind and solar power
Smart grids can help on those things as well.Producing power in a more local way can make the grid stronger and increase our access to renewable resources.
4) The problems with energy are bigger than what you and I do at home
Changing the way we make and use energy is about more than just changing the source of where we get our energy. We can’t just continue on exactly as we’ve been doing but with wind instead of coal. That’s because our problem isn’t just fossil fuels, it’s infrastructure. Our infrastructures have to change first. That’s not just electric infrastructure, it’s lots of different infrastructures. Those are the big changes that allow personal, individual choices to add up into something large-scale and meaningful. Switching your light bulbs at home won’t solve our energy problems, switching the way the grid operates will. If you buy a Prius it won’t solve our energy problems, changing the way our cities are designed so that more people can live their lives without cars will. “
You can find Maggie’s latest book, Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Policy Before it Conquers Us on Amazon.