The electricity grid in the U.S. wastes power and discourages the use of renewable sources of energy like solar and wind. The aging power grid must change to keep up with 21st-century demands, or blackouts and brownouts will cost Americans an estimated $80 billion a year.
The electricity grid in the U.S. wastes power and discourages the use of renewable sources of energy like solar and wind. The grid still relies on technology from the 1960s, says journalist Joel Achenbach, who wrote about the nation’s electrical infrastructure in an article in July’s National Geographic magazine.
In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Achenbach tells contributor Dave Davies that most people don’t think about the way electricity from a power plant hundreds of miles away may be used to turn on a light bulb in their home.
“We’ve just become so accustomed to [the electric power grid] — it’s like oxygen,” he says. “But we can’t take it for granted. Things go wrong, and suddenly 50 million people are without power, and then they notice the grid and they learn about the system behind the magic.”
Achenbach’s article examines how the aging power grid must change to keep up with 21st-century demands. Blackouts and brownouts, he writes, cost Americans an estimated $80 billion a year — and unless upgrades are made, the grid will continue to be “prone to failure.”
Creating a smarter energy grid — one that allows information to go back and forth between consumer and energy producer — would provide information like who is using power when, and both consumers and energy providers would then be able to adjust accordingly, Achenbach explains.
“The goal — what people would like to do is create a smart grid that’s not just electricity going down a line, a wire that has no information coming back,” he says. “If you think about it, those power lines that go to your house — they’re not like broadband cable. There’s no data going on that, and the power company typically does not know how much electricity I’m using unless they send a meter reader to come and look at a meter on the side of my house. So when are we going to bring this into the 21st century?”
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Photo: Alyson Hurt and Andrew Prince | NPR
Caption: The U.S. electric grid is a complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines. Aging infrastructure, combined with a rise in domestic electricity consumption, has forced experts to critically examine the status and health of the nation’s electrical systems.