Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Better, stronger, faster

By Carl

The television show The Six Million Dollar Man used this as an opening monologue:

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.

That program was about a test pilot crippled in a horrendous crash, rebuilt using the (then) latest technology.

So it goes with our electrical grid, if only in fits and starts and drips and drabs:

Winners in the Obama administration's $3.4 billion smart grid sweepstakes were exultant. Some losers sounded bitter. But there seemed to be no quarrel that yesterday's Energy Department grants will accelerate revolutionary changes in the ways electricity is generated and managed by utilities and their consumers.

"The grid has to evolve to support where policy is driving us," said Chris Baker, senior vice president and chief information officer of San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which won a $28.1 million federal smart grid grant yesterday. It will help to fund a $60 million futuristic information management system that ties key elements of its smart grid together.

As events of August 2003, as well as events early in the Bush administration demonstrated, we are running a 21st Century economy on bearskins and bone knives, in terms of electrical power.

The grid as it stands is basically a series of local nodes inadequately joined to create large regional swaths of interconnected power feeds. If one plant goes off line, another can shunt electricity to that region and draw on others down the line. This all happens incredibly fast with incredible amounts of power being rerouted chaotically, without function or form.

Not good, particularly as the ultimate oversight is a guy with a button or switch, in case things get hairy. As 2003 demonstrated, many times that guy ain't fast enough.

Current monitoring of power flow takes places in whole seconds, when milliseconds have proven to be critical in determining how to route power. That's going to change. This means that routing will not take place in chunks of power but in fine-tuned streaming.

That's going to save a lot in terms of efficiency, repairs, and load on the grid.

Ultimately, I would hope the goal for energy in America is tons of small, renewable energy plants sprinkled across the landscape, and a power grid that can fine tune the low-power generation that renewable sources will create into plentiful electricity for the nation.

It's just smarter that way.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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