Friday, May 09, 2008

Great Filter - The U.S. Electric Grid?

The U. S. electric grid: will it be our undoing? Quite a few people believe that if there is a decline in oil production, we can make up much of the difference by increasing our use of electricity--more nuclear, wind, solar voltaic, geothermal or even coal. The problem with this model is that it assumes that our electric grid will be working well enough for this to happen. It seems to me that there is substantial doubt that this will be the case.
From what I have learned in researching this topic, I expect that in the years ahead, we in the United States will have more and more problems with our electric grid. This is likely to result in electrical outages of greater and greater durations.

The primary reason for the likely problems is the fact that in the last few decades, the electric power industry has moved from being a regulated monopoly to an industry following more of a free market, competitive model. With this financing model, electricity is transported over long distances, as electricity is bought and sold by different providers. Furthermore, some of the electricity that is bought and sold is variable in supply, like wind and solar voltaic. A substantial upgrade to the electrical grid is needed to support all of these activities, but our existing financing models make it very difficult to fund such an upgrade.

If frequent electrical outages become common, these problems are likely to spill over into the oil and natural gas sectors. One reason this may happen is because electricity is used to move oil and natural gas through the pipelines. In addition, gas stations use electricity when pumping gasoline, and homeowners often have natural gas water heaters and furnaces with electric ignition. These too are likely to be disrupted by electrical power outages.
Seems to me that the $50-100 Trillion infrastructure re-investment needs to be directed toward the power grid. That's a place where the federal government can intervene decisively to establish and enforce advanced, highly efficient digital standards and compliance with the same - which yield profound benefits across every sector of our economy. Bottomline, in order for the hypercar to thrive as leap forward in efficient transportation, then the power grid is going to have to be up to the task of supporting that significant added burden, i.e., folks plugging in their hypercars at night.