EU5C. Stay Current—America Plugged In

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Staying current for Chapter 5

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2024-05-14. New Rules to Overhaul Electric Grids Could Boost Wind and Solar Power. By Brad Plumer, The New York Times. Excerpt: Federal regulators on Monday approved sweeping changes to how America’s electric grids are planned and funded, in a move that supporters hope could spur thousands of miles of new high-voltage power lines and make it easier to add more wind and solar energy. The new rule by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission …which was two years in the making, requires grid operators around the country to identify needs 20 years into the future, taking into account factors like changes in the energy mix, the growing number of states that require wind and solar power and the risks of extreme weather. Grid planners would have to evaluate the benefits of new transmission lines, such as whether they would lower electricity costs or reduce the risk of blackouts, and develop methods for splitting the costs of those lines among customers and businesses…. Full article at

2024-04-09. The U.S. Urgently Needs a Bigger Grid. Here’s a Fast Solution.. [] By Brad Plumer, The New York Times. Excerpt: One of the biggest obstacles to expanding clean energy in the United States is a lack of power lines. Building new transmission lines can take a decade or more because of permitting delays and local opposition. But there may be a faster, cheaper solution, according to two reports released Tuesday. Replacing existing power lines with cables made from state-of-the-art materials could roughly double the capacity of the electric grid in many parts of the country, making room for much more wind and solar power….

2023-10-17. Lack of ambition and attention risks making electricity grids the weak link in clean energy transitions. [] By International Energy Agency (IEA). Excerpt: First-of-its-kind global study finds the world must add or replace 80 million km of grids by 2040, equal to all grids globally today, to meet national climate targets and support energy security. …Achieving all national climate and energy goals will require adding or replacing 80 million kilometres of power lines by 2040 – an amount equal to the entire existing global grid – according to a detailed country-by-country analysis carried out for the report. Major changes to how grids operate and are regulated are also essential, while annual investment in grids, which has remained broadly stagnant, needs to double to more than USD 600 billion a year by 2030…. See also the Oct 19 article US invests $3.5 billion to bolster power grid, deploy clean energy by Timothy Gardner, Reuters.

2023-09-07. Off the Grid. [] By DAN CHARLES, Science. Excerpt: Computer models that forecast overloaded power lines are holding back U.S. solar and wind energy projects. …Southwest Power Pool (SPP) …and other U.S. grid operators are facing an unprecedented tsunami of requests from energy firms to connect thousands of proposed wind, solar, and power storage projects to their transmission lines. The projects are essential to meeting the U.S. goal of eliminating all planet-warming carbon emissions from the nation’s electricity supply by 2035, analysts say. Together, they could generate almost 2000 gigawatts of electricity—exceeding the total capacity of the country’s existing power plants. Most of these projects, however, have been stuck in limbo for years, waiting in what energy insiders call the “interconnection queue.” One contributor to the bottleneck: mathematical simulations that SPP and other operators use to predict how electricity from those new power generators will affect the grid’s stability and reliability. …grid operators require renewable power producers to pay up front for expensive transmission upgrades. But many can’t afford those improvements and must abandon their plans. …“Interconnection is becoming one of the leading barriers to bringing projects online,” says Joe Rand, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who tracks projects in the interconnection queue. …Some researchers and renewable power advocates argue that the interconnection logjam is, in part, a product of flawed simulations based on assumptions that are too conservative and sometimes unreasonable….

2023-08-07. What if Your Town Doubled as a Private Power Grid?. [] By Kaya Laterman, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Heron’s Nest, a new cottage community in Shallotte, N.C., …calling itself an “environmental village,” …homes were reasonably priced, between $300,000 to $400,000. …each house came with a three-kilowatt rooftop solar system, which would reduce their carbon footprint and cut their utility bill by a third. …the 31-home community, …North Carolina’s first residential “microgrid” development. …A microgrid is a network of buildings that essentially acts as a miniature power grid. It can operate outside of the larger municipal electrical system by ensuring backup power for the entire development, which can be produced by a solar array system and stored in a battery. …The U.S. Energy Department estimated that there were more than 450 operational microgrids in the United States in 2022. …The California Public Utilities Commission…recently approved a $200 million program to bring community microgrids to disadvantaged and tribal communities that are vulnerable to power outages. Americans experienced an average of about seven hours of power interruptions in 2021. It was more in Louisiana, Oregon and Texas, where residents went without power anywhere between 20 and 80 hours during the year. Two-thirds of North Americans are at risk of energy shortfalls this summer, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a nonprofit regulatory authority. …developers are finding that energy-resilient homes and communities are powerful marketing tools to lure buyers and renters….

2023-06-12. Why the U.S. Electric Grid Isn’t Ready for the Energy Transition. [] By Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer, The New York Times. Excerpt: …there is no single U.S. grid. There are three — one in the West, one in the East and one in Texas — that only connect at a few points and share little power between them. Those grids are further divided into a patchwork of operators with competing interests. That makes it hard to build the long-distance power lines needed to transport wind and solar nationwide. …Tapping into the nation’s vast supplies of wind and solar energy would be one of the cheapest ways to cut the emissions that are dangerously heating the planet, studies have found. That would mean building thousands of wind turbines across the gusty Great Plains and acres of solar arrays across the South, creating clean, low-cost electricity to power homes, vehicles and factories. …the nation would need thousands of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines — large power lines that would span multiple grid regions. …There is no single entity in charge of organizing the grid, the way the federal government oversaw the development of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s and ‘60s. The electric system wascobbled together over a century by thousands of independent utilities building smaller-scale grids to carry power from large coal, nuclear or gas plants to nearby customers….

2022-07-15. In a Twist, Old Coal Plants Help Deliver Renewable Power. Here’s How. [] By Elena Shao, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Across the country, aging and defunct coal-burning power plants are getting new lives as solar, battery and other renewable energy projects, partly because they have a decades-old feature that has become increasingly valuable: They are already wired into the power grid. The miles of high-tension wires and towers often needed to connect power plants to customers far and wide can be costly, time consuming and controversial to build from scratch. So solar and other projects are avoiding regulatory hassles, and potentially speeding up the transition to renewable energy, by plugging into the unused connections left behind as coal becomes uneconomical to keep burning. In Illinois alone, at least nine coal-burning plants are on track to become solar farms and battery storage facilities in the next three years. Similar projects are taking shape in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Maryland. In Massachusetts and New Jersey, two retired coal plants along the coast are being repurposed to connect offshore wind turbines to the regional electrical grids.…

2021-10-29. Greece Is Getting Rewired for the Future. By Liz Alderman, The New York Times. Excerpt: …The push for a transition to clean energy would seem a herculean task for Greece, a country of around 10 million that recently emerged from a devastating decade-long debt crisis and still leans heavily on fossil fuels for power. …Greece is getting a powerful financial boost to underwrite these efforts: 30 billion euros (nearly $35 billion) — equivalent to a fifth of Greece’s economy — from a European Union recovery funddesigned to power a rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. …The idea is to build Greece’s incomplete infrastructure to cycle more solar and wind power through the national grid. Greece aims to produce 60 percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2030 and be climate neutral by 2050.… []

2021-10-28. Old Power Gear Is Slowing Use of Clean Energy and Electric Cars. By Ivan Penn, The New York Times. Excerpt: …President Biden is pushing lawmakers and regulators to wean the United States from fossil fuels and counter the effects of climate change. But his ambitious goals could be upended by aging transformers and dated electrical lines that have made it hard for homeowners, local governments and businesses to use solar panels, batteries, electric cars, heat pumps and other devices that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the equipment on the electric grid was built decades ago and needs to be upgraded. It was designed for a world in which electricity flowed in one direction — from the grid to people. Now, homes and businesses are increasingly supplying energy to the grid from their rooftop solar panels. These problems have become more urgent because the fastest way to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to move machinery, cars and heating equipment that currently run on oil and natural gas to electricity generated by solar, wind, nuclear and other zero-emission energy sources. Yet the grid is far from having enough capacity to power all the things that can help address the effects of climate change, energy experts said.… []

2021-10-13. Plug-in cars are the future. The grid isn’t ready. By Will Englund, The Washington Post. Excerpt: By 2035, the chief automakers will have turned away from the internal combustion engine. It’ll be up to the grid to fuel all those new cars, trucks and buses.… []

2021-07-11. [] – More Power Lines or Rooftop Solar Panels: The Fight Over Energy’s Future. Source: By Ivan Penn and Clifford Krauss, The New York Times. Excerpt: The president and energy companies want new transmission lines to carry electricity from solar and wind farms. Some environmentalists and homeowners are pushing for smaller, more local systems. …Mr. Biden has secured $73 billion for thousands of miles of new power lines in an infrastructure proposal he and senators from both parties agreed to in June. That deal includes the creation of a Grid Development Authority to speed up approvals for transmission lines. Most energy experts agree that the United States must improve its aging electric grids, especially after millions of Texans spent days freezing this winter when the state’s electricity system faltered. …But many of Mr. Biden’s liberal allies argue that solar panels, batteries and other local energy sources should be emphasized because they would be more resilient and could be built more quickly. “We need to build the electricity transmission and distribution system for the grid of the future and not that of the past,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a nonprofit based in Chicago. “Solar energy plus storage is as transformative to the electric sector as wireless services were to the telecommunications sector.” In all probability, there will be a mix of solutions that include more transmission lines and rooftop solar panels. What combination emerges will depend on deals made in Congress but also skirmishes playing out across the country. …As millions of California homes went dark during a heat wave last summer, help came from an unusual source: batteries installed at homes, businesses and municipal buildings. Those batteries, along with rooftop solar, kicked in up to 6 percent of the state grid’s power supply during the crisis, helping to make up for idled natural gas and nuclear power plants. Rooftop solar panels generated an additional 4 percent of the state’s electricity…. 

2021-03-03. The Hottest Amenity From Developers? A Power Plant Made of Batteries. By Patrick Sisson, The New York Times. Excerpt: Charged via rooftop solar panels, the cells form a network that provides a building with backup electricity and that utilities can tap during peak periods. …Battery energy storage in the United States grew substantially last year, adding 476 megawatts of storage in the third quarter, a 240 percent increase from the previous quarter, according to the U.S. Energy Storage Monitor. But it’s nowhere near what’s needed to support a fully renewable power system. A report by the University of California, Berkeley, exploring the shift to renewable power suggests the United States would need 150 gigawatts of storage to achieve a 90 percent clean energy grid by 2035…. []

2021-02-16. A Glimpse of America’s Future: Climate Change Means Trouble for Power Grids. By Brad Plumer, The New York Times. Excerpt: Huge winter storms plunged large parts of the central and southern United States into an energy crisis this week, with frigid blasts of Arctic weather crippling electric grids and leaving millions of Americans without power amid dangerously cold temperatures. The grid failures were most severe in Texas, where more than four million people woke up Tuesday morning to rolling blackouts. Separate regional grids in the Southwest and Midwest also faced serious strain. As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 23 people nationwide had died in the storm or its aftermath. Analysts have begun to identify key factors behind the grid failures in Texas. Record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up their electric heaters and pushed power demand beyond the worst-case scenarios that grid operators had planned for. At the same time, a large fraction of the state’s gas-fired power plants were knocked offline amid icy conditions, with some plants suffering fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked. Many of Texas’ wind turbines also froze and stopped working. The crisis sounded an alarm for power systems throughout the country. Electric grids can be engineered to handle a wide range of severe conditions — as long as grid operators can reliably predict the dangers ahead. But as climate change accelerates, many electric grids will face extreme weather events that go far beyond the historical conditions those systems were designed for, putting them at risk of catastrophic failure…. [

2020-09-03. Its Electric Grid Under Strain, California Turns to Batteries. By Ivan Penn, The New York Times. Excerpt: Last month as a heat wave slammed California, state regulators sent an email to a group of energy executives pleading for help. …The manager of the state’s grid was struggling to increase the supply of electricity because power plants had unexpectedly shut down and demand was surging. The imbalance was forcing officials to order rolling blackouts across the state for the first time in nearly two decades. What was unusual about the emails was whom they were sent to: people who managed thousands of batteries installed at utilities, businesses, government facilities and even homes. California officials were seeking the energy stored in those machines to help bail out a poorly managed grid and reduce the need for blackouts. Many energy experts have predicted that batteries could turn homes and businesses into mini-power plants that are able to play a critical role in the electricity system. They could soak up excess power from solar panels and wind turbines and provide electricity in the evenings when the sun went down…. Over the next decade, the argument went, large rows of batteries owned by utilities could start replacing power plants fueled by natural gas…. [

2018-10-31. New generation of ‘flow batteries’ could eventually sustain a grid powered by the sun and wind. By Robert F. Service, Science Magazine. [] Excerpt: …With the rise of wind and solar power, energy companies are looking for ways to keep electrons flowing when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind ebbs. Giant devices called flow batteries, using tanks of electrolytes capable of storing enough electricity to power thousands of homes for many hours, could be the answer. But most flow batteries rely on vanadium, a somewhat rare and expensive metal…. Last week, researchers reported overcoming many of these drawbacks with a potentially cheap, long-lived, and safe flow battery. …flow batteries …store electrical charge in tanks of liquid electrolyte that is pumped through electrodes to extract the electrons; the spent electrolyte returns to the tank. When a solar panel or turbine provides electrons, the pumps push spent electrolyte back through the electrodes, where the electrolyte is recharged and returned to the holding tank. Scaling up the batteries to store more power simply requires bigger tanks of electrolytes. …Iron, which is cheap and good at grabbing and giving up electrons, is another promising alternative. …Another contender uses electrolytes made from metal-containing organic compounds called polyoxometalates, which store far more energy in the same volume than the competition….

2017-02-16. Tesla plugs big batteries into PG&E’s electric grid. By David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle.  Excerpt: A row of tall white boxes by the side of a Sierra foothills highway could represent a key piece of California’s future electric grid. Made by Tesla, the boxes contain thousands of battery cells — the same cells that power Tesla’s luxury cars. But at this installation, at a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. substation in Browns Valley (Yuba County), the batteries soak up electricity whenever it’s cheap and feed it back onto the grid when demand hits its daily peak. The project, operational since the start of the month, represents a collaboration between PG&E and Tesla on one of California’s biggest energy goals: storage. As part of the fight against climate change, California is adding solar power at a rapid clip, at times flooding the grid with more renewable power than it needs. That flood ebbs by late afternoon, when the demand for electricity hits its peak. So state regulators have ordered utilities to invest in projects to store energy when it’s plentiful and use it when it’s needed most. …PG&E has long experience with energy storage. Its Helms Pumped Storage Plant, which opened in 1984, uses water flowing through tunnels between two mountain reservoirs at different elevations to store up to 1,212 megawatts of electricity….

2017-01-14. A Big Test for Big Batteries. By Diane Cardwell and Clifford Krauss, The New York Times. Excerpt: ESCONDIDO, Calif. — In Southern California in the fall of 2015, a giant natural gas leak not only caused one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation’s history, it also knocked out a critical fuel source for regional power plants. Energy regulators needed a quick fix. But rather than sticking with gas, they turned to a technology more closely associated with flashlights: batteries. They freed up the utilities to start installing batteries — and lots of them. It is a solution that’s audacious and risky. The idea is that the batteries can store electricity during daylight hours (when the state’s many solar panels are flooding the grid with power), then release it as demand peaks (early evening, when people get home). …Utilities have been studying batteries nationwide. But none have moved ahead with the gusto of those in Southern California. …Here, about 130 miles southeast of Aliso Canyon, the site of the immense gas leak in 2015 — the global-warming equivalent of operating about 1.7 million cars over the course of a year — 19,000 battery modules the size of a kitchen drawer are being wired together in racks. They will operate out of two dozen beige, 640-square-foot trailers. …“California is giving batteries the opportunity to show what they can do,” said Andrés Gluski, chief executive of AES, which is installing the storage systems….

2016-07-02. Diablo Canyon closure shows California’s power grid is changing fast.By David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle. Excerpt: When Diablo opened in 1985, big plants produced large amounts of electricity and fed it to a grid where power basically flowed one way, from generator to customer. Think of water pouring through a network of pipes to numerous taps: Utilities controlled the whole flow, from source to sink. Now, many businesses and homeowners produce their own energy. A solar array is installed in PG&E’s territory every six minutes. Many generate more electricity than they need during the day, feeding the excess back onto the grid. Huge amounts of solar power flood the grid at midday, falling off sharply in late afternoon. Wind power surges at night. Power flows fluctuate with the weather. …Nuclear plants of Diablo’s generation were designed to ramp up to full throttle and stay there day and night, providing “baseload” power for the grid. But that, increasingly, is not what California needs. “We’re transitioning, clearly, to a distributed system where you rely less and less on those big resources and more on distributed resources,” said Stephen Berberich, CEO of the California Independent System Operator, which manages the grid. …community choice also gives Californians a new option for buying power….

2016-01-14. Berkeley Lab Launches New Projects for Grid Modernization. By Jon Weiner, UC Berkeley News Center. Excerpt: The nation’s electric power system is central to the U.S. economy and our growing need for clean, reliable, and secure electric power. Yet today’s electric grid is under increasing pressure to change and modernize in the face of emerging challenges and technological opportunities. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced the awards today as part of  two new additions to DOE’s ongoing Grid Modernization Initiative. In total, the Secretary announced up to $220 million for 88 new projects across 14 National Laboratories to deliver new grid concepts, tools and technologies to support the nation’s effort to modernize the power grid. …

2015-04-18. Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes. By Diane Cardwell, The New York Times. Excerpt: HONOLULU …Rooftop systems now sit atop roughly 12 percent of Hawaii’s homes, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, by far the highest proportion in the nation. …Other states and countries, including California, Arizona, Japan and Germany, are struggling to adapt to the growing popularity of making electricity at home, which puts new pressures on old infrastructure like circuits and power lines and cuts into electric company revenue. As a result, many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. In response, those solar companies are fighting back through regulators, lawmakers and the courts. …In solar-rich areas of California and Arizona, as well as in Hawaii, all that solar-generated electricity flowing out of houses and into a power grid designed to carry it in the other direction has caused unanticipated voltage fluctuations that can overload circuits, burn lines and lead to brownouts or blackouts. …In Hawaii, the current battle began in 2013, when Hawaiian Electric started barring installations of residential solar systems in certain areas. …The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. But after a study showed that with some upgrades the system could handle much more solar than the company had assumed, the state’s public utilities commission ordered the utility to begin installations or prove why it could not. …Hawaiian Electric is …upgrading its circuits and meters to better regulate the flow of electricity. Rooftop solar makes far more power than any other single source, said Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric, but the utility can neither control nor predict the output. “At every different moment, we have to make sure that the amount of power we generate is equal to the amount of energy being used, and if we don’t keep that balance things go unstable,” he said, pointing to the illuminated graphs and diagrams tracking energy production from wind and solar farms, as well as coal-fueled generators in the utility’s main control room. But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.” …Customers are increasingly asking about the batteries …in along with the solar panels, allowing them to store the power they generate during the day for use at night. It is more expensive, but it breaks consumer reliance on the utility’s network of power lines….

2014-07-23. Texas Is Wired for Wind Power, and More Farms Plug In. Excerpt: PANHANDLE, Tex. …turning wind into electricity is one thing; moving the energy to a profitable market is another. For years, the wind industry has been hampered by such a severe lack of transmission lines that when the wind is strong, a local power surplus forces some machines to be shut down. Now, Texas is out to change that by conducting a vast experiment that might hold lessons for the rest of the United States. This year, a sprawling network of new high-voltage power lines was completed, tying the panhandle area and West Texas to the millions of customers around Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and Houston. …The project, its supporters say, is essential if states are ever to wean their reliance on fossil fuels and meet new federally mandated rules to reduce carbon emissions. …By any standard, the scale is enormous. Anywhere else, a big transmission project is a few hundred miles long and costs a few hundred million dollars; this is a network of 3,600 miles built at a cost of $7 billion, which is more money than the whole country has spent on transmission in some recent years. …in Texas, …lawmakers have ordered an “if-you-build-it, they-will-come” approach. And it is working. “We’ve built it and they’re marching this way,” said Warren Lasher, the director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator, citing plans for new wind farms. Encouraged by the new power lines and by federal tax credits that were available only to projects that broke ground by the end of last year, developers had started work on 7,000 megawatts of capacity by the end of 2013. …The new lines are meant to handle up to 18,000 megawatts — millions of households.  …The Panhandle 1 and Panhandle 2 wind farms cover two-thirds of the width of Carson County…. By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times.

2013-12-23. Catching Rays in California, and Storing Them. Excerpt:  …Solar power is growing so fast in California — with installations by customers increasing tenfold since 2006 — that it is turning the state’s power system upside down.  In a twist that is being closely watched by power companies around the country, California utilities will install massive banks of batteries and other devices to store the power surplus created by solar panels in the afternoon, when the sun’s rays are strong. The batteries are then to begin discharging power into California’s electric grid in the early evening, around sunset, when the solar generation of energy dies down but demand rises as millions of people get home and turn on air-conditioners, televisions and other electricity gobblers.  The new system is the opposite of an idea utilities have considered for years: Use batteries to store power at night from traditional sources, like natural gas and coal, and run them down in the peak heat of late afternoon. …At the end of October, the [California Public Utilities Commission] ordered the utility companies it regulates to install some form of energy storage equipment — exactly what was not specified — in the first mandate of its kind in the country. A critical purpose of the storage is to allow generators, which in California run largely on natural gas, to keep operating in the late afternoon, when the output from solar panels eliminates the need for their electricity…. Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times.

2013-12-20.  A Solar Boom So Successful, It’s Been Halted. Excerpt: Photovoltaics proved so successful in Hawaii that the local utility, HECO, has instituted policies to block further expansion. …Hawaiian Electric Co., or HECO, in September told solar contractors on Oahu that the island’s solar boom is creating problems. On many circuits, the utility said, there’s so much solar energy that it poses a threat to the system and a safety issue. Studies are needed on whether grid upgrades are necessary. If they are, residents adding solar must foot the bill. And starting immediately, contractors and residents would need permission to connect most small rooftop systems to the grid. … The new struggle on Hawaii foreshadows what the rest of the country could face as solar moves closer to the mainstream, several involved in the debate said. …Utilities in states with growing levels of solar have argued that fixed fees and other changes are needed because customers with net metering bill credits don’t pay their fair share of transmission and distribution charges. The Golden State’s Legislature has ordered the California Public Utilities Commission to retool NEM by 2015. The new program will need to be “based on electrical system costs and benefits to nonparticipating ratepayers.” Ann C. Mulkern, Scientific American Climate Wire.

2013-08-15.  Intermittent Nature of Green Power Is Challenge for Utilities. Excerpt: …Last year, wind power was the most prevalent source of new energy capacity — 43 percent of overall generation installed — while its price neared an all-time low, according to a recent report for the Department of Energy by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. …although the wind industry has been growing for decades, it is still relatively new at operating large-scale wind farms, so it is often only once a farm is up and running that some of the problems emerge, developers say. …A number of factors can trigger curtailments in wind output, including reducing the danger to bats or birds flying around the spinning blades. But more commonly, regional grid managers, who must match demand and supply instantaneously, call for a reduction in wind power when more energy is produced than the system can safely transport, they say. …. Diane Cardwell, New York Times.

2013-08-01.  New Tools for Keeping the Lights On. Excerpt:  RENSSELAER, N.Y. — After the lights went out for 50 million people from the Northeast to the Midwest on Aug. 14, 2003, investigators found readings from two obscure instruments that would have given them an hour’s warning — plenty of time to solve the problem if the devices had been wired to provide a stream of critical data.  Now, a decade after the largest blackout in American history, engineers are installing and linking 1,000 of those instruments, called phasor measurement units, to try to prevent another catastrophic power failure. When the work is done, the engineers say, they will have a diagnostic tool that makes the old system seem like taking a patient’s pulse compared with running a continuous electrocardiogram. …. Matthew L. Wald, New York Times. 

2013-07-27.  On Rooftops, a Rival for Utilities.   Excerpt:  For years, power companies have watched warily as solar panels have sprouted across the nation’s rooftops.  …utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. …In Arizona, for example, the country’s second-largest solar market, the state’s largest utility is pressuring the Arizona Corporation Commission, which sets utility rates, to reconsider a generous residential credit and impose new fees on customers, months after the agency eliminated a commercial solar incentive. In North Carolina, Duke Energy is pushing to institute a new set of charges for solar customers as well. Nowhere, though, is the battle more heated than in California, home to the nation’s largest solar market and some of the most aggressive subsidies. …At the heart of the fight is a credit system called net metering, which pays residential and commercial customers for excess renewable energy they sell back to utilities. …Some keep the credit in line with the wholesale prices that utilities pay large power producers, which can be a few cents a kilowatt-hour. But in California, those payments are among the most generous because they are tied to the daytime retail rates customers pay for electricity, which include utility costs for maintaining the grid. … “If the costs to maintain the grid are not being borne by some customers, then other customers have to bear a bigger and bigger portion,” said Steve Malnight, a vice president at Pacific Gas and Electric. “As those costs get shifted, that leads to higher and higher rates for customers who don’t take advantage of solar.”…. Diane Cardwell, New York Times.

2013-07-16.  Battery Seen as Way to Cut Heat-Related Power Losses.  Excerpt:  As scorching weather envelops the Northeast and the Midwest, electric utilities are scrambling to keep the power on while air-conditioners strain utilities’ capacity. …several utilities…have signed up to fine-tune and test what they hope could lead to an answer — a battery half the size of a refrigerator from Eos Energy Storage, the company said Tuesday. If the testing goes well, the batteries hold the promise of providing storage that until now has been unaffordable on a large scale. …Part of the appeal is economic: utilities could buy power from centralized plants during off-peak hours, when it is cheaper, and use it to feed the grid at peak hours when it is typically more expensive. … Eos…battery relies on zinc, a relatively plentiful and cheap element. The company projects that its cost will be $160 a kilowatt-hour, and that it would provide electricity cheaper than a new gas power plant built to help fulfill periods of high demand, Eos executives said. Other battery technologies can range from $400 to about $1,000 a kilowatt-hour. “They’ve got a cost factor that makes it economically viable to use their batteries,” said Troy DeVries, director of research and development at Con Edison. He added that the batteries did not contain toxic chemicals, making them more appealing for use in a congested city like New York…. Diane Cardwell, New York Times. 

2013-May.  Getting a grip on the electrical grid. Excerpt: …today’s electrical grids …have become the focus of heated societal discussions [that] range from the analysis of large-scale blackouts to controls for renewable-energy integration and smart utilization of appliances.  … physics largely determined the early evolution of electrical power systems. Nikola Tesla’s alternating-current designs were favored over Thomas Edison’s direct current…. In the US, the evolution culminated in several major grids…, the largest being the Eastern Interconnection, with approximately 40 000 nodes connected by some 50 000 transmission lines. … grids are changing in significant ways—incorporating, for instance, time-intermittent wind and photovoltaic power in large-scale transmission grids and in consumer-scale distribution grids. …Because transmission-grid dynamics have been dominated by large centralized generators in the past, distribution-grid dynamics have traditionally been ignored. Grid operators can no longer afford to do that. New consumer devices—for instance, electric clothes dryers that disconnect to reduce real power consumption when the grid frequency falls below a preset threshold, and smart photovoltaic inverters that can quickly respond to local voltage deviations by injecting or consuming reactive power—will produce dynamics with the potential to significantly affect the transmission grid. …Large-scale electrical energy storage devices will potentially simplify grid operations by relaxing the need for instantaneous power delivery. Energy storage devices are expensive, though. What’s more, new algorithms are needed to optimally place and operate them to ensure the grid’s reliability. (See …. Scott Backhaus and Michael Chertkov, Physics Today, May 2013 issue, page 42. 

2012 May 27. A Tiny Florida Outpost Divides Over Getting on the Power Grid. By Lizette Alvarez, The NY Times. Excerpt: No Name Key island has been riven by two warring camps of residents who have pleaded, sued, offended and, ultimately, turned their backs on each other in a fight over power, the kind that gets piped in by an electric company. At the heart of the 15-year battle is whether, after a lifetime of deriving electricity from solar power or generators or both, No Name Key should move into the last century and install power lines. This now looks increasingly inevitable. Barring one last-ditch court injunction, the island and its 43 houses could have public electricity for the first time by the end of August. As with so many protracted conflicts, this one is rooted in intangibles. What is the island’s identity? Should environmental purists prevail over pragmatists? Is it wrong to force conformity on homeowners?….

2010 October 12.  Offshore Wind Power Line Wins Praise, and Backing. By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Google and a New York financial firm have each agreed to invest heavily in a proposed $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard that could ultimately transform the region’s electrical map….
…The system’s backbone cable, with a capacity of 6,000 megawatts, equal to the output of five large nuclear reactors, would run in shallow trenches on the seabed in federal waters 15 to 20 miles offshore, from northern New Jersey to Norfolk, Va. The notion would be to harvest energy from turbines in an area where the wind is strong but the hulking towers would barely be visible…. 

2010 June 22. Would a Push to Curb Carbon Really Reduce U.S. Dependence on Oil? By Anne C. Mulkern, The NY Times. Excerpt: …Legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions largely targets electric utilities. Although it would affect oil refiners, economists said, proposed policies would trigger only minor fuel price increases, too small to alter how much people drive, whether they buy airline tickets or what kind of vehicles they purchase.
…Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a June 7 Senate floor statement said the oil spill disaster “underscores our need for a new energy policy.”
…”That means immediately refocusing our efforts on clean and renewable energy — like the sun, the wind and geothermal energy — improving energy efficiency and using more biofuels,” Reid said, adding: “We need better options than oil, and we needed them yesterday.”
…”You don’t have a lot of options for reducing oil use significantly unless you’re going to raise the price,” said Alan Krupnick, co-director of Resources for the Future’s Center on Energy Economics and Policy.
…The report says that the bill would cut imports “33 to 40 percent below current levels and 9 to 19 percent” below levels expected by 2030 without the bill. The analysis shows, however, that the Kerry-Lieberman bill would trim total U.S. petroleum consumption less than 6 percent by 2030 compared to without the bill in that year.
…Krupnick believes a tax on oil would be one of the most efficient ways to force down petroleum use. It would affect all of the oil products, he said.
…”If you raise the price of oil, that affects how much you drive,” Krupnick said. “It affects the type of car you buy. It affects technological innovation. People see there is a profit to be made on how to save the use of oil.” 

2009 June 10. Building an Interstate Highway System for Energy. By Peter Fairley, Discover Magazine. Excerpt: President Obama plans to spend billions building it. General Electric is already running slick ads touting the technology behind it. And Greenpeace declares that it is a great idea. But what exactly is a “smart grid”? According to one big-picture description, it is much of what today’s power grid is not, and more of what it must become if the United States is to replace carbon-belching, coal-fired power with renewable energy generated from sun and wind.
Today’s power grids are designed for local delivery, linking customers in a given city or region to power plants relatively nearby. But local grids are ill-suited to distributing energy from the alternative sources of tomorrow. North America’s strongest winds, most intense sunlight, and hottest geothermal springs are largely concentrated in remote regions hundreds or thousands of miles from the big cities that need electricity most. “Half of the population in the United States lives within 100 miles of the coasts, but most of the wind resources lie between North Dakota and West Texas,” says Michael Heyeck, senior vice president for transmission at the utility giant American Electric Power….
Power engineers are already sketching the outlines of the next-generation electrical grid that will keep our homes and factories humming with clean—but fluctuating—renewable energy. The idea is to expand the grid from the top down by adding thousands of miles of robust new transmission lines, while enhancing communication from the bottom up with electronics enabling millions of homes and businesses to optimize their energy use…. 

2008 August 26. THE ENERGY CHALLENGE: Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits. By MATTHEW L. WALD, The New York Times. Excerpt: When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.
That is a symptom of a broad national problem. Expansive dreams about renewable energy…are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands.
…The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.
…While the United States today gets barely 1 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20 percent.
Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live….
…The basic problem is that many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them. The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles.
…Wind advocates say that just two of the windiest states, North Dakota and South Dakota, could in principle generate half the nation’s electricity from turbines. But the way the national grid is configured, half the country would have to move to the Dakotas in order to use the power.
“We still have a third-world grid,” Mr. Richardson said, repeating a comment he has made several times. “With the federal government not investing, not setting good regulatory mechanisms, and basically taking a back seat on everything except drilling and fossil fuels, the grid has not been modernized, especially for wind energy.” 

January 2008. Souping Up Superconductors. by Kathleen M. Wong. Excerpt: Imagine a world where electricity was virtually free and the means to store it limitless. Alessandra Lanzara, a Berkeley professor of physics, sees a way to reach this goal: by restringing the power grid with high temperature superconductors. “There is a lot of waste getting electricity from its production site to your home. This is because materials that carry a current have resistivity; their conduction isn’t perfect,” Lanzara says. Superconductors, on the other hand, can transmit a current without loss when chilled below a critical temperature. Power lines made of superconductors, Lanzara argues, could retain the energy now lost to waste, drastically increasing the amount available for use and decreasing its cost. Superconductors can also hold a current indefinitely without any loss of power, making them ideal for storing intermittent energy from sources like the sun. There is a catch, however-the expense of keeping power lines cold largely offsets any gains in energy efficiency. The first superconductor, discovered in 1911, operated at a phenomenally cold -269 degrees Celsius. Since then, scientists have hit upon so-called high temperature superconductors. Made of ceramics mixed with other elements such as copper and oxygen, these materials must still be chilled to below -140 degrees Celsius to conduct electricity freely. …A superconductor’s remarkable properties derive from the flow of electrons within it. Lanzara observes this movement in superconductors using a technique called photoemission spectroscopy. Using light, she excites electrons to emerge from her sample. By mapping the angles and velocities of exiting electrons, Lanzara can deduce how they were moving inside each material. Under normal conditions, electrons are negatively charged and should repel one another. But when a metallic superconductor drops below a critical temperature, its electrons suddenly begin traveling in pairs. The movement of these particles is akin to two bowling balls rolling across a mattress. The first electron deforms the energetic space through which electrons travel. This makes a second electron following close behind likely to follow the same path. In traditional superconductors, the mattress effect can be identified by the atomic vibrations, or phonons, it triggers.
“The big question is whether this mattress effect is still at work in 
the new ceramic superconductors,” Lanzara says….. 

26 June 2007. U.S. Is Creating 3 Centers For Research on Biofuels. The New York Times. By Matthew L. Wald.Excerpt: Energy Department is creating three bioenergy research centers to find new ways to turn plants into fuel; three centers, which department describes as three start-up companies with $125 million each in capital, will be in Oak Ridge, Tenn, Madison, Wis, and near Berkeley, Calif; they will involve numerous universities, national laboratories and private companies; goal of centers is to bring new technologies to market within five years; new approach supports Pres Bush’s goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years; centers will focus on finding naturally occurring microbes that can break down lignin, component of plants and trees, to give access to material inside, called cellulose… 


24 August 2006. Preliminary Draft Energy Corridor Map Comments Available. 
Energy Corridors may accommodate multiple pipelines (such as for oil, gas, or hydrogen), electricity transmission lines, and related infrastructure, such as access and maintenance roads, compressors, pumping stations, and other structures. See also


May 2005. Physics Today Letters. Ideas Generated for Transforming the Electric Infrastructure. Clark Gellings and Kurt Yeager, in their article “Transforming the Electric Infrastructure” (PHYSICS TODAY, December 2004, page 45), propose “distributed energy resources” as part of the solution to transforming and modernizing the electric power infrastructure. They recommend “small generation and storage devices distributed throughout” the system, but suggest only “fuel cells and batteries” and offer no details of how the cells and batteries could be created economically or how they would be integrated. Much more appropriate devices already exist and are currently proliferating-namely, hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius. Although nominally designed as transportation, hybrid vehicles normally perform that function for only an hour or so per day. The rest of the time they are small standby generator plants. With their capacious batteries, they could supply tens of kilowatts of instantaneous power to cover peak demands for electricity. The continuous power output of hybrids is several kilowatts, commensurate with the power required not just to drive down the highway but also to run a house.
…We’re all accustomed to the necessity of installing an uninterruptible power source for each computer. Maybe it’s time to consider installing a UPS for the house as well.
Richard Factor (, Eventide Inc., Little Ferry, New Jersey
…Now, however, the relatively tiny 250-kW molten-carbonate fuel cell is more efficient than even the largest central station, particularly when transmission and distribution losses are taken into account and the high price of natural gas relative to coal makes gas no longer as useful for generating base-load energy. …With mass production, fuel cells’ hardware cost will drop dramatically, perhaps 20% with each doubling of production, and the full fuel-cell energy cost-including the costs of both fuel and hardware-will become competitive with that of central-station power from the grid. Moreover, apart from their cost advantages, fuel cells can provide highly reliable power. They can cut toxic pollution emissions by some 99% and greenhouse gases by a lower percentage, and can do away with the transmission lines snaking through wilderness or through Connecticut suburbs. …I think that distributed generation with fuel cells will likely be the direction that our power supply will take for the future. Reference 1. For more information, see W. E. Brand, three-part article in EV World. See part 1 at, part 2 at =594, and part 3 at =595. Wallace E. Brand (webrand{at} Alexandria, Virginia
Gellings and Yeager reply: We thank Wallace Brand and Richard Factor for providing additional insights about the electric infrastructure. …The solution to our electric energy needs may include fuel cells-but realistically it will also require increasing the utilization efficiency of electricity and use of advanced nuclear reactors, cleaner combined-cycle coal combustion, and renewable energy resources. Adapting hybrid vehicles to become plug-in hybrid vehicles is an exciting potential way to reduce overall energy needs even further, reduce emissions, and provide the lowest vehicle life-cycle costs to consumers. Several such vehicle configurations are being demonstrated in the US and Europe. Clark Gellings (cgelling{at}, Kurt Yeager, Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, California


Dec 2004. Transforming the Electric Infrastructure. Clark W. Gellings and Kurt E. Yeager. If the electric power grid is to meet 21st-century demands, society will need to invest in extensive modernization — Physics Today Article.

Aug 15. 2002 BERKELEY, CA. Magnesium diboride (MgB2) becomes superconducting at 39 degrees Kelvin, one of the highest known transition temperatures (Tc) of any superconductor. What’s more, its puzzling characteristics include more than one superconducting energy gap, a state of affairs anticipated in theory but never before seen experimentally. 

Magnesium diboride, MgB2