Continental Grid Vision Needed
Dec 11, 2007 - Martin Rosenberg
- EnergyBiz Magazine
Imagine no electricity existed in the
United States. Suddenly, a lab discovers the utility
of coursing electrons, and the age of electricity
is launched. Assume we immediately learned everything
we now know about how to generate electricity using
the sun, wind, nuclear power, hydropower, natural
gas, geothermal resources and coal.
Planners would quickly conclude that
a network of wires would be needed to link production
facilities with power users, and rural resources with
urban centers. Imagine that our brightest engineers
and scientists were tasked with designing and building
a grid that accomplished all that and did so, not
only economically and efficiently, but also in a manner
that minimized reliance on resources that might be
harming the environment. On top of that, the grid
must be flexible enough to accommodate future evolutions
of power technology, including the advent of plug-in
hybrid vehicles, hydrogen power and new energy storage
|We are talking about equipment deployed before
a man walked on the Moon, before cell phones and
the Internet, when Frank Sinatra was in his prime.
Now open your eyes and take a fresh
look at the transmission grid as it exists today,
with many elements approaching or exceeding their
planned lifetime. We are talking about equipment deployed
before a man walked on the Moon, before cell phones
and the Internet, when Frank Sinatra was in his prime.
How do we get from what we see today
to where we would want to be if we were to design
a transmission grid from scratch? Complicating the
question is that the challenge must be met "on the
run," while phasing out obsolete and aging plants.
Grid leaders convened to ponder such
questions in Washington in June at a GridWeek conference
organized by the Department of Energy and corporate
sponsors. Energy Central emailed attendees a questionnaire
and received a respectable number of responses. Asked
to rank the severity of challenges confronting the
grid on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being "most
severe," the attendees gave responses that averaged
For a question asking attendees to judge
the likelihood of a major power outage in the next
five years, with 10 being "most likely," the average
of the responses was 8.
Regarding America's awareness of the
problems facing the grid, with 10 being "most aware,"
the average of the responses was 3.
The industry faces an educational and
political hurdle of the first order — educating the
public about a complex, costly problem at a time it
is rightfully concerned about the threat of terrorism
and the war in Iraq.
But sizable investments are flowing
— and it would be a sin if they proceeded without
a coordinated vision of a desired outcome. In October,
the PJM board approved $2.1 billion in transmission
additions and upgrade, including a 500-kilovolt, 230-mile
line in the Delmarva Peninsula. American Electric
Power has proposed a $3 billion, 765-kilovolt, 550-mile
line and Allegheny Energy wants to build a $1.4 billion,
500-kilovolt, 210-mile line.
A total of $31.5 billion is expected
to be invested in transmission between 2006 and 2009,
up 58 percent from 2002 through 2005, according to
the Edison Electric Institute.
Is all this activity well-coordinated
for the best outcome? That question cannot be answered
affirmatively without the articulation of a clear
national vision for our grid. That is why Michael
Morris, chief executive of American Electric Power,
wants to launch a campaign to build "an interstate
Just as America built an extensive network
of highways spanning the continent after World War
II, it now must undertake a project of similar scope
to strengthen and modernize the electrical backbone
of the nation. "It is time that a national energy
grid be built," Morris recently told the Utility Perspectives
conference convened in Boston by Quanta Services.
"This nation is woefully short of 24/7 power plants
Individual actors will do their part,
as AEP, PJM and others demonstrate. But their efforts
must be part of a broader, coordinated effort. Imagine
your morning commute if we still relied on two-lane
highways. Imagine the economic, social and environmental
gains to be realized by taking our power grid out
of its two-lane time warp.
Martin Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief
of EnergyBiz Magazine. He has written extensively
about energy, technology, finance and international
business. His freelance work has appeared in the New
York Times, USA Today, Seattle Times, Japan Times
and other publications. He and previously was editor-in-chief
of Utility Business, a monthly publication that won
numerous journalism awards.
This article originally appeared in
November/December 2007 issue of EnergyBiz Magazine
and was republished with permission from CyberTech,
Inc. For more information, please visit www.energybizmag.com.
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