Improve Our Power Grid

It seems to me…

Today, we can see with our own eyes what global warming is doing.  In that context it becomes truly irresponsible, if not immoral, for us not to do something.”  ~ Joe Lieberman.

The U.S. must accept that climate change will continue to result in increased weather-related events.  Additionally, continuing sea level rise reduces the margin of safety from flooding.  Climate change models indicate the probability of more severe storms in the future with greater precipitation (though possibly fewer major storms in total number).  Once thought of as hundred-year storm events now occur every three to five years.  Unless carbon emissions are curtailed, the risk of severe storm-related weather only will continue to increase.

Recent weather-related emergencies have vividly identified a number of serious problem areas.  Prolonged recovery from utility outages is one of these areas that can be remedied but utilities, primarily those providing electrical power, have repeatedly demonstrated their unwillingness or inability to address the problem.  They admittedly are under increasing incompatible pressures to reduce carbon emissions and develop a more resilient electrical grid while also improving returns to investors.  At this rate, the U.S. electrical grid doubtfully will ever have generally acknowledged necessary changes if left to competing corporate utilities.  Currently only about 18 percent of U.S. power distribution lines are underground even though most cascading electrical blackouts result from down trees.  Budget-strapped utilities are unable (or unwilling) to make the grid more resilient to major storm-related damage.

Additionally, the annual number of large power grid failures has steadily increased every year since the 1990s.  It is obvious that our electric power grid is deteriorating and no longer able to meet increasing demands.  These failures have resulted from numerous causes including deregulation, our standard of living, economic stability, and national security[i].  Part of the proposed solution is the creation of a so-called “smart grid” that would utilize information communication technology and distributed connectivity capabilities unavailable in our current grid.

This smart grid currently is considered to be comprised of three fundamental structural elements: replacement of aging core physical infrastructure items including transmission lines and switching equipment with more efficient and reliable newer technologies; two-way distributed and loosely coupled supply and demand connectivity to the grid, which would allow consumers to help supply electricity using technologies such as photovoltaic cells and wind power; and highly optimized two-way information and communication technology system architectures and networks that control the grid through process and rule-based programs to match power demand with supply to improve efficient use of energy resources.

Since this grid would incorporate a large communication network of interconnected diverse data acquisition devices capable of tracking the source, ownership, performance, and behavioral characteristics of each component, major concern should be given to consumer privacy as the grid would have the ability to collect, aggregate, and store individual consumer usage data such as the temporal pattern of electrical usage and the number, type, and usage of electrical appliances and devices.

How many additional power disruptions are required before the necessary upgrades to our power distribution networks are in place?  Following Superstorm Sandy, many homes were unnecessarily left without power for over two weeks during some of the coldest weather of the season.  Deterioration of our power grid, similar to deterioration of other portions of our national infrastructure, should no longer be tolerated.  It is time for our elected representatives to acknowledge the problems facing our nation and put political ideology aside.  Not only can these problems can be remedied, it would have the additional benefit of helping to solve our unemployment problems.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[i] Kostyk, Timothy and Joseph Herkert.  Computational Ethics: Societal Implications of the Emerging Smart Grid, Communications of the ACM, 111/2012. Vol. 55, No. 11, pp34-36.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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