Normally I try to write about topics that are immediately relevant to businesses, but I just read an article in this month’s issue of Discover magazine and I couldn’t pass up the chance to talk about the future of our national power grid. The article called “Rising Power” described the hurdles involved in delivering renewable energy across the country.
President Obama requested that Congress increase renewable energy to one-fourth of America’s power supply by 2025. There are two key limitations of our national power infrastructure that must be overcome before that goal is even feasible: 1) Distribution and 2) Supply. Michael Heyeck, senior vice president for transmission at American Electric Power likens the existing power grid to the highway system of the 1950-s – congested and overloaded – before President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System fixed that. Beyond delivering power, the grid must ensure that it is used efficiently for the times when winds ebb or the sun goes behind a cloud, especially since the grid has little or no storage capacity.
Solutions to both of these issues already exist. China is building an extra-high voltage HVDC line to deliver power from a hydropower megaproject. Similar lines could carry power from wind farms in the Great Plains to the Atlantic and Pacific costs. Xcel Energy is piloting a “smart grid” program in Boulder, Colorado, in which the power grid communicates demand levels with a smart meter in each home. Xcel will have hard numbers from the project in 2010, and we could start seeing smart grids all over the country within 5 years.
As for storage, some experts believe plug-in hybrid cars are part of the solution, using the smart grid to direct energy to homes and businesses during peak demand. Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, even goes as far as predicting utilities may pay drivers to keep their mobile batteries plugged into the grid. It is too soon to say for sure, but this could create a great new avenue for businesses to cut costs by investing in hybrid fleets. For now businesses should keep an eye on the direction in which technology is heading.
For more information about government programs in renewable energy, check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website.
Learn more about wind energy at the American Wind Energy Association website.
Here is more on the SmartGridCity project Xcel Energy is conducting in Boulder, Colorado.