Brenda Cooper

A smart power grid would be nice just now

I’m in the Seattle area (Bellevue, to be exact) watching an ice storm develop outside.  The tiny pellets of snow that fell while we were cooking dinner have turned to tiny pellets of ice, and it’s become quite cold and dark outside.  At the moment there is light shining on me and a mess of Christmas wrap, my computer is plugged into the wall, the dryer is drying the last load of laundry for the weekend, the dishwasher is running, the heater is working, and we’re listening to Northwest Cable News.

Power is already our for some.

They expect it to go out for a lot of us.

If I understand our system right, there are a number of huge lines that run from the hydropower in the mountains (where they expect ice and 90 mile an hour gusts of wind), and feed almost all of this huge metroplex.  They went down two years ago in a windstorm and we were out of power for a long time (3 days for us; up to a week for others).

A smart grid would let us route power around to where we need it more efficiently.  A lot of power lines run one way.  That’s not because of the lines, or physics, but because the electronics and design send much power one way.  Two years ago, there was power in Seattle, but none of it got routed here, to communities across the lake.  A smarter grid could prioritize power and spread less to more people.

More localized smart generation and distribution could see big buildings providing electricity to the immediate neighborhood, hospitals collecting enough solar to meet their own most critical needs, etc. 

I live near Microsoft and Nintendo.  In one likely coming scenario, they might provide me power (tech companies are investing in the power grid – they depend on it, and its failing.  No power, no Internet.  No MSN, no online gaming).  In another, we might store power in batteries in electric cars, and be able to draw on it when we need it.  In a third, the grid keeps deteriorating, and we are always prepared for failure, the way we are prepared tonight.  We’ve charged up the electric lanterns, dug out the extra blankets, and found our warmest socks. 

Wish us luck, and a strong power grid.  There are already others without one; see this CNN video.