Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Grid Lock

A month ago, I posted an article about sweeping systemic weaknesses in the U.S. electrical power grid. Sure enough, gridlock is beginning to take its toll as folks seek to bring alternative power sources online;
Thousands of wind turbines in the US are sitting idle or failing to meet their full generating capacity because of a shortage of power lines able to transmit their electricity to the rest of the grid.

The issue of transmission capacity will be high up the agenda as 10,000 wind power industry executives descend this week on Houston, Texas, where the shortage of power lines is hampering the state's alternative energy plans. The problem is particularly acute in Texas because of the speed with which it has grown its wind power industry, two years ago surpassing California as the state with the most capacity. The solutions devised in Texas could form a model for the future of the industry in the US and elsewhere, as energy companies look beyond fossil fuels for cheaper and greener sources of power.
and, as folks flee the rising costs of heating fuel and try to get their home heating needs met by power off the grid;
An emerging issue around the world and perhaps here soon is that people are switching to electric heat in response to higher heating fuel prices or actual shortages. An overload of the grid leads to "load shedding" or a complete shutdown. Rolling blackouts are the daily fare in many countries already (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, China, India, Albania, Argentina, Tajikistan, etc etc). Lack of reliable electricity already has had devastating consequences to the economy in those countries. E.g., in South Africa many mines and coal-to-liquid fuel plants had to shut down, inoperable traffic lights snarl traffic, farmers cannot irrigate their fields nor ventilate stored harvests, and dairy farmers cannot milk their cows.

Here in Vermont the current fixed low price for electricity is actually no more expensive (per delivered BTU) than the current prices of propane and heating oil (but not natural gas, yet). Check out the state's fuel price report - the per-btu chart is in the PDF report linked from there. Also, while many are pondering how to afford a fuel delivery, everybody can "buy" electricity on credit, and are not quickly disconnected if they put off paying the bill. If too many people plug in electric heaters during a cold snap, this may cause a bigger problem. If blackouts result, most people would lose their heating altogether: only those with wood stoves or generators would retain heating.
We're not even talking about the hybrid hypercars yet that will get 100 plus MPG and need to be plugged in at night to recharge, instead, we're talking about meeting existing basic needs, and, trying to bring renewable power sources online. Seems to me that a $50-100 Trillion infrastructure re-investment needs to be directed toward the power grid. Hmm.., wonder where that money's gonna come from?