Utilities share more information and systematically trim trees near high-voltage power lines.Electricity customers have been giving the grid a bit of breathing room. The grid's reliability is high, according to a May report from the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which sets standards and tracks the performance of the power plants and high-voltage transmission lines that make up the bulk power system.
The permanent closure of four nuclear reactors in California, Florida and Wisconsin was announced this year, and reactors in New York, Vermont and elsewhere may also close.Plant shutdowns mean there's less of a cushion in electrical capacity when power demand is high or problems arise. In regions with limited pipeline capacity, such as the Northeast, planners say there might not be enough gas to heat homes and generate electricity simultaneously during a cold snap.'In the winter there could be a significant and sudden unavailability of power,' said former Vermont regulator Rich Sedano, who directs the Regulatory Assistance Project, a nonprofit advisory group.
The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline. I'm excited to be back on my old home turf next week, with two speaking events in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lawrence, Kansas. Both events are centered on Before the Lights Go Out, my book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. I'll be back in my college town to talk about the weird, messy history of electricity, and the ways that writing online can help build a better book.
My event at Prospero's will cover a lot of the same ground as The Raven event, but will get more in-depth on the engineering of how our electric grid works and why this flawed system affects what we can and can't do to solve our energy problems. Around 12:15, on the afternoon of August 14, 2003, a software program that helps monitor how well the electric grid is working in the American Midwest shut itself down after after it started getting incorrect input data. A little over an hour later, one of the six coal-fired generators at the Eastlake Power Plant in Ohio shut down. Power was restored today in India, where more than 600 million people had been living without electricity for two days. Here's the good news: The North American electric grid is not likely to crash in the kind of catastrophic way we've just seen in India. In the meantime, I wanted to share a chapter from Before the Lights Go Out, my book about electric infrastructure and the future of energy. I'm speaking this evening at the Public Library in Richland, Washington, talking about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. Different people built different parts of the grid in different ways and for different reasons. Back in April, I got to go on Minnesota Public Radio's "Bright Ideas" to talk about my book, Before the Lights Go Out. Watch that clip, then read this Minneapolis Star-Tribune article about how investments in transportation-oriented bicycle infrastructure have changed the way Minneapolites think about biking and dramatically increased the number of people who choose to bike.
Learn more about how our energy infrastructures shape our choices and our lives by reading Before the Lights Go Out. I'm going to be in New York at the end of May, talking about my new book Before the Lights Go Out. I'm going to be on the radio a couple of times today, talking about my book, Before the Lights Go Out, and the future of energy and climate. One of the key components in the system are grid control centers—places where technicians manage electric supply and electric demand. In the April issue of Discover, I take readers on a tour of one of these grid control centers.
In reality, it's a diesel-powered electric generator—just a smarter version of the kind of machine that you might kick on at your house during a blackout. Learn more about how the grid works and how renewables fit into our existing infrastructure in my book, Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us.
I'll be in Madison, Wisconsin on April 25th, talking about the history of electricity, our current electric infrastructure, and the future of energy. Today, most of our electricity is made by facilities that can power millions of homes at a time, and which are located a long way away from the people who use that power. It works that way because, like most things, it's both cheaper and more resource efficient to produce electricity in bulk, rather than a little bit at a time here and there. I'll be talking about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy at three different events next week in the Twin Cities.


The other part of the problem: "Smart grid" is one word that refers to more than one thing.
The school's Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory houses a little micro-grid, where electricity can be generated, used, and stored in ways that model the workings of the real-life grid. Yesterday, I got to go on NPR's Marketplace Tech Report to talk about two smart grid technologies that you're likely to get some hands-on experience with in the near future. Join me Saturday at 7:00 Mountain time for a special edition of the Skeptically Speaking podcast. Boing Boing uses cookies and analytics trackers, and is supported by advertising, merchandise sales and affiliate links.
Energy Information Administration.The industry has mostly addressed the failures blamed on a tree branch in Ohio that touched a power line and set off outages that cascaded across eight states and parts of Canada the afternoon of August 14th, 2003, darkening computer screens, halting commuter trains, and cutting lights and air conditioners for 60 million people. Power demand has remained flat or even fallen in recent years as lighting, devices, appliances, homes and businesses have gotten more efficient and economic growth has been sluggish. An hour after that, the alarm and monitoring system in the control room of one of the nation’s largest electric conglomerates failed. The real causes of the 2003 blackout were fixable problems, and the good news is that, since then, we’ve made great strides in fixing them.
That's good news, but it's left many Americans wondering whether our own electric grid is vulnerable.
I'm currently interviewing scientists about the weaknesses in our system and what's being done to fix them and will have more on that for you tomorrow or Friday. Across North America there are people working, 24-7, to make sure that your lights can turn on, your refrigerator runs, and your computer works. By that, I mean we talk about new renewable generation projects, we talk about cleaning up dirty old power plants, and we talk about personal decisions you and I can make to use less energy, or get more benefits from the same amount.
And that matters, because our energy problems (and our energy solutions) are about more than just swapping sources of power or making individual choices.
Instead, generators take electrons, which normally orbit the nucleus of an atom, and force them to move independently through the grid’s closed path. We'll be talking about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy—as well as my new book, Before the Lights Go Out.
On May 2 at noon, I'll be speaking to the San Francisco chapter of the AIA about electricity, infrastructure and the future of energy. For instance, the Kansas is currently embroiled in a long-drawn-out controversy over whether or not to build a new coal power plant in the far southwest corner of the state. The smart grid technologies the laboratory is used to study apply to every part of that system—smart grid is part of generation, it's part of how electricity is moved around, it's part of how we consume electricity, and it's part of how we balance supply and demand and avoid blackouts. Grid operators who didn't initially realize what was happening now have a nearly real-time view of the system and are better equipped to stop problems from growing.
All that reduces stress on the grid.At the same time, aging coal and nuclear plants are shutting down in the face of higher maintenance costs, pollution restrictions and competition from cheap natural gas. In the period before the blackout, from 1994 to 2003, that spending grew 3 percent on average per year.Spending on transmission equipment also increased.
The nation's natural gas plants aren't fully used, and wind, solar and other renewable generation have been built to comply with state renewable power mandates.'Many feel there is a very long fuse here, and there may not be a bomb at the end of it,' Sedano said.
By 4:15 pm, 256 power plants were offline and 55 million people in eight states and Canada were in the dark. The bad news, say some grid experts, is that we’re still not doing a great job of preparing our electric infrastructure for the future. The key thing to know is this—at any given moment, in any given place, we must have an almost perfect balance between electric supply and electric demand. They functioned as little islands, incapable of reaching out for help when things went wrong.
On May 29th at 6:00 pm, I'll be talking about the electric grid, the process of writing a book, and how writing online has improved my work as a science journalist.
In order for the grid to operate without blackouts there must always be an almost perfect balance between supply and demand.


When too many electrons build up or their numbers in the system (monitored here) fall too low, you get a total loss of power: a blackout.
If you want to join us, just circle Scilingual on G+ and you'll get an invite to the hangout. May 2 at 6:00 pm, I'll be giving the same presentation at UC Berkeley, for the Berkeley Science Review's Spring Seminar. This room is a smart grid research laboratory, a place where scientists and engineers learn more about how wind and solar power affect our old electric infrastructure, and try to develop systems that will make our grid more stable and more sustainable.
If it gets built, that power plant will be 200 miles, in any direction, from the nearest town with a population greater than 30,000 people. Part of the problem is that utility companies don't often do a very good job of communicating this stuff.
In other words: This seemingly vague and esoteric concept is actually closely tied to practical, day-to-day realities.
Tune into the live recording to learn more about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy—plus jokes. Renewable generation such as wind turbines and solar panels is being installed, adding power that's difficult to plan for and manage.Temperatures and storms are getting more extreme, according to federal data, and that increases stress on the grid by creating spikes in demand or knocking out lines or power plants. From 2003 to 2012, utilities spent an average of $21,514 per year on devices and station equipment per mile of transmission line.
Most utility customers have never heard of these guys, but we're all heavily dependent on them.
Instead, its origins are scattered, distributed geographically, technologically, and philosophically. The grid as we know it was assembled from bits and pieces, from mini-grids that were often built to be cheap and to go up quickly. The talk covers not only history, but also the importance of writing about science online, rather than in print. May 3 at noon I'll be at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, talking about the 6 things scientists can learn from science journalists. But the power plant could produce enough electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes—an earlier version of the design could have powered millions.
And that answer has big implications for electric reliability and how our grid infrastructure operates. Thursday is my book launch party for Before the Lights Go Out, which will be at the Bakken Museum—an awesome museum dedicated to the history and science of electricity. If you can't make the live recording, it'll be available for download on Friday, April 20th.
They keep the grid alive and, in turn, they keep our lives functioning—all without the benefit of batteries or any kind of storage. You guys, as commenters at BoingBoing, have made my writing better—and for that you get a shout-out. There are lots of thing that have to happen behind the scenes to make sure your refrigerator stays cold and your lights turn on. This isn't the best way to make a grid work, but it's what we've done since the earliest days of electricity. Finally, May 3 at 7:00 pm, I'll be at the Barnes and Noble in El Cerrito, talking about Before the Lights Go Out and how writing about science online helped me write a better book.
With it, Colorado State researchers can study the behavior of wind currents all over the United States without having to have labs in all those places.
Since 2003, average residential power prices have risen an average of 0.85 percent per year, adjusted for inflation, according to the Energy Information Administration. Both events are free and open to the public, but you do need to follow those links and RSVP.



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