Global energy grid a salvation
for developing countries
by Chris Klein and Peter Meisen
Solve overpopulation, infant mortality, chronic
hunger, fossil fuel pollution, deforestation and
desertification through a global electrical grid.
Sound like a bold statement?
If the members of GENI - Global Energy Network,
International - are correct, we could expect this
and much more.
years ago, R. Buckminster Fuller, self-taught inventor,
scientist and mathematician, proposed interconnecting
regional power systems into a single, continuous world
electric grid. While his global vision is still decades
away, technological advances over the past two decades
have made the linking of international and interregional
networks practical today.
The World Game
The importance of a global electrical network was a
startling result of Mr. Fuller's "World Game". The World
Game is a serious exercise, where players are asked
to be world planners and "to make the world work for
100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time
through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense
or the disadvantage of anyone." The game bypasses politics,
human ignorance, prejudice and war, and is the opposite
of a war game.
World Game is played on special maps that show the distribution
of population world wide. The input to the game is all
the planet's resources, human needs, trends and technical
know-how. Society and human needs are many: food, water,
shelter, health care, education, communications, travel,
economics, and infrastructure, like roads, sewers and
energy. The goal of the World Game is to deliver resources
so that everyone's standard of living can be improved
to the "bare maximum." We're all familiar with the notion
of bare minimum - just enough to survive. Bare maximum
is the set of resources that will allow everyone to
fully realize their potential.
World Game has been played many hundreds of times. The
surprising result is that the games almost always revolve
around a common point: electrical power is required
for industrialization. Whether the issue is food, communications,
transportation, housing, health care or economics, electrical
energy plays a significant role. In every hypothesis
about how to satisfy humanity's needs, electricity is
GENI is no dream
was founded in 1985 by longtime San Diego resident Peter
Meisen. The goal of GENI is to educate all people, especially
world leaders, about the potential benefits of Fuller's
proposed global electric grid. No stranger to large
projects, Peter previously distinguished himself as
the cofounder of the SHARE food-distribution program,
now serving more than a quarter of a million people
in a dozen states.
and Fuller's plan are attracting substantial interest
in local and international arenas, including highly
placed political figures and the technologists responsible
for the electrical transmission infrastructure.
President Al Gore said of the plan, "A global energy
network makes enormous sense if we are to meet global
energy needs with a minimal impact on the world's environment."
Velikhov, vice-president of the Russian Academy of Sciences,
acknowledged, "Its accomplishment can produce concrete
economical benefits and serve as a positive influence
in solving global ecological problems. The extensive
international cooperation necessary would mean alternative
expenditures to armaments, and at the same time help
overcome socioeconomic problems which exist today in
articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers,
and stories have run on radio and TV. Serious articles
about the practicality and technology required to establish
the power grid have appeared in respected trade publications
such as Transmission and Distribution International
and Power Generation Technology.
looks like the global energy grid is an idea whose time
Power to the people
technology required to implement a global electrical
grid is a relatively new development. As recently as
30 years ago, electricity could only be efficiently
transported about 350 miles. Breakthroughs in materials
science extended this transmission distance to 1,500
state-of-the-art ultrahigh voltage (UHV) transmission
lines extend this distance to 4,000 miles. Application
of this technology will allow power exchange between
the northern and southern hemispheres, as well as the
east and west.
most obvious benefit of this technology is to move power
from where it can be cheaply and efficiently generated
to where it is needed. However, another important benefit
is the enhanced ability to make use of environmentally
sound, renewable resources.
are massive sources of renewables in specific locations,
not always where the big population centers are located,"
explains Peter Meisen. "But they are within transmission
sources of renewable power include:
Electric estimates that capturing the solar energy available
in 400 square miles of desert could supply our total
global power needs through the year 2000. According
to global engineering firm ASEA Brown Baveri, we have
only tapped 14 percent of available hydropower.
- Large untapped hydroelectric sites in Latin America,
Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Southeast Asia and Africa.
- Tidal sites in Argentina, Canada, Siberia, China,
Australia and India.
- Solar potential circles the earth in Mexico, USA,
Africa, the Middle East, Russia, India, China and
- Geothermal potential around the Pacific Ocean's
"ring of fire," in the Rift Valley of Africa, and
On the level
important benefit comes from load leveling - the sharing
of energy between areas of high and low demand. The
need for electrical power changes dramatically during
the course of a day and from season to season. Usage
is low at night when lights are off and people are sleeping
and high during the day when people and businesses are
working. In cold climates, usage is substantially higher
during winter, while warm climates usually use more
energy in the summer.
variation is bad news for electric utilities. Electric
generators, particularly fossil fuel and nuclear, are
most efficient when run 24 hours a day. To meet peak-load
demand, generators must be turned on during the daytime
and turned off in the evening. This cycle is repeated
every day for every city around the world. In addition,
excess power must be generated in case of emergencies
such as a generator failure. If not sold, this excess
power is a total loss.
power transmission lines have solved the problem of
wasted power. Utilities routinely buy and sell power
among themselves. If a utility can buy cheaper power
and not have to turn on a generator, a real win-win
situation is created. The buyer wins with cheaper power
and the seller wins by being able to sell its excess
power for profit.
high voltage transmission lines, utilities now even
out the peak-and-valley usage patterns of adjacent time
zones. The last 25 years have seen the growth of extensive
interconnected power grids. This includes the countries
of the former Soviet Union, Europe, Scandinavia, Mexico
and the eastern and western United States. More than
50 nations have interconnections across their borders.
the future, Fuller's vision will make it possible to
interconnect the power grids of separate continents.
Power generators on the night side of the planet can
continue to run at maximum efficiency and sell the power
to the day side, which can avoid activating additional
utilities reserve their older and less efficient generators
- and usually their most polluting - to handle the peak
load times. With global load leveling these low-efficiency
units can remain off.
utilities must now have peak generating capacity that
is typically no less than twice the daily average demand,
this worldwide load leveling could effectively double
the available generating capacity, with a resulting
reduction in cost and an increase in everyone's standard
also means there would be enough power for the developing
nations, plus the means of delivery.
Efficient energy generation
global energy grid will result in more efficient generation
by improvement in infrastructure in the developing world.
The first and second world economies have learned to
be more efficient with resources; being able to do "more
with less" is a natural law, once you have gone beyond
the past 20 years the U.S. economy grew by 40 percent
while the energy demand remained constant. Still, 80
percent of energy use generates some kind of toxic pollution.
Therefore, efficiency alone is not enough to resolve
the difficult environmental issues.
the next 20 years, the energy demand of developing countries
will double. To avoid this clear environmental crisis,
we must ensure the use of renewable resources and state-of-the-art,
Population and energy demand
global population continues to grow at an accelerated
rate. We now add a billion people in just one decade.
This is striking when you realize we had only 2.5 billion
just halfway through this century, compared to 5.5 billion
of this population increase will come from the developing
countries. Just as noteworthy, once a society reaches
an adequate living standard, the rate of growth levels
off. As can be seen in accompanying figures, population
growth is inversely correlated to energy use. That is,
societies that show a higher energy use also have a
lower birth rate.
with good family-planning practices, many development
specialists feel that a fundamental way to empower declining
birth rates in developing nations in a morally acceptable
manner is to help them improve their living standards.
Once a family can sustain itself, there is no need for
"insurance births" which create the large families required
to support the elders in later life. When adequate health
care and infrastructure are available, lower infant
mortality also reduces the number of births required
to ensure a stable family. Access to a cheap, reliable,
plentiful supply of energy is vital to this goal.
Paying the electrical bill
a "backbone" of the global grid: starting at the tip
of South America, proceeding through Central America
to the United States, reaching up past Canada and Alaska,
crossing the Bering Strait to Siberia, thence on to
the Middle East and ending at the southern tip of Africa.
At an average cost of $1 million per mile, this 25,000-mile
UHV line would cost around $25 billion. This is a lot
of money, but only 5 percent of the combined annual
military budgets of the United States and Russia.
course, a single line would not do the trick. To totally
and appropriately interconnect the world's population
centers would require several times this length. One
must also add the cost of local distribution systems
where such do not exist. However, unlike some huge projects
that only show a benefit at the end - the "Star Wars"
defense system, for example - the global grid provides
returns as each leg of the system is put into place.
a time when we are looking for economic conversion -
a way to turn our guns into plowshares and our industrial/military
machine to useful purposes - the global grid is a perfect
target. This is a large-scale, no-holds-barred, high-tech
project that the large publicly-funded defense establishment
could transition to.
Letting the GENI out of the bottle
mission is to "accelerate the attainment of the optimal
ecologically sustainable energy solution in the shortest
period of time for the peace, health and prosperity
of us all." The organization is engaged in two primary
activities to achieve this goal.
is the one key to the mission. "We have to get a critical
mass of people who know that there is an energy alternative,"
says Peter Meisen. "Right now, they just don't know."
spread the word, GENI makes presentations, participates
in conferences, produces and distributes videos, newsletters,
and other information tools. GENI is currently working
on an hour-long documentary film, appropriate for
international broadcast, to help tell their story.
has affiliates in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore,
Moscow, Texas, Alaska and the U.K. which are helping
to spread the word. These affiliates are organized
and run by small groups of volunteers who share the
vision and assist with education and fund-raising.
second major focus is the creation of a sophisticated
computer model of world energy over the next year.
Peter explains, "Inputs to the model are world energy;
population; time-zone data; available renewable and
nonrenewable resources; and costs and demand centers.
By optimizing the model, we hope to produce an energy
scenario with a better bottom line and better environmentally.
We'll be asking, 'is this an optimal scenario for
5.5 billion people?'"
purpose of the model is not to determine whether this
is a good idea - there is plenty of qualitative evidence
for that. As Peter points out, every transmission
line ever built has proved to be better economically
than expected, based on the figures originally used
to justify its construction. What an incredible record.
are plenty of individual connections going in around
the world right now, but there's no defined goal,
no commonality. Each is being controlled by the local
bureaucracies, whether in California or the Middle
East, to solve local problems. GENI feels that if
they can garner worldwide agreement about the validity
of the scenarios developed from their computer model,
transcending political boundaries, then there is an
opportunity and justification to create unified systems.
"If we can define a better vision for us all, then
everybody will be driving toward that much more quickly,"
explains Peter. "With today's known, technically feasible
technology, we can tap the world's enormous renewable
energy potential and deliver it to the world's population
Mr. Fuller's most visible and remembered contribution
to modern life may be the geodesic dome, his vision
of the global electrical grid, linking renewable resources
for our "global village," may be his most important
contribution to life in the next century.
- Become a member and make a financial
contribution to GENI. Most of GENI's income
comes from private pledges.
GENI depends on volunteers to take their vision
to the world. Specific needs are:
- Office help: filing, organizing, mailing,
- Research associates for computer model: individuals
with computer and/or modeling expertise are
Arrange a presentation for your group, class, or
the vision: Share the GENI vision with friends
and business associates. Videos
are available at a nominal cost.
You can reach GENI by phone at +1-619-595-0139. Their
mailing adrress is: P.O. Box 81565/ San Diego, CA