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Microgrids Could Deliver a Short-Term Fix for America's Broken Energy System

June 27, 2024
A nationwide Smart Grid is at least a decade away.

We’ve got a really big economic and environmental problem. The good news is there may be a backdoor way to solve it with both economic and environmental payoffs.  

The problem is the nationwide electric grid, most of which was built 50-75 years ago. It is both poorly maintained and has nowhere enough capacity to distribute the huge amount of electricity from renewable sources — solar, hydro, and battery — that will be coming online both to meet growing national power demand and to replace polluting conventional-generating facilities.

Even worse, aging high-tension wires in California have been blamed for starting many of the growing number of wildfires ravaging the state. Most dramatically, when a single falling tree hit a power line in Ohio in 2003, the resulting domino effect plunged 50 million people in eight states and Ontario into darkness

Experts agree we need to completely replace the existing grid with a state-of-the-art “Smart Grid” using solid-state digital components. Unlike the current grid, designed solely to distribute current generated in the massive, fossil-fueled plants of the past to industry and homes, the Smart Grid will handle two-way electricity flow from widely distributed sources such as rooftop solar and wind farms, as well as two-way data flow that will allow much more precise real-time balancing of supply and demand.

Tall Order

As you can imagine, even with a massive plan in place and unlimited funding, it will take at least a decade to replace the 300,000 miles of transmission lines, substations, etc., complicated by a complex regulatory process that can also delay the start of  individual projects by years. Unfortunately, there’s no such top-down nationwide project. How can we deal with this crisis?

That’s where a patchwork, bottoms-up approach may be part of the solution.

About the Author

W. David Stephenson | Principal

W. David Stephenson is CEO of Stephenson Strategies (Millis, Mass.), a consultancy specializing in applying the Internet of Things (IoT) to sustainability and creative approaches to aging. An IoT thought leader, he wrote The Future Is Smart (HarperCollins), one of the first guides to IoT strategy.

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