Our Electrical Grid – Past, Present, and Future
Over the last several years there have plenty of headlines pointing out when a piece of infrastructure fails. Whether it’s bridge collapses or railway accidents, those failures could require us to invest nearly $2 Trillion over the next decade. Simply throwing money at the problem isn’t going to be enough at this point, though.
To understand the true scope of the challenges we’re facing, we need to fully understand how we got to this point and we also need to lay out a plan for the future that goes beyond partisan politics and the 24 hour news cycle. In this new blog series, I’ll attempt to dig into the issue from a few different angles!
The world’s first commercial power grid was introduced by Thomas Edison in 1882 and that kicked off an age of rampant American innovation which surged well through the 1920’s. With over a century of growing pains and stress, the modern 3 stage electrical grid is showing its age. As a result, this grid blacks out more than any other developed nation on the planet!
The Challenges of an Aging Grid
Obviously, there are a number of challenges that come with age but one of the riskiest is on the national security front. Given that most of our grid was built in the 50’s and 60’s with turn of the century engineering, it should be no surprise that the system is struggling to keep pace with the threats of our modern digital era.
In the U.S. we have spent the past 30 years, and trillions of dollars developing sophisticated weapon systems that deploy stealth technology in order to sneak through enemy defenses. It’s unsettling to think that a few computer engineers with a state sponsor can employ a relatively low tech cyber attack and send a modern industrial nation like the U.S. back to the stone age.
It’s not all dark clouds though! As always, necessity is the mother of invention and there are some pretty unique products and approaches hitting the market that can offer some end-arounds to the challenges facing the aging U.S. grid. In particular, self sufficient, localized electrical generation systems are taking some of the strain off of the larger system. In addition to shouldering some of the weight, these systems aren’t “plugged in” to the traditional infrastructure which means they aren’t exposed to the same types of cyber threats we’ve encountered recently.
Outside of generating “new” power more efficiently, the latest achievements in power storage like Tesla’s incredible new battery are raising a lot of eyebrows. At worst, batteries can serve as a handy backup in the case of a lengthy power outage. At best, they can be combined with locally produced power (solar, geo-thermal, hydro-kinetic, wind turbine) to help cut the umbilical cord and reduce strain on the system even more.
In the next several posts in this series I’m going to discuss some other challenges and opportunities but I’ll also carve out some time to discuss what we can probably expect in the future and how exactly that will impact (for better or worse) the trades moving forward.
I know that most of my audience is uniquely effected by this subject I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic too!