The Grid

The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future

Gretchen Bakke, Cedar Mill Lib., 333.7832

Dr. Bakke is a U.Chicago PhD cultural anthropologist, not an engineer. She was born in Portland, perhaps related to Ken(?) Bakke from my explorer scout days?

Her "grid" is a little nebulous. Is it the neighborhood wiring? The connection from power plant to substation? The high voltage longlines between regions? Path 65 between Celilo Oregon on the Columbia and Sylmar in Southern California?

Most electric power companies focus on selling generation, not interconnect and conversion. In Oregon, almost all the power comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, and the utilities (private or PUD) transport and resell it, servicing customers. We don't have enough solar here to disrupt the grid; the solar we do have displaces trees or puts holes in roofs.

We need a more robust grid; more paths and better maintenance. Reliability costs money. Regulation and licensing delay the addition of new power lines. People want power to their homes, but not power lines in their neighborhood. It is surprising that an anthropologist downplays the "people" solutions, which might correct the misalignment in public perception and understanding.

She mentions an increasing number of grid failures, many due to inadequate maintenance. The Ohio First Energy power lines that sagged into a tree and set off the 2003 east coast blackout was exacerbated by many cascading problems, including a control room whose operators were too clueless to notice that their monitors had stopped updating.

She mentions the option of paying more for alternative sources, which pays for future investment in those sources, not actual alternative-sourced power. But we do not have the option of paying for "reliability insurance"; what if I could pay $20 extra per month in return for $100 per hour of delivery downtime? That premium would pay for grid capacity, connecting to whatever source makes sense (and most alternatives don't seem to).

The grid is not the source, and too much of the book is about alternative sources. She makes a case for "negawatts", power saved by clever and efficient use and cogeneration - a San Diego Albertson's is mentioned, with few details. Installed in 2010, it was in the Clairemont neighborhood, used a 400 kW UTC natural gas fuel cell ... and is closed.

The example graph on page 227 is interesting, and I may use it in an illustration for a space solar power essay. Peak NET generated power around 2 PM (local solar minus consumption), peak consumption minus solar generation at 9 PM. If there was storage for perhaps 3 kWHr for this home, the peak makeup power could be reduced from 4 to 3 kW. Aggregated across a city, a significant reduction in longline and generation.

So ... mildly interesting, but I must look for a more detailed and numerate book elsewhere. How do we choose goals for the grid, how do we implement them, and how do we pay for that implementation? How do we assign value to what the grid does, and how do we motivate customers to pay for that value?

TheGrid (last edited 2018-04-18 04:21:11 by KeithLofstrom)