Will the US Electric Grid Be Our Undoing?

Back in May 2008, I wrote a post on the US Electric Grid. With the Obama administration taking over shortly, I expect there will be more discussion about upgrading the US electric grid, so below the fold is a re-post of the earlier essay.

One obstacle to upgrading the grid not discussed in my earlier post is the issue of the differing costs of electricity around the country, depending on the fuel used to produce the electricity (natural gas tends to produce high-cost electricity; coal and nuclear produce lower cost electricity). As the grid currently operates, the limitations of the grid tend to discourage huge long-distance redistribution of electric power. If the impact of a new electric grid back-bone is to start evening-out electric rates across the country, customers currently in low-cost areas will tend to oppose the change, because their rates may be higher. This could create a significant obstacle to passing legislation to upgrade the grid.

I am not sure whether this will be an issue in practice. With the grid upgrade, areas currently with inadequate local electrical production will more easily be able to import electricity from elsewhere, so their costs may be lower, not considering the cost of the grid upgrade. Rates in areas which are currently low-cost will increase to the extent that customers are charged for the new grid upgrades, but it is not clear that they will increase otherwise. If low-cost utilities are able to sell some base-production that might otherwise go to waste, the grid could theoretically lower costs to even currently low-cost customers.

The real issue at this time might be that with the world's current financial problems, it will be difficult for any organization (US government or local utility) to borrow money to support such a large upgrade. This will leave only a couple of options. One possibility is that the US government could raise taxes to finance such an upgrade. Such an option is likely to be unpopular. Another option would be for utilities to raise rates sufficiently to pay for the upgrade as it is constructed. This also is likely to be unpopular, especially for those customers receiving relatively little benefit from the grid upgrade.

May 2008 Post

Quite a few people believe that if there is a decline in oil production, we can make up much of the difference by increasing our use of electricity--more nuclear, wind, solar voltaic, geothermal or even coal. The problem with this model is that it assumes that our electric grid will be working well enough for this to happen. It seems to me that there is substantial doubt that this will be the case.

From what I have learned in researching this topic, I expect that in the years ahead, we in the United States will have more and more problems with our electric grid. This is likely to result in electrical outages of greater and greater durations.

The primary reason for the likely problems is the fact that in the last few decades, the electric power industry has moved from being a regulated monopoly to an industry following more of a free market, competitive model. With this financing model, electricity is transported over long distances, as electricity is bought and sold by different providers. Furthermore, some of the electricity that is bought and sold is variable in supply, like wind and solar voltaic. A substantial upgrade to the electrical grid is needed to support all of these activities, but our existing financing models make it very difficult to fund such an upgrade.

If frequent electrical outages become common, these problems are likely to spill over into the oil and natural gas sectors. One reason this may happen is because electricity is used to move oil and natural gas through the pipelines. In addition, gas stations use electricity when pumping gasoline, and homeowners often have natural gas water heaters and furnaces with electric ignition. These too are likely to be disrupted by electrical power outages.


The whole discussion of electric grids may be a foreign topic for some readers. Because of this, let me start off with a couple of analogies:

1. Sometimes the analogy of water in pipelines is used as being similar to electricity and the electric grid. Transmission lines are like pipes. Voltage is like water pressure that forces electricity over long distances. Amperage is the amount of water flowing through the pipe. Our big challenge is that what we want the pipes to do is constantly changing, because of regional load shifting, peak demand, and intermittent generation. Sometimes we are slamming the system with a large slug of water. At other times, we have a trickle, but we still want an even flow out of the faucet. With these stresses, it is easy for the electrical system to get the equivalent of banging pipes and chattering faucets.

2. When I rented my first apartment in graduate school, I soon discovered it had exactly two 15 amp circuits. If I wanted a window air conditioner, it needed to be a small one, and it needed to be on the opposite circuit from the refrigerator. If I wanted to use an electric iron, I needed to think carefully regarding where I could plug it in, without blowing a fuse. I always needed to be aware of what was running on which circuit, if I wanted to keep the lights on.

The US electric grid is clearly not as bad as the wiring on my first apartment, but there are some similarities. The grid dates from a period not too much after the wiring in my apartment.

The US Electrical Grid in the 1960s

The current electric grid has its origins in the 1960s. One article noted that our current grid dates from the time when Frank Sinatra was in his prime, before a man walked on the moon, and before cell phones were invented.

At that time, electric utilities were pretty much local operations. Each utility was vertically integrated--that is, handled the entire supply chain of electricity production and distribution. The transmission system was set up so as to optimally serve its local area. There were some transmission lines to nearby utilities for use in emergencies, but the transmission grid was mostly set up to serve local customers.

Utilities were generally regulated as monopolies, and allowed to pass costs on to customers. One of the utility's costs was the upkeep of transmission lines. Since these were necessary for operation, these were kept in good repair.

This model seemed to work for the electric system of the day. The most important law at that time was the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA), passed in 1935. Under PUCHA, electricity was a regulated industry, covering both generation and transmission.

Partial Deregulation of the Electric Industry

Starting in the late 1970s, deregulation became the fashion for many industries, including trucking, airlines, natural gas, telecommunications, banking, and health care. The law that opened the door to partial electricity deregulation was the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act of 1980 (PURPA), passed when Jimmy Carter was president. The law was intended to encourage efficiency in electricity production and to help the "little guy".

Under PURPA, a utility was forced to purchase electricity from any "qualified" producer. To qualify, a system either had to produce electricity using an alternative source such as wind or solar, or had to meet a very modest efficiency standard. Natural gas production could qualify under the efficiency standard.

In the years after 1980, there was a move toward free market economics and capitalism. Under the new model, the purpose of a utility was to make money for its stockholders. Growth was an important objective. In some states utilities were forced to divest of their assets, with the idea that the smaller pieces would encourage competition. Power plants were bought and sold, and the new buyers were not necessarily in the utility business. Some buyers were hedge funds.

Electricity became a commodity like any other commodity, with widespread trading in electricity contracts, futures, and other derivatives. The financing model even included securitization, using bonds backed by future revenues related to planned recovery of stranded costs. At one point, marketing of electrical energy became a huge source of revenue, apart from the actual generation of the revenue.

After a few years of trying to the new system, some of the problems of the new approach became clear. In 2001, Enron's manipulations of market prices became apparent, and in December 2001, it filed for bankruptcy. There were also a number of other new entrants into the electricity business that also failed, including Mirrant Corporation and Allegheny Energy.

Since 2001, there has been some back-pedaling at the state level on deregulation, with a number of states suspending deregulation. At the federal level, the push has been in the direction of competition, but with more federal oversight. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 repealed PUHCA (the 1935 act which enabled local monopolies), but gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) a bigger role in the oversight of power transmission. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 also gives FERC oversight of an industry self-regulatory organization called North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC).

Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) makes yet another stab at helping the grid. Title XIII of ESIA establishes a national policy for grid modernization, creates new federal committees, defines their roles and responsibilities, addresses accountability and provides incentives for stakeholders to invest. The act only "authorizes" these activities, but does not actually provide funding. As far as I know, the funding has not yet happened.

With these changes, the industry continues to be much more fragmented than it was prior to deregulation. There is some state regulation, but the model of financial profitability and growth continues to play a big role. There is still widespread trading of electricity across long distances and use of derivatives and other financial instruments. The federal government has taken some steps toward more direct involvement, but it is difficult to do very much very quickly in such a fragmented industry.

What happens to transmission under deregulation?

When a utility's primary role is taking care of its own customers, there is a strong incentive to carefully maintain its transmission and distribution system. Once the system is divided into many competing entities, many of whom do not have financial ownership of the transmission system, the situation changes significantly. Some of the impacts include:

1. Declining investment. There is less incentive to maintain transmission lines, since under a fractured system, no one has real responsibility for the lines. Also, profits are higher if equipment is allowed to run until it fails, rather than replacing parts as they approach the ends of their useful lives.

2. Overuse of lines between systems. Prior to deregulation, transmission lines between utilities were designed for use primarily in emergencies. Once widespread trading of electricity began, lines between utilities are put into much heavier use than they had been designed to handle.

3. More rapid deterioration. After deregulation, there is much more cycling on and off of power plants and the structures involved in transmission, to maximize profits by selling electrical power from the plant that can produce it most cheaply. This results in metal parts being heated and cooled repeatedly, causing the metal parts to deteriorate more quickly than they normally would.

4. Unplanned additions to grid. Wind and solar are added to the grid, with the expectation that the grid will accommodate them. "Merchant" (investor owned) natural gas power plants are also added to the grid, sometimes without adequate consideration as to whether sufficient grid capacity exists to accommodate the additional production.

5. Difficulty in assigning costs back. Since the industry is more fragmented, if any transmission lines are added, the cost must somehow be allocated back to the many participants who will benefit. Ultimately, the cost must be paid by a consumer. These consumer rates may in fact be regulated, so it may be difficult to recover the additional cost.

6. Increased line congestion. There is a need for more long distance transmission lines, because of all of the energy trading. There is a great deal of NIMBYism, so approval for placement of new lines is very difficult to obtain. The result is fewer transmission lines than would be preferred, resulting in more and more line congestion.

7. No overall plan. There is a need for an overall plan for an improved system, but with so many players, and so much difficulty in assigning costs to players, very little happens.

8. Little incentive to add generating capacity. As long as there is a possibility of purchasing power elsewhere, there is little incentive to add productive capacity. Profits will be maximized by keeping the system running at as close to capacity as possible, whether or not this causes occasional blackouts.

What do industry leaders say about the U. S. Electric Grid?

It is hard to find anyone who has anything very complimentary to say about the US grid. When Bill Richardson was energy secretary during the Clinton administration, he called the grid a third-world grid.

The Report Card for America's Infrastructure, prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers, gives the US Electric Grid a rating of D. Its summary says the following:

The U.S. power transmission system is in urgent need of modernization. Growth in electricity demand and investment in new power plants has not been matched by investment in new transmission facilities. Maintenance expenditures have decreased 1% per year since 1992. Existing transmission facilities were not designed for the current level of demand, resulting in an increased number of "bottlenecks," which increase costs to consumers and elevate the risk of blackouts.

An article from EnergyBiz by Edwin D. Hill, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, says:

The average age of power transformers in service is 40 years, which also happens to be the average lifespan of this equipment. Combine the crying need for maintenance with a shrinking workforce, and we may find that the 2005 blackout that affected parts of Canada and the northeastern United States might have been a dress rehearsal for what's to come. Deregulation and restructuring of the industry created downward pressure on recruitment, training and maintenance, and the bill is now coming due.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) chairman Joseph Kelliher is quoted as saying:

The U.S. transmission system has suffered from underinvestment for a sustained period. In 2005, the expansion of the interstate transmission grid in terms of circuit miles was only 0.5 percent. At the same time, congestion has been rising steadily since 1998.

Transmission underinvestment is a national problem. We need a national solution. Pricing reform is an important part of the solution to this problem.

Summary of Where We Are Now

A this point, we have a grid that was designed many years ago. Many of the grid's components are near the end of their normal life spans. There is a process for getting new segments added to the grid, but it doesn't work very well. As a result, growth in transmission infrastructure tends to lag behind new additions to generating power.

One of the problems is getting permits for the siting of a new segment, when it has been approved. This can take years if local residents are opposed to additional lines in the area. One estimate is that actually getting a new transmission line installed can take up to 10 years.

Another issue is dividing up the costs among the various entities that would benefit. In some cases, there will be losers as well as winners--for example, a new line may be detrimental to a power plant that would be the low cost producer in the area, but because of the new line, a different plant from a distance can better compete. There may be several entities that benefit. There may be differences in the abilities of these organizations to charge their costs back to the ultimate customers.

There is of course the issue of obtaining funding for a new project, especially one with a very uncertain time frame. Costs relating to grid construction are increasing quite rapidly, for several reasons: Grid construction uses a lot of metals whose cost has been rising recently; China is rapidly building its grid, competing for available transformers and other components; and many of the materials are imported, and are affected by the declining dollar. In addition to the higher cost, there can also be delays in getting equipment, because of the competition from China and other buyers for available equipment.

The grid is now being used extensively for long distance transportation of electricity and for switching among providers so as to obtain electricity at the lowest cost. The grid was never designed for these uses, so it is stressed by them. One of the results is increasing congestion. One particular area of concern is the "Eastern Interconnection".

Figure 1. Figure from Department of Energy 2006 Electricity Congestion Study.

The extent to which congestion has been rising in the Eastern Interconnection is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Slide from presentation by David Owens a 2008 EIA Conference.

While I have not shown a graph, another area with excessive congestion is Southern California. Changes to the grid structure are needed to relieve stress in this area as well.

One factor that affects line congestion is the relative cost of producing electricity for different types of fuels. The greater the differential in costs (usually natural gas higher than coal and nuclear), the more the financial incentive there is to import lower cost electricity from a distance. Natural gas prices have recently been rising. If this continues, this will put further pressure on utilities to import electricity from a distance created using coal or nuclear, rather than using locally produced electricity from natural gas.

Until now, additional wind capacity has simply piggy-backed on the general capacity of the grid. According to Stow Walker of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, spare capacity is now depleted, and new transmission capacity will need to be added to accommodate more wind energy. Even with the existing amount of wind energy (only about 9,339/405,582 = 2% of Texas's total electricity, based on EIA production data for 2007), there have been reports of near rolling-blackouts in Texas, when the amount of wind energy suddenly dropped.

In Figure 3, I list states that are importers and exporters of electricity in 2006, based on EIA data. California and many of the Eastern states are big importers. Big exporters include coal producing states like Wyoming and West Virginia, and several states with large nuclear facilities. The percentages of imports and exports shown on Figure 3 are for the full year. It is likely that during peak periods, imports and exports will be much higher percentages than the amounts shown.

Figure 3. Based on EIA Data.

Federal legislation was passed in 2005 and 2007 which should help the grid situation a little, but it still leaves the many individual operating entities to share responsibilities and costs. The basic model is still one of competition, with governmental and industry organizations trying to get the various entities to work together for the common good.

What Changes Are Needed to the Grid?

We would have a very large task if we simply wanted to fix the grid to do what it was originally planned to do, since many of the grid's elements are close to the ends of their useful lives. Unfortunately, nearly everyone who looks at the situation believes that a major upgrade to the grid is needed, rather than just patching the current system. From my reading, I have identified three basic changes that people believe to be necessary, over and above just getting the old system into better operating order. These are

1. Extra High Voltage Backbone. FERC commissioner Suedeen Kelly has been quoted as saying:

In order to truly capture not only the benefits of competition in generation but also to facilitate increased use of renewable resources, I am convinced that we will need not just to upgrade our electric grid but also to reconfigure it. We need a true nationwide transmission version of our interstate highway system; a grid of extra-high voltage backbone transmission lines reaching out to remote resources and overlaying, reinforcing, and tying together the existing grid in each interconnection to an extent never before seen. To get to that end state, we must have cost allocation provisions in place that can accommodate such wide ranging benefits.

2. Analog to Digital Grid. If we are going to enable energy efficiency, many believe we need to move from an analog to a digital grid. James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, says :

If you’re going to enable energy efficiency, you have to move from an analog to a digital grid with new transformers and new meters capable of two-way communication.

The Smart grid concept is very closely related to the digital grid. At the Green Intelligent Buildings Conference, keynote speaker Paul Ehrlich said:

We need to find ways to make the grid smarter, to make buildings smarter, and to have these smarts communicate with each other.

3. Real-time Transmission Monitoring System. With such a system, it would be possible to react more quickly to sudden shifts in power needs or power availability, and prevent cascading blackouts. Adopting such a system would not be simple. A 2006 study by FERC lists these steps:

• Define What a Real-Time Monitoring System is, What it Should Accomplish, and How
to Accomplish it
• Evaluate Existing Real-Time Monitoring Technologies and their Limitations
• Identify Required Communications and Related Security and Operating Issues
• Define Data Requirements
• Identify Promising Emerging Technologies
• Decide what Data Should be Shared, with Whom, and When
• Decide Who Should Operate, Use, and Maintain the System
• Identify Potential Participants Involved in Establishing a Real-Time Monitoring System
• Consider Cost and Funding Issues

How do we get from where we are now, to where we need to be, in a reasonable amount of time?

I am having a very difficult time seeing how this can be done. There are just too many entities and too many funding issues to make a transition from a neglected old system to a much-improved new system in a reasonable length of time. Our current economic model seeks growth and the maximization of profits. This economic model does not facilitate large groups of entities working together for the common good.

The transformation seems unlikely to succeed, if for no other reason than the fact that the cost of the new system is likely to be very high. Electric rates will already be increasing because of higher natural gas prices and the cost of building additional nuclear power. Adding the costs for a substantial upgrade to the transmission system at the same time would be very significant burden for the consumer. If we are dealing with peak oil at the same time, this will add an additional stress. It is difficult to believe that politicians and state regulators will allow such large costs to be passed back to consumers.

If anything would work to produce the desired result, it would seem to be something that approaches nationalization of the electric supply industry. If this were done, the problem of conflicting objectives could be greatly reduced. I have a hard time envisioning current leaders accepting such a radical approach, however.

What will happen if we just continue business as usual?

It seems to me that as more and more of transmission infrastructure exceeds its normal life expectancy, there will be more and more blackouts. Areas where there is high congestion, such as the Eastern Interconnection and Southern California, would seem to be particularly at risk. It seems like some of these blackouts could be very long (two weeks?).

With the current system, it takes longer to get new transmission lines in place than to build new natural gas or wind generating capacity. Because of this, we are gradually increasing the amount of constriction in the grid. We may have to forgo adding new generating capacity, particularly of wind, until sufficient additional transmission lines can be added.

Nuclear plants are big enough that they often can supply power to a fairly large area. If new nuclear plants are added, it may be difficult to add enough transmission lines to use the power they generate optimally. We may find ourselves able to use only part of the power the new plants are capable of generating because of transmission difficulties.

How about the longer-term outcome?

Longer term, if we cannot get the problem fixed, it seems likely that we will revert back to something closer to what we had in the 1960s, with local electric utilities serving an immediate area. There may still be some long-distance sale of electricity, but less than today, if the grid cannot support it. If some areas do not have enough locally-generated power, they may be forced to have planned blackouts, perhaps for several hours a day.

There would almost certainly be indirect impacts, if some areas of the country are subject to periodic electric outages. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there may be impacts on oil and natural gas use, either because of problems with pipelines, or because of problems with people's equipment that uses natural gas, but has electric ignition.

It is hard to know where the impact of intermittent electricity would end. For example, electric power plants currently get their fuel from very long distances. Georgia imports coal from Wyoming to run its power plants. Most uranium is imported from overseas. It is possible that some of these supply lines could be interrupted as an indirect result of the electricity disruptions, further disrupting electric power. The interconnections of electricity with petroleum, natural gas, and other operations could be the topic of another post.

If we cannot get the electrical grid upgraded, it seems like we will need to downgrade our expectations for applications such as electrified rail and plug-in electric hybrid cars. These will work much less well if there are frequent electric outages in much of the country. We may also need to downgrade our expectation for newer renewables because of the intermittent nature of their output, and the inability of local grids to handle this type of input. Efforts at higher efficiency may also be hindered, if we are unable to make the grid "smart".


I link to a number of studies and presentations in the post. In addition, I should also mention:

Electricity: 30 Years of Industry Change Presentation by David K. Owens, Executive Vice President, Edison Electric Institute, April 7, 2008.

Light's Out: The Electricity Crisis, the Global Economy, and What It Means to You by Jason Makanski, published by John Wiley in 2007.

Lines Lacking to Transmit Wind Energy USA Today, February 26, 2008.

State Almost Saw Rolling Blackouts Dallas Morning News, February 28, 2008.

2007 Long-term Reliability Assessment North American Electric Reliability Corporation.

Previous Electricity Article

US Electricity Supply Vulnerabilities

Interesting points. In a lower-energy world, doesn't it make more sense to move industry and people to the resources, rather than electricity to the people? Seems like a fairly small movement of industry could drastically change consumption patterns.

Gail, this is all very interesting and all, but I was really hoping you were spending the day polishing your crystal ball for 2009 prognostications. Enough with all this factual data stuff, I want to see some true magical thinking! :)


You paint a very clear picture of what seems to be insurmountable problems with expanding the electric grid. This brings me back to the basic goal: expand the grid to allow local electrical shortages to be supplemented by importing their needs. It may be rather simplistic but if expanding the grid isn’t an option then the solution is simple: expand the local generating capability. This would, of course, require the delivery of energy sources to those new plants. That problem would itself justify an entire new thread so I’ll set it aside for now.

Developing new local electricity supplies would thus put the problem exactly where it belongs IMO: with the local community. If New England wants more electricity they can fund and build the plants. This also brings the negative effects (pollution, costs) where it should be: the local consumer. It would be nice for the folks in LA or NYC to burn the coal in Wyoming and export the product to them while leaving the pollution hanging over the head of the folks in the Rockies. If the folks off of Martha’s Vineyard don’t want to spoil the view with wind turbines…fine. But they shouldn’t expect others to make the same sacrifice they refuse to accept. Any expansion of electrical generation, be it wind, coal, NG or nuclear, will bring its own set of financial and environmental problems. It seems only logical that those problems be borne by the same folks destined to benefit from the effort. I know that goes against the US history of taking advantage of someone else’s resources and leaving them to deal with the resultant problems but perhaps it’s time for the beneficiaries to pay more of the total cost. Seems fair to me.

Human nature must favor the buyer, else corn flakes would cost more and guys in South Dakota would have jets while guys in NYC would not.

It seems that a lower-energy world may be less pleasant, but considerable more fair. Like when China decides that its people shouldn't trade unaffordable luxuries or T-bills.


I agree with your comments. The parts of the country that want to import electricity are the ones who have not made adequate provision for their own electricity production, often because they do not want the pollution and other problems that go along. Upgrading the grid would allow these areas to piggy-back on the areas that have made adequate provision, and further remove the responsibility for adding new electricity production. Thus, with the enhanced grid, it would be easier and easier to shut down any electric power plant that was for some reason offensive--CO2 emissions, too much water use for cooling, or because of nuclear fears. If we want to continue to have adequate electricity production, we need the responsibility for producing electricity to lie with the area that uses it.

There's another approach that's been fairly successful, and cheap, in California. Demand side management via advertising/incentives. It's, so far, been cheaper to offer rebates on more energy efficient stuff (appliances, roofing, etc...) and run some commercials telling people to turn off non-essentials during peak demand in the summer, maybe turn up the thermostat a few degrees, than it is to expand electricity transmission capacity when it would only be used one two-thousandth of the year or so. W/ demand side management, for instance an on-board timer that interfaces w/ local wlan for EV charging would be dirt cheap in cities where demand would be the greatest and could charge problems. Dispatchable cuts, so to speak, are already here, it's just how pervasive they need to be given peak energy consumption compared to average energy consumption.

If New England wants more electricity they can fund and build the plants.

I don't think ROCKMAN cares much for the results of deregulation. Nor do I. Vertically integrated munis and community owned sources are the only sorts of entities that can handle the externalities and work in anything close to a "fair" manner. Dennis was right.

If New England wants "more". MORE is the problem. Rebuilding the grid is similar in many ways to rebuilding the highways. To accomodate "free market" transfers of energy every which way, we need much more capacity in a much more delicately arranged and complex structure. It starts to remind me of the financial games being played.

cfm in Gray, ME

Briefly ... I have the same instinctive reaction. This entire grid business is more of the same, more 'big solutions' that allow 'big business' to gain monopoly power over diverse and local resources and demand, to create dependency and support a hidden agenda. It would be supported (funded) by the central government with benefits directed toward the well- connected (financially and politically).

In my opinion, the 'smart grid'/'digital grid' terms are advertizing buzzwords. Transfering and metering electricity is basic. The marketing of 'grid world' appears to overshadow all other considerations, such as what would the overall engineering specifications/requirements of gridworld be? Would it be a Direct Current grid, an underground Superconducting core grid, a redundant grid ... or what? What would the baseline parameter be? What would happen with the ridiculous dangling wires? Is the for this to be a project with its own ends, or is it a part of a 'stimulus package'? Can the end withstand scrutiny as measured as a return on investment, either in dollars or in EROEI? Is gridworld really as vague as it appears to be ... is it 'Pie in the Sky'?

If a power producer starts generating large amounts of electricity from geothermal in Wyoming, what EXACTLY are the barriers to getting that additional energy to a market? Does this power need to get to New York City or Los Angeles? The question is not 'can it be done?' but rather 'is it desireable?'.

Is the 'new improved grid' simply a stalking horse for a large increase ... in investment and political pressure for ... electric cars? Or ... would this system be part of a new electric rail transport system?

The current third world grid is vulnerable, but a 'bottom up' structure of producing and distributing power needs to emerge. The current grid is old and it strains under peak demands such as during very hot days when air conditioners run and run. A set of modest improvements to support decentralized power generation such as from wind turbines or home solar needs to be made. Facilitating this requires a different administrative approach along with new equipment. The ridiculous dangling wires which make the grid vulnerable to every puff of wind need to be put underground. There isn't sufficient capacity in the grid as a whole to service more than a few extra thousand electric cars - that lack of excess capacity is a blessing.

I think conservation and discipline - including a return to more vertically integrated generartion and transmission - would produce results a lot faster and with less of an uncertain outcome economically. One issue that the 'gridworlders' and deregulators have always pressed is that the localized, regulated structure cannot provide adequate supply, inferring that demand growth is a constant. Currently, demand growth can be questioned from this point onward; any revision from the present must acknowledge this change in the ground rules ...

The "ridiculous dangling wires" are there for a reason. The cost to cable the circuits underground is 10x the cost of overhead. Plus, there is higher ampacity for the same size conductor for aerial over cable. Think people complain about higher electricity costs now, wait until they see the bill for buried cable systems!

I won't go into the differences for maintenance and repair between the two...

The environmental impact of ALL that trenching for underground cables !


I won't go into the differences for maintenance and repair between the two...

Why not?

The dangling wires are an expedient. 'It's cheaper' is the rationalization given for all that is done in this country, even if it's not and even if there are other benefits to 'more expensive'. Lowest cost is not always best value.

Problems with dangling wires:

- Weather and debris vulnerability. Underground utilities are far more robust.

- Ugly. One of the depressing features of the auto slum- scape is the endless mess of ridiculous dangling wires, not to mention all the other power infrastructures added to them; the poles and towers, transformers, grounding, switching, lamps, meters, etc. This is a significant issue; why do we build anything in the first place? Do we exist in order to please the infrastructure? Or, does it exist to serve us? Do we not build for pleasure and utility or is all a part of the rat race? Is our life- support system an end ... to support of the cost side of a business ledger? At bottom, who cares whether a utility makes money or not; the issue is value to the user which is the community the utility pledges to support. If a business cannot serve the customers except by expedients it will fail.

- The 'eyesore' issue is a reason large transmission lines cannot be sited. Nobody wants to look at them; they destroy the landscape. Adding capacity to the grid does and will continue to involve long passages through the courts as adding capacity is always sued by persons and entities adjacent to it. Capacity is ugly. Ugly is an externality that cannot be ignored - like all the other externalities - by the utilities. NIMBY is powerful and load- shedding always takes place in 'undesireable' neighborhoods whoee inhabitants cannot afford lawyers. Putting capacity underground solves the problem. Putting distribution under the streets is simple because the streets already go everywhere ...

- Dangerous. Power lines fall on people while energized and kill them. Underground utilities do not do so, although poorly maintained installations can cause fires and explosions. Nevertheless, the same sorts of maintainence failures take place in the dangling wire universe and the fires and explosions take place in open air. (I used to live in a building that was badly damaged by a transformer explosion.)

- Not only is our electric infrastructure a great eyesore, it is an unnecessary eyesore. In most cities, the electric distribution is currently underground. Almost everywhere in the US, the water, sewer, natural gas, telephone, subsciption television and communication/internet systems are also underground. Even where electric is overhead, cable TV and telephone are placed underground because such an istallation is less vulnerable to weather and connections can be made and service performed without the need for a large, six- wheel bucket truck. As for installation; the companies that provide broadband internet are currently installing tens of thousands of miles of fiber 0ptic duct underground and have been doing so nationwide for the past fifteen years. What is easy for the fiber optic people should be no less easy for the power companies. Other utilities have the same universal service requirements and safety concerns as does the electric utilitiy.

If the gas company can provide universal service underground, with large pipes, valves, meters, ducts and other equipment, and do so on a cost effective basis, so can the electric utility.

Putting the wires underground is a job that needs to be done, It is obvious and the requirement increases with every long blackout caused by a storm. To put in a depression tens or hundreds of thousands of otherwise unemployed men to work at good jobs with good pay; the wires of America can be buried at a small cost to a government that has spent already trillions on air. It would be an investment with a return of agreeability, safety and permanence.

Underground residential distribution is one thing; putting 115kV, 230kV, or higher voltages underground is substantially different. What I reference below is referring to the bulk power system.

Yes, we do this in some cases. Aesthetics for one, inability to traverse population dense areas, two, or underwater, three. But these are always short distances, because currently the installation cost is at least fifteen times as much as overhead.

Fifteen times. We could reduce this substantially, I'm sure, with scale, but that's a lot to overcome.

Once we start getting into higher voltages we run into capacitive reactance problems that over long distances would cost more in external equipment to manage, not to mention much higher losses.

Cable faults are almost always destructive, resulting in far longer and more expensive outages. Fault location is much more difficult, as is splicing. Granted, they do occur much, much less often as you indicate...but over the long run, with more underground, this becomes a bigger issue. 85% of all overhead transmission faults can be cleared instantaneously and reclosed within cycles, resulting in a much improved reliabilty margin. Cable faults are never reclosed.

As for the eyesore issue, I tend to agree. Personally, I think the way around this, and perhaps to also employ a few more people, would be to eliminate the lattice towers and replace them with monopole structures, something not widely available 40 years back. They take up less land and in my opinion are sleeker and better looking. But lattice towers are probably only a third to a fifth (my estimate) the way through their life cycles; they are extremely robust. This would be exceedingly difficult to justify.

Cable faults are triggered in the distribution (from substation downstream) and spread upstream. A falling branch or a lightning strike will trigger one. So ... addressing the distribution would be more cost effective than not.

Why would cable faults underground be any more difficult to clear than cable faults overhead? Any duct system that could carry the conductor(s) could also carry monitoring equipment. In general high- tension is low maintainence, all else being equal - leavng out the vulnerability of downstream distribution. If an interrupting fault is a 25 year event on any circuit, enough redundant/spare capacity can be engineered into the system to prevent a ciruit shutdown, even if repair might be more costly than an overhead repair.

I don't think that an electrical trunk should be less of an investment than a transport corridor (rail line) or major highway or navigation canal. All serve an equal purpose and have the same requirement to conform to an overall value system that includes more than just cost, and maintainence ease. A high tension corridor isn't free; only by applying to the current economic status of a potential corridor a value of 'zero' - which, ironically a transmission route gains after the towers and conductors are in place - does the status quo have an overwhelming value advantage.

As a strip mine is less costly than alternatives, the expansion of more and more strip mines calls into question the value of mines and compares that value against the utility having them at all. The same value/utility measurement applies to transmission and transport corridors. The issue becomes, 'when do we have enough mines?' 'When do we have enough highways?' When is enough? The answer is not never ... 'development' or 'progress revulsion' is real even if it cannot be quantified or modelled.

Even where 'development' is taken for granted along with progress and an adman's idea of 'status' and wealth, the idea that more (and more and more) of the same is really a benefit is being re- examined. If the end product is for all to be submerged into a kind of industrial process, the 'sex appeal' of development disappears. It may be happening already.

I don't know if 'slowing development under current crisis conditions' is in the general best interest, but overall value has been ignored for too long and the reputation of development in general - which is always given a positive cost- benefit ratio - is very poor.

"Why would cable faults underground be any more difficult to clear than cable faults overhead?"

Overhead lines are uninsulated (bare metal). They rely on the air gap between the wire and ground, plus ceramic insulators on the towers, for insulation. Sometimes they flash over to ground for some reason. When the relays shut down power, the electric arc de-energizes and insulation integrity is restored. The relay can reclose and restore transmission within a few cycles. Generally the faults are self-repairing.

Underground cables rely on a layer of oil impregnated paper or some kind of plastic sheething (depending on cable design) to insulate from ground. When they fault, they fault permanently. Someone has to go out and dig up and splice the cable. Underground insulation is probably ok up to 100kVAC. Above that and it gets very expensive. Overhead lines are more vulnerable to bird poop, fires, dust storms, gunshots, tree limbs and other problems, but at transmission voltages (above 100kVAC) its pretty easy to repair the problem. Often fixing the problem amounts to waiting from a few cycles to a few hours. Cables above 100kVAC are really, but really expensive. There is no comparison to fiber optic cables.

Jeff Barton

Jeff is spot on.

An aspect he hasn't pointed out is heat. In overhead insulate wires the heat is dissipated away in the air. Underground cables have a much bigger problem in this. The city of New York has a lot of experience with this. They have found it necessary to put electrical cables inside underground corridors large enough to permit workmen to stand upright in them to allow for enough space for heat dispersion and repairs.

It would be a lot more complicated than just throwing a cable into the ground like we do with fiber-optic.

Tailwinds! ChipSeal

Siemens offers three rigid, hollow copper pipes suspended in a SF6 gas.

Not cheap, but it has advantages for short distances.


SF6 is really an excellent green house gas.

Unfortunately, one of the worst !


You're missing the point. It doesn't matter whether the air- insulation is more cost effective or whether the need for grid power is utmost, the greatest obstacle to increasing capacity is public opposition to generating plants, towers and transmission lines.

Public opposition isn't going to go away, in fact it is likely to become more intense. Accomodating it will cost more money and the utilities will find themselves in a position where the difference in costs between various options will be negligible and public relations will tilt the balance.

Ten years in court with multiple appeals add a lot of percentage points to the cost of a transmission line. If the court rules against the utility and the ruling is upheld on appeal ... no transmission line at all.

I tend to agree all around, especially with transmission line structures being an eyesore. I am constantly on the look out for better aesthetics for power lines and substations. So I agree with Steve from Virginia and the collective engineers. Just because it was done one way in the past doesn't mean its the only way to do things.

I won't repeat what has been said about the differences in repair except to add that underground repair work requires at least a three man crew and can take hours to set up for enclosed space entry. An overhead line can be repaired by one lineman.

A little more about clearing times. It depends on the protection and control system. If a transmission line has an automatic reclose, the duration is around 30 cycles or 1/2 second. The duration is decreased as the voltage increases for stability reasons. As noted earlier, cable faults are mostly catastrophic and don't have a reclose. When a cable trips off, its down for the count and fault detection has to be employed (typically >4 hours, less if they get lucky).

There is no dispute about putting the cables in the ground for distribution systems. Its been relatively equal in cost to do over the past ~50 years as subdivisions were being built and the cable plant went in with the other underground infrastructure.

Transmission on the other hand...

I've just finished the initial design for a 138 kV transmission system that is using overhead and power cable. Most cable installations these days up to 230 kV are going with XLPE (Cross Linked Polyethylene - or plastic) insulation. Above 230 kV assessments have to be made for efficiency and life span. We are keeping the footprint of the overhead lines to a minimum using a single mast wood structure, and the power cable is going under a provincial park via a directional bore of world benchmark setting proportions.

We have to find ways to make it work for all parties. You see, my initial proposal was to do a cut and fill power cable installation through the park - just as one would do in a city. This park is remote and not easily accessed, but with this development we could provide that access. The cable installation would be designed so that once complete it would look like a trail system through the park complete with sleeping and picnic shelters over the vault manholes. Within 2 to 3 years, no one would even know there was a power cable installation underground. (BTW, I'm using differential protection throughout with fast clearing times of 3 to 5 cycles and reclosing on the overhead line). The power cable installation is over $15 million in itself, so we are protecting the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out it.

If the project goes ahead, it may get some attention during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics as the project is in the vicinity.

To put a reality spin on it, we are stuck with the existing overhead transmission infrastructure. It isn't going anywhere for quite a while.

There isn't sufficient capacity in the grid as a whole to service more than a few extra thousand electric cars

There's enough generating capacity in the grid right now to convert a large fraction of the US vehicle fleet to PHEV, if they charged in off-peak periods.  So say the people who actually know what they're talking about.

Generating capacity, yes, OFF PEAK.

1) Is there enough fuel (mainly NG) for 17% (all PHEV) expansion in GWh generated ?

2) Will EVERYONE recharge off-peak (I believe a good % will not, convenience over price).

So not a meaningful fact IMHO.

Best Hopes for Murphy taking a vacation,


They would all charge off-peak if charging was automated. Since an intelligent roll-out of EVs would involve replacing autos in dense urban environments where excessive idling at low load operation result in horrible engine efficiency first, odds are there would be suitable wlan connectivity to manage the fleet initially. Offering customers off-peak plans/rates would also increase off-peak charging time. Why pay 15c/kWh to charge in the day when you can set a timer and pay 5c/kWh to charge at night? Hell, go low tech and run a second meter connected to a specific outlet for EV owners that'll result in lower rates but will only work over some time window. The owner gets home, plugs in, and some time during the night their car charges up. They can still charge using another outlet and get hit w/ the normal rate, but given the difference between peak and off peak they'll probably just plug it in and let it charge off peak when they get home. Scheduling the charging of a substantial portion of the fleet wouldn't be very hard or costly even w/ current tech. Wind power expansion has a huge head start on PH/EV expansion, and I imagine it will continue to lead, so electricity production is a non-issue for now and probably over the next decade at least. As demand side management advances wrt EVs we could even surpass the ERE's 20% wind power by 2030 objective.

They would all charge off-peak if charging was automated.

BS !!

I would quite likely charge up as soon as I got home just in case I needed to go out again. An hypothetical extra 10 cents/kWh would make very little difference to me. It certainly does not with cell phone use. When I want to call, I just do so.

I am VERY far from being the only one with this attitude/choice.


BS? If it's automated you wouldn't have a choice. :P

If you wanna charge at peak demand, outside of a incentives program (as opposed to when it's automated, different things entirely) in other words when there aren't incentives, maybe even higher rates, then you'll pay to play so to speak. It'd probably be more than a 10c/kWh differential if the electric company wanted to dissuade extra peak demand, and use the proceeds from the people who have enough not to care on expanding infrastructure, so w/ an extra ~20 miles per day, you would be at ~5kWh/day, and ~$200/year extra, which takes away about half of the cost savings of an EV. If it's a 20c/kWh differential you might as well use a typical car. And if it's 40c/kWh to do what ya wanna do, yer just paying for electricity generation/transmission for the rest of the users. If you wanna do whatever ya wanna do at inopportune times you'll be charged accordingly in order to keep the grid up and humming. :)

You are assuming that a species other than homo sapians Americanus is buying these PHEVs.

First, I would NEVER buy a car that I could not recharge as desired/needed.

Second, I will find a way to use household current from another source. No technofix will stop me.

So, unless you want to charge me, and everyone else, quadruple for fixing dinner, you cannot overcharge me for recharging as desired.

Unrealistic expectations lead to false conclusions.

You want it to work, so a way will be found to make it work.

I disagree.


First, I would NEVER buy a car that I could not recharge as desired/needed.

You could, as long as the grid was up.  But you'd pay premium rates to charge at peak hours.

Second, I will find a way to use household current from another source. No technofix will stop me.

The car itself would control that, so unless you rigged your own charger you'd be going through the car's DSM/V2G control system.

So, unless you want to charge me, and everyone else, quadruple for fixing dinner, you cannot overcharge me for recharging as desired.

Since everyone fixing dinner at once is so costly in equipment, it's not "overcharging" to bill top rates for it; people willing to spread their usage around reduce the cost of the system and should receive the proper benefits.  Ditto the PHEV.  If you charge in the slack period in the wee hours and let the utility regulate the immediate load to run generators most efficiently, you should get the cheapest rate; if you insist on charging when the grid is heavily burdened instead of burning a little fuel, you should get stuck with a big bill.

(A big bill, at best.  Enough other people will probably do the cost-effective thing and shift their use, but the system should cut your car off rather than overload the grid and cause blackouts.  If everyone tried to fill their gas tanks at once the filling stations would run dry and you'd have "gasouts", so your complaint about PHEVs insists that they solve a problem they did not create and that you already have.)

Large scale use of PHEVs will increase peak demand and require new generation, despite what the advocates claim.

That is the only logical conclusion based on knowledge of human behavior.

Time of Day pricing will shift a fraction of the new demand, but only a fraction (my SWAG, 1/2 to 2/3rds will time shift, 1/2 to 1/3rd will not. Many new peak power plants to power that 1/3rd or 1/2th).

And PHEV will require more GWh, and fuel to generate those GWh, regardless of time of day that they are charged.


The other reality wrench to throw into the plan is the voltage used for the home based chargers. Don't they use 240 V circuits, or do they expect to make them work at 120 V - probably have an option. To get the effective charging duration down, 240 V would be required.

This is important because household 240 V circuits are specific purpose and few whereas 120 V is general purpose and plenty. Therefore some additional wiring will be required for the charger unit. To be the conciliator in this discussion, both required modes could be accommodated. Normal charging could be programmed for off-peak with an emergency override. The override may include a usage fee (say $1) with the increased kw-h rate.

Lesse, ~20A/110V would provide ~2.2kW, and w/ charging efficiency, ~2kW into a battery. At the ~30 miles per day U.S. average, in a small sedan, that means we'll need about three plus hours to charge. A 220V hook-up is generally only needed when charging a pure EV w/ something like 200 miles of range from empty to full, since that would take ~20 hours, instead of ~10 w/ 220V. Course, I don't think 200 mile EVs will be common, so it's kind of a moot point for now, but if they do become common I imagine that we'll put 'em on 220V circuits just like we do w/ air conditioners.

There are some "non NEC" means of turning a 110 V plug into a 220 V plug (hook white to second phase, use ground as return for other 110 V plugs on the circuit and disconnect their white, breaker to taste).

Not good for insurance after an electrical fire.


Or, don't drive 200 miles a day in an EV (that isn't available yet) and hack home wiring just to save some charging time. ;)

The other reality wrench to throw into the plan is the voltage used for the home based chargers. Don't they use 240 V circuits, or do they expect to make them work at 120 V - probably have an option.

The first-generation vehicles like the Chevy Volt will only take about 8 kWh to top up the battery from max depletion, so 110 V 15 A will do the job in about 5 hours, 8 hours if you limit to 10 A.

This is important because household 240 V circuits are specific purpose and few whereas 120 V is general purpose and plenty. Therefore some additional wiring will be required for the charger unit.

To me, a 220 V circuit is just a different type of breaker stuck in the panel with heavier wires to the load.  Yes, it may need new wiring, a bit of conduit, etc.; that never stopped me before!  If the panel is inconveniently located it might cost more to add 220 V outlets, but people crunched for cash can just stick with 110 V and accept the longer charging times.  The only way I could see this being crippling right away is if a multi-car family gets two or more PHEVs at once and has only one 110 V 15 A circuit for the garage outlets.

If a multi-family dwelling or a parking garage is being wired for EV/PHEV, everything will be new anyway and tailoring to order will be relatively cheap.

Large scale use of PHEVs will increase peak demand and require new generation, despite what the advocates claim.

V2G will cut peak demand, as well as reducing network losses by e.g. generating reactive power.

That is the only logical conclusion based on knowledge of human behavior.

The blinking "12:00" on millions of VCRs is proof that humans tend not to bother to learn details if they don't make a big difference.  If the default is for the car to charge off-peak and do V2G, that's what most of them will do.  Even fewer will switch if the credit portion of their bills goes away and is replaced by charges.

And PHEV will require more GWh, and fuel to generate those GWh, regardless of time of day that they are charged.

This is very true, but that fuel can be anything from photons falling on your home PV to atoms splitting in a reactor to fuel oil from displaced gasoline burning in a CCGT powerplant.  This is similar to electrified rail, but EVs with V2G can also supply grid power on demand.

I doubt that V2G is economic if, as seems quite likely, it shortens the life of the battery.

Also the prospect of coming out and finding that your car is half discharged after being plugged in for hours will not be good for this strategy.

The efficiency of EVs (or PHEVs) is several multiples worse than electrified rail (especially with TOD). 6x would be a reasonable SWAG. So they will drag down the grid and generation much more.

If the default is for the car to charge off-peak and do V2G,

I suspect GM marketing will argue very strongly against that strategy (making V2G the default and difficult to change).

As for the TOD charging and credits, the actual savings of V2G are fairly small in a majority of cases (worth next to zero to Entergy New Orleans for example), even if valuable in a few cases (California comes to mind).

The economic savings have to justify a massive changeover in metering (a couple of $100/meter plus labor & overhead to change the meter), systems to prevent islanding from too much juice coming in from batteries in a low demand area, enough to pay everybody when the # of batteries on-line exceeds what is desired, a utility profit margin and "something" left over to give as a credit to the PHEV customer.

In most locales, I do not see $$ left over for a credit to the customer. If no credit, why do it ? And a $3/month credit will not change much behavior.


I doubt that V2G is economic if, as seems quite likely, it shortens the life of the battery.

AC Propulsion's V2G regulation test found the battery's capacity increased over the life of the test.  That was with lead-acid, too; modern Li-ion wouldn't have a cycling problem.  And the value of the services is much greater than the depreciation on the battery.

Also the prospect of coming out and finding that your car is half discharged after being plugged in for hours will not be good for this strategy.

Why?  If the utility leaves you enough juice for your driving, it makes no difference; if it pays you more than the value of the fuel you need, you're ahead.

I suspect GM marketing will argue very strongly against that strategy (making V2G the default and difficult to change).

The utilities are partners in this, and GM isn't exactly in the driver's seat these days.  And it doesn't have to be difficult to change (it's not difficult to set the time on a VCR), it just has to replace the fees for service with bills for peak consumption.

As for the TOD charging and credits, the actual savings of V2G are fairly small in a majority of cases (worth next to zero to Entergy New Orleans for example)

Entergy spends nothing on spinning reserve?  V2G and mere dynamic charging can replace a lot of fuel-burning hardware with batteries that few people care much about except that they're charged (far enough) for the next jaunt between work and home.  The vehicle and batteries are a sunk cost, the fuel and hours on a powerplant cost money.

The economic savings have to justify a massive changeover in metering

The vehicle is its own meter.

systems to prevent islanding from too much juice coming in from batteries in a low demand area

Vehicles in a low-demand area wouldn't be back-feeding the grid unless told to.

enough to pay everybody when the # of batteries on-line exceeds what is desired

Spinning reserve is always worth something.  Not having to heat up a powerplant unless it's absolutely needed is a cost-saver.

a utility profit margin and "something" left over to give as a credit to the PHEV customer.

The PHEV customer can get paid the market value of the services (spinning reserve and regulation aren't cheap), minus the fees from the aggregating service.

In most locales, I do not see $$ left over for a credit to the customer. If no credit, why do it ?

Avoiding another 8/14/2003 is worth doing it.

It doesn't even matter if it impacts the storage capacity of the battery since costs are around 10c/kWh stored while peak power costs are north of 20-25c/kWh. The power industry pays you 20c/kWh for something that cost ya 15c/kWh (storage plus off-peak electricity), and you make 5c/kWh while they save 5c/kWh in generation, plus they don't have to expand transmission capacity. Everyone, except the company running the natural gas peaker plant, wins.

Situations like this are why CA is offering solar panel rebates, and w/ panel prices at $3.50/Watt and dropping, it's another win-win for the state and for owners. Toss in the federal tax credit and an enterprising DIYer can put in a decent sized solar setup for ~$5,000 (after rebate/credit) and have ~5.8c/kWh electricity for the next twenty five warrantied years or so provided they keep consumption in line w/ their generation profile, and it drops to ~3.9c/kWh over their likely lifespan of about five decades. CA gets fairly cheap peak generating capacity from homeowners, and the owners get dirt cheap electricity. Again, everyone wins, except for the NG plant/fuel owners.

AC Propulsion's V2G regulation test found the battery's capacity increased over the life of the test.

This fails the smell test, BADLY ! A lead-acid battery has INCREASED life the more it was cycled.

with batteries that few people care much about ... The vehicle and batteries are a sunk cost,

Battery life will be a MAJOR concern to owners.

Your other points are faulty too.

Yes, it is a bad thing to find a half full tank when you expected a full one ! Does the utility know how far you are going to drive ? And many people today NEVER get below a half gas tank today. Psychology is important to consumers.

Spinning reserve takes lots of dispatcher time, but it is not that big an expense. Basically, it is cheap (<1% of total utility costs I was told years ago). Just run a few plants at a part load with good heat rates but below 100%. Entergy has large industrial loads (some with their own generation) and overall demand is pretty stable and predictable.

Any utility with hydro uses that for spinning reserve. VERY cheap !

So this statement is simply wrong

And the value of the services is much greater than the depreciation on the battery

There are other, and better, ways to prevent another 8/14/2003. And few cars would have been plugged in when it blacked out (early afternoon from memory). Doubtful if enough would have been plugged in to make a difference.

The vehicle is its own meter.

Huh ! I am boogled at the parties that would have to agree to that ! Ain't going to happen. And if it did, I would expect detailed drawings on the internet on how to bypass that "meter".

Vehicles in a low-demand area wouldn't be back-feeding the grid unless told to.

Typically, utilities have no real time demand information below the substation level. ANOTHER major expense !

You have convinced me that V2G is a worthless concept in almost every case, and other than some PR exercises, it is not going to happen.


This fails the smell test, BADLY ! A lead-acid battery has INCREASED life the more it was cycled.

But that's what was measured [1], and it does stand to reason.  Electronic de-sulfator devices work using pulses, and the very small, short cycles used for regulation are similar.

Battery life will be a MAJOR concern to owners.

I really don't care, I just care how much it costs me.  If someone is paying me to use "my" battery and will replace it, hey... free money!

Yes, it is a bad thing to find a half full tank when you expected a full one ! Does the utility know how far you are going to drive ?

We're talking PHEVs here.  Half a battery would be a very rare event, and the utility could look at the fuel gauge to make sure I've got a minimum reserve mileage available (minimum determined by me).

Assuming the worst case, suppose the car's on a 220 V 30 A circuit and is offering spinning reserve when a major plant trips off-line.  It goes from some level of charge to 6.6 kW back-feed while the utility cold-starts some backup gas turbines.  The turbines start feeding the grid in 3 minutes and linearly take up the full load after 15 minutes.  Total energy from car to grid during the event:  990 Wh, which can be made up in 9 minutes at full charge.  That's about 5 miles of electric range, roughly 1/10 gallon of fuel at 50 MPG, 50¢ if fuel is $5/gallon.  If it happened once a month and I was paid $2/month for reserve services, I'd be way ahead.

Any utility with hydro uses that for spinning reserve. VERY cheap !

How many utilities lack hydro?  Michigan has the Ludington pumped storage facility, but if it's being discharged to meet peak load demands it can't count as reserve.

few cars would have been plugged in when it blacked out (early afternoon from memory). Doubtful if enough would have been plugged in to make a difference.

It was about 3:30 PM.  I was driving through Troy, MI when all the traffic lights went dark.

Most people were either at home or at work (and tried to get home immediately after... the traffic was unbelievable).  Had the fleet had a large fraction of PHEVs with proper legal support for at-work charging (like handicapped spaces), they would have been plugged in.

The vehicle is its own meter.

Huh ! I am boogled at the parties that would have to agree to that ! Ain't going to happen.

It's implicit in the system.  The V2G capability requires the vehicle to communicate with the utility.  Your house may be on a flat-rate meter, but the vehicle will do its own measurement and reporting.  If it doesn't measure what it thinks it should be doing, it will report a fault.

It's possible to hook up a secondary charger and program it to offset the V2G system, but the number of people perverse enough to do that is too small to be significant.  That's true whether or not the group includes you.

utilities have no real time demand information below the substation level. ANOTHER major expense !

But they have detailed statistical information every month in the bills, and know exactly where each plugged-in vehicle is and thus what lines they are connected to.

You have convinced me that V2G is a worthless concept in almost every case

Just because you see it as competition for your electrified-rail TOD does not mean that the public won't like it.

[1] The report is off-line, but here's the Google cache:

The long term effects on battery life were beyond the scope of the study; however it was noted that battery capacity increased by about 10 percent during the testing.

from your own quote, my bold

The long term effects on battery life were beyond the scope of the study; however it was noted that battery capacity increased by about 10 percent during the testing.

If someone is paying me to use "my" battery and will replace it, hey... free money!

So NOW the utilities are not only paying to use my battery, they are replacing it for free whenever it dies !

Toothfairy economics comes to mind. Given the multi-thousand dollar costs of these batteries, it is hard to find the economic justification for this. Utilities could get stationary batteries (cheaper (no vibration to engineer for, etc.), larger, more convenient, available 24 hours/day) for less $.

There is also a convenience cost associated with a battery dying.

The discharge cycle mentioned is rare, but a rapid discharge (close to a discharge to ground during first 3 minutes) is generally not good for batteries. I wonder about over heating issues.

I was paid $2/month for reserve services,

$2/month is not going to entice 98% of the population (there is that cheap 2%). With other overhead for this scheme, it is doubtful if utilities have even that to pay.

... with proper legal support for at-work charging

SO a new legal requirement for every employer with parking. Several thousand $ for the first couple of charging spots, increasing over time (trenches in middle of lot to reach those spaces later). You just assume this is going to happen. ADA for our beloved utilities.

Reality is that very few PHEVs will be plugged mid-day during work days.

If it doesn't measure what it thinks it should be doing, it will report a fault.

And then what ?

You did not understand my point about islanding. A section much smaller than a substation can be islanded (you were quoting discharge rates of 7 kW/PHEV, easy to overcome local demand with a number of PHEVs hooked up).

Say Quiet Oaks subdivision has 32 PHEVs plugged in one Christmas when "everyone" (all but, say, 8 families) are on vacation. Gas heat in Quiet Oaks. Spinning reserve trips and all 32 PHEVs start discharging. Most homes have only refrigerator loads and couple of CFL lights. Two dozen furnace fans on in the entire subdivision when the trip happens and 5 kW of LED Christmas lights (Quiet Oaks is environmentally aware).

PHEVs generate 32 x 7 kW, subdivision load is 32 kW, 192 kW fed into the distribution line for Quiet Oaks (utility has no monitoring for specifically Quiet Oaks load today). But the strip malls nearby absorb the 192 kW (some electric heat there) and an electrical island is created. Which quickly gets out of phase with the rest of the grid.

LOTS of scenarios that would create islanding.

Just because you see it as competition for your electrified-rail TOD does not mean that the public won't like it.

$2/month plus or minus will neither make or break PHEVs. V2G is an "add-on" concept to a basically valid concept, PHEVs. Invalidating (or validating) V2G will have very little real world impact on PHEVs.

When I was touring Raccoon Mountain pumped storage, they mentioned that TVA liked to always leave one of the four reversible pump turbines off-line for spinnign reserve if needed (spin in air). When one was down for rebuilding/enlarging, this complicated dispatch.

About half of utilities have significant hydro production, enough for spinning reserve. Alabama Power (of Southern Companies), LCRA in Texas, TVA, New York State, all Canadian utilities except PEI, and maybe Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Rocky Mts, some New England and MidWest utilities. 9% of all generation is hydro, that is a lot of potential spinning reserve.

I do support PHEVs. I just recognize Murphy is active with "break through" technologies and fail to buy the projections of what PHEVs will do (like V2G, reduce gasoline demand by 35% by 2019, etc.) and how quickly they will come on-line.

Best Hopes for PHEVs,


from your own quote, my bold

The long term effects on battery life were beyond the scope of the study

That is correct.  The study did not attempt to examine the exact interaction between cycling in regulation service and battery life.  However, your speculation:

V2G ... likely ... shortens the life of the battery.

has some very strong evidence to the contrary, even for cheap, notoriously short-lived lead-acid batteries.

So NOW the utilities are not only paying to use my battery, they are replacing it for free whenever it dies !

One of the business models is that someone else owns the battery, leases it to you, manages its use and replaces it when it's no longer suitable for mobile service (perhaps putting it into stationary service until it's time to recycle it).  This business makes a lot of its money from selling grid services (or eliminating the use of higher-cost service providers if the business is the utility itself), so yes, they'd replace it "for free" because your lease says you get a battery with XX capacity.  Your lease costs less than amortization, because the other services pay for much of the cost of the battery; you get paid for plugging in.  You also get time-of-day rates on power, which are very cheap in the wee hours.

Utilities could get stationary batteries (cheaper (no vibration to engineer for, etc.), larger, more convenient, available 24 hours/day) for less $.

Yes, but then you have no savings from reduced petroleum consumption to help pay the freight.  The bulk of the batteries would be available during the off-peak hours when extra demand is useful to the utility, and the utility can still have a crack at the batteries once they're too degraded for mobile use—the initial depreciation would be paid for with the fuel savings, and the utility gets the used units at a steep discount.

There is also a convenience cost associated with a battery dying.

True, but in an EV/PHEV this is unlikely to be an all-or-nothing phenomenon like an ICE starter battery.  The "Check Battery" light goes on or the utility gives you a phone call, and you have your 80%-capacity battery swapped out for a 100%-capacity battery at your next service visit.

The discharge cycle mentioned is rare, but a rapid discharge (close to a discharge to ground during first 3 minutes) is generally not good for batteries.

If a battery is too discharged to be a good supply, it wouldn't be counted as part of the spinning reserve.

If it doesn't measure what it thinks it should be doing, it will report a fault.

And then what ?

Anywhere from a check during the next service visit to a safety shutdown.  And you'd deserve it; tampering with the management system so that you're getting paid for services not performed is fraud.

You did not understand my point about islanding. A section much smaller than a substation can be islanded

The frequency or voltage would quickly go out of limits and the cars would disconnect; this is how grid-tie inverters work today.  Alternatively and with the right hardware between the grid and the house, the meter would detect the frequency/voltage excursion, disconnect the house from the grid and command the car to function as a UPS.  The house would keep running like nothing happened until the grid came back.

V2G is an "add-on" concept to a basically valid concept, PHEVs. Invalidating (or validating) V2G will have very little real world impact on PHEVs.

V2G is a way to cut the total system cost by using vehicle hardware (already required for the vehicle) to cut costs elsewhere in the system (spinning reserve, reactive power, regulation).  This reduces the net cost of EVs.

TVA liked to always leave one of the four reversible pump turbines off-line for spinnign reserve if needed (spin in air).

Which has a certain amount of losses involved.  The half of utilities without hydro have to run something that's both burning fuel (generally at far less than best efficiency) and running up its operating hours and annual emissions totals.  If the DSM and V2G capabilities of EVs are used to reduce use of the least-efficient units (even leaving them cold unless they are needed), fuel costs, O&M costs and pollution can all go down.

There's also the little detail that a few thousand vehicles doing V2G would be perfect to supply the starting surges and absorb the regenerative braking spikes of an electrified train.  These things are all synergistic.

Yes, yes, I imagine you're the type that would want to pay $200,000 for a $100,000 house. If that's your decision I'm not going to disagree w/ you here, do whatever you want.

That said, if you want to charge at a time that will put undue stress on the grid, expect to pay to play. If you want to spend more on your EV than it would cost to run a conventional vehicle of the same size just because you want to charge at peak, that's fine, and I for one support you, since your excessive spending will be subsidizing the grid for the rest of us.

Electric companies will raise rates proportional to demand if DSM does not work w/ EVs. That's just how it will be. If you want to end up paying 20-50c/kWh, or whatever it is, to charge at 4-5pm, then that's what you'll pay.

That said, there will undoubtedly be options in the future as there are today, just more varied w/ an EV roll-out. If I want to use a ton of electricity, feel free and subsidize use for the rest of us. A savvy EV owner can still get a decent on/off-peak rate if they so choose. Hell, the costs are such that it's worthwhile to have a secondary battery pack charged off of the 5c/kWh off-peak rates for use during peak since storage seems to be at ~10c/kWh these days while the peak rate is ~20-25c/kWh. This isn't any special EV owner program, this is just something that's been around for years. In CA, a market w/ some of the highest costs nonetheless.

You seem to think that electric companies will just let everyone plug-in willy nilly and crash the grid. Ya gotta pay to play buddy. If you and others don't mind paying excessive rates for more peak capacity then that's what you'll do. That said, the electric grid works regardless of whether you or others want to charge at inopportune times. If ya wanna do that, you'll pay accordingly. The pricing structure is what will determine who charges when. Feel free to finance the grid for the rest of us Richie Rich! ;)


if expanding the grid isn’t an option then the solution is simple: expand the local generating capability. This would, of course, require the delivery of energy sources to those new plants. That problem would itself justify an entire new thread so I’ll set it aside for now.

How can you set that aside?  That's the death-blow to the concept.  Renewable resources like solar, wind and hydro have to be used where-is.  Almost everything else (save for nuclear [1]) is polluting, running out or both; if it's neither, it's got severe supply constraints.

Developing new local electricity supplies would thus put the problem exactly where it belongs IMO: with the local community. If New England wants more electricity they can fund and build the plants. This also brings the negative effects (pollution, costs) where it should be: the local consumer.

People need more than energy.  People need water, food, and a host of other things.  Non-fossil energy supplies don't match well with the others.

This is a classic case of comparative advantage, where different regions trade what they can produce better than others.  We'll ship what's easiest to ship; the population of New York isn't going to move to North Dakota for the wind power and leave the water and infrastructure behind, so we'll move the power.

It seems only logical that those problems be borne by the same folks destined to benefit from the effort.

North Dakota will get the construction and maintenance jobs and perhaps excise taxes on electric generation, so New York will pay for having the pinwheels in flyover country.  Everyone along the route of the power line will benefit from having access to power generated far away, and will pay taxes levied by the producers when they use that power.

[1] According to an on-line reference I found, fission of a ton of U-235 yields 7.4*1016 joules (20.55 billion kWh); converted to electricity at 40%, that's 8.2 billion kWh of electricity per ton.  The total electric demand of the USA could be met by the fission of less than 500 tons of U/Pu per year (fission energy of plutonium is not different enough to matter).  The USA already has 43,000 tons of uranium in storage as spent PWR fuel alone, plus at least 5 times as much as the depleted uranium (DU) byproduct of enrichment.  Used in Integral Fast Reactors, the spent PWR fuel would run the nation's grid for ~90 years, and the DU for another 400+ years.

Regarding moving the people to the resources, rather than sending electricity long-distance through the grid, I am tending more and more to agree with you. Upgrading the grid will be a huge project and difficult to maintain. If we can manage local production of electricity, using local resources, that would seem to be a better direction to go.

I have started working on a 2009 prognostications post--hope it is not too gloomy for TOD to post.

What about wind in the Dakotas and solar thermal in the southwest? Both areas have lots of power potential, but not the water to support a big population. Also wind needs to be averaged, and solar thermal is just right for covering afternoon peaks -- perfect for export over as wide an area as possible at the time when watt-hours are at their most valuable.

Some such excess production will be exported, some will be inefficiently (or less than optimally) used, and some won't get built.

For much, though, the factories and support people will follow along. It doesn't take a huge population to run a steel smelter or concrete kiln.

I fully expect, though, that the coast-driven, top-down planners will come up with a new "super grid" to wholesale electricity inefficiently, and development will lag and be overspent at every step. And it will still ultimately fall short.

Regarding moving the people to the resources, rather than sending electricity long-distance through the grid, I am tending more and more to agree with you.

If our biggest energy source is the sun in the southwest, but the region is expected to be short of water, this just isn't an option. Also the relative cost of the real estate to build a plant in say an urban corrider, versus in the country is very different. I see no way that increased transmission won't be an important part of the solution.

Hi Gail -

This is a great overview concerning the state of our electricity transmission infrastructure, and it highlights the difficulties of transitioning from the regional networks of the 20th century to a national network that serves the ends of deregulation/competition.

I agree that the best case scenario of a consensus on grid upgrade and build-out, leading to better integration of distant resources (wind, nuclear, fossil, pick your favorite) seems remote. To me, the more likely scenario is distributed generation, demand management, and conservation. There are societal factors that push in this direction (mostly in vain), but the economic case is building as well. Here are some interesting trends I see:

* Demand management is starting to mature as a competing resource to central station generation. The majority of resources awarded in recent capacity auctions in New England are to qualified demand management firms. So much interruptible/demand-managed capacity has been awarded that stakeholders are concerned if it will all be available when needed. The jury is still out, in other words. But the results have been compelling enough so far that the CEO of a major New England provider identified conservation as the 'single greatest threat' to the power generation business.

* Where electricity was long considered to have inelastic demand (i.e., demand for electricity would grow regardless of price increases), the last decade has demonstrated otherwise. Industrial demand in this country has been flat to declining for several years in part because of high energy prices. California's demand fell by 7% in 2001, after the pricing crisis of 2000. These are unwelcome examples, but they illustrate that a price threshold for electricity demand has been reached.

* If failures of the grid become more common, options to mitigate these failures with more local and distributed generation will be more appealing. The cost of power from small-scale wind, concentrating solar, and fuel cells is dropping. I don't think it will ever be as inexpensive as the coal plants of yesterday, but neither will the coal and nuclear plants of today.

Taken as a whole, these factors indicate a plausible scenario where demand on the grid decreases rather than increases, and experiences low growth thereafter. If we can't spiff up the grid, we might just work around it.

Hi Gail,
Thanks for the repost.
Near my lifeboat here in NE Michigan, plans are underway to build a "clean-coal" power plant near a large limestone mining operation that illustrates the danger of letting the private sector call the shots on how and when it invests.
Despite this being the Lower Penninsula's last and largest natural area and having ample wind resources this plan is likely to proceed.
The raison d'être?
Rather than have the ore carriers return empty from their voyages across the Great Lakes, they can now be loaded with the mountain tops from the Appalachians.
The decision now rests with our "green" Governor Jenny Granholm, who has not failed to disappoint.
The draft of the permit includes the provision to burn 10% biomass which will result, IMO opinion, of wholesale deforesting of the local region since there are no local biomass energy farms planted or planned.


The Best Solution to our Electrical Grid Problems

Reduce demand.

I was surprised that was not listed as an option.

Reduce total GWH demand by 10% and air conditioning demand by 20%# and the only remaining issue is replacing transmission towers when they get old & rusty and accommodating new wind, geothermal, etc generation.

Shrink demand, especially peak demand, and what we have now works MUCH better.


# One of the first acts of the GWB administration was to roll back scheduled a/c efficiency standards from a minimum of 14 SEER to 13 SEER. Make new a/c a minimum of 15 SEER, some new windows and insulation, seal the leaky ducts in the attic and that is most of the 20%.

Of course, blackouts are one way of accomplishing exactly that. If the power isn't up, then the appliances can't be run.

The cynic in me is thinking that this is the actual plan of TPTB.

"The Best Solution to our Electrical Grid Problems
Reduce demand.

Agreed, especially cut back on any plans for electrified rail.
I would rather tolerate rolling blackouts than any schemes to increase our dependancy on electricity.

Electrified rail takes so very little power (less than 3 watts/capita in the USA, less than 20 watts/capita in France) that it makes no difference to the grid.

I would die happy if the US demand for electrified rail reached 30 watts/capita.

Hair dryers take 1,500 watts (on high). 3 minutes of 1,500 watts per person would be enough power for ALL current US electrfiied rail (NYC subways, Amtrak's NEC, subways in Chicago, Boston, Philly, Miami, Atlanta, Long Island RR, etc. etc.)

Best Hopes for Reduced Electrical Consumption and MORE electrified rail #,


# Ban hair dryers instead ! (Note that I have a large bald spot :-)

Where's the clever guy with a high-efficiency condensing heat-pump hair-dryer when you need it?

They funny thing about hair drying during the summer is you pay to evaporate the water from your hair and then pay to condense it in your A/C unit (removing the heat you just added). And you do it in a high-moisture bathroom where you just showered (and you pay to condense that water and heat back out, too). And that's after you paid to heat the water up to take the shower.

Showers really should use the waste water to pre-heat incoming water to the DHW system, and have dedicated humidity-controlled vents with passive heat exchangers to evacuate moist air and transfer the heat to incoming dryer air.

Come on.. explain that. Or are you just being obstreperous?

What we depend on is transportation. We might be able to reduce our need to move people and produce around to some degree.. but it won't go away. What do you propose we do to move things? Clearly, our current dependence on Oil and Asphalt in the Highway System isn't very promising.

We do have dependencies, and electricity is still a tool which can answer many of our needs, AND can be both local and distant, sourced many ways. We should (IMO) all be setting up some sorts of local supply and storage for our most basic needs.. but it is also in our interest, ultimately, to have connections to other regions, nations and continents.. right? How would you propose to get your next few replacement windowpanes and grainmills to your door.. or will you manage without tradegoods altogether?

"What we depend on is transportation."
Sorry, what we depend on is sustenance(food, water), shelter, heat and clothing.
Everything else is supererogatory.
Reread http://www.dieoff.org/page224.htm

I used to think as you, Alan and others do, that there was some sort of techno-fix, that our cleverness would provide a way around reality.
Powerdown is not an option.

Electrified rail fits quite well into any realistic "power down" scenario.

Even societies that have effectively collapsed (Cambodia, Liberia) still use their rails. Just differently.


I see Nuclear as a way people are trying to outclever the energy issue, and I tend to expect that it would eat itself up either in technology/energy bottlenecks or in monopoly/credit spirals.. but calling electric rail a 'Technofix' when it is bringing technology back down the complexity ladder is inaccurate.

Clever isn't the same as Smart, which we do need to be. Put another way.. you can't necessarily solve a problem that was created by intelligence, by applying its equal opposite.

I'm in favor of getting us on a strict energy diet.. if that's not radically different from 'PowerDown'.. but we have tools, materials and sciences that were born in this flawed setup, and yet we will need to keep ones that will help us get through.. and also figure out which ones will merely paint us deeper into the corner.

People will migrate, will move around for work, education and whatever. Farmers will want to grow enough to sell some of it miles and miles away. Steel Wheels rolling on well-set tracks are an incredibly reasonable way to move mass over land.

"but calling electric rail a 'Technofix' when it is bringing technology back down the complexity ladder is inaccurate."

So, the solution for using too much electricity is.....use more!
Do you work for the Fed?

Electrical rail uses a trivial amount of electricity.

As noted before, outlawing hair dryers could save enough to run existing electrified rail.

In a VERY good future (from my POV), 30 watts/capita would run all electrified rail. A trivial effort to conserve that much.


Outlawing hair dryers? Any other orders Mein Fuhrer?

What kind of travel will these magic rail cars provide exactly?
Will they be used to move the fiendish suburbanites to the gas chambers and crematoriums you are building around N.O.?
Will toto then harvest the bones for their P?

People like you who think they know whats best for everyone else are the ones who welcome the tyrant to power.
Because a dictator is precisely what it would take for a scheme such as yours to be implemented.

If not then I find it incredibly naive that you still think the governments' "public works" programs do anything other than provide kickbacks to politicos who in turn insure profit for their special interest benefactors.
If there is no profit in it and it will not enhance anyones political career it simply won't happen.

Wow, way to lower the discussion tone at TOD, Spaceman. I think a good general rule of thumb is that when you disagree with someone and are tempted to use Hitler and crematoria in a sentence, it is time to shut down the monitor and take a walk.

For the record, I disagree with Alan on many subjects, including the priority of electrified rail, but I admire the fact that he almost universally keeps his observations on topic and appropriate to the tone of the site.

My issue with the hairdryer analogy is not a problem with outlawing them (although I think culture change to more natural looking hair styles would be much more effective), it is that you cannot build or rebuild existing rail and trains with only the energy allotted to hair dryers, even if you throw curling irons in (for the record, I use neither although I am not bald ;-) - I do own a garage sale hairdryer which is used once a year or so to unfreeze pipes after an extended power outage). Alan is right to note that even economically "collapsed" societies make use of their existing rail. What I'm more interested in is whether they build new rail lines - that seems more relevant.


It is precisely because I have lost family to the tyrant and in the manner I stated that I replied as such, I am truly sorry if that offends.
However Alans draconian statements such as "Dynamite the freeways!" lend me to think that his answers, if implemented, would merit whatever means.

"Alan is right to note that even economically "collapsed" societies make use of their existing rail. What I'm more interested in is whether they build new rail lines - that seems more relevant."

My argument as well. "Existing" of course being key. But thats not Alans argument, he is for more growth and BAU, plain and simple.

If one is unable to detect a bit of hyperbole in advocating a ban on hairdryers (by a bald man), so be it. Senses of humor vary. (The "where is the condensing heat pump hair dryer when we need it" response certainly seemed to get it).

The point I was making was just how little electricity is required to run electrified rail.

As for "dynamiting urban freeways" it is a very good and reasonably proven idea. It reverses some of the damage done when they were built.

Oakland had an earthquake save them the dynamite. The loss of the Manhattan freeway (Eastside ?) was quite positive for the city.

I listened to the former mayor of Milwaukee talk about the benefits of destroying part of their Interstate (he supported the move to remove I-10 from Canal to Elysian Fields in New Orleans, which I strongly support).

There is part of America that idolizes pavement and cannot conceive of removing auto sewers.

Vancouver BC operates extremely well with no freeways at all.

Best Hopes for fewer freeway miles,


I personally favor a better quality of life. More live music and good food, more community and social interaction, more active healthy years of life, more fulfilling lives, more beauty in our lives, less Climate Change and environmental destruction, far, far less conspicuous consumption.

My hostility to Suburbia is grounded in those goals, although Suburbia has other faults as well.

However, I also recognize, I think, what sales pitch is needed to actually make things happen.

It's not listed as an option because, once again, we have a BAU mindset. Only when the power goes out for extended periods of time, as in a complete and total shock to the system, will the mindset like we have above, realize the problem.

The grid does NOT need to be upgraded, and as a matter of direction, it needs to be made smaller, and torn down to be recycled. The interconnectedness is it's fundamental flaw. The cities as we know them today, are dinosaurs sucking a last breath. Electricity needs to be generated local, for local consumption, for local needs. Put the Nuke plant in Central Park for NYC. Tear down the Superdome and build one there for NOLA. Build an Electric Arc Furnace for steel in Niagra Falls.

Solar/Hydro/Wind is the only way to go. This continous babble about "GROWTH", is truly wasting time to the eventual outcome. Spewing a fantasy of "rebuilding the Grid", growth, more more more, is insanity.

Power Down. Local generation. NO GRID. It's the only way that will get us to the other side of Armageddon.

Other benefits are decentralized POWER. As in political or economic power. If I don't need to heat or cool my home, use 12v lighting, conserve carefully and generate my own electricity (which I can do because I'm using so little) with systems I built, that takes a lot of power and control from TPTB.


So you want to shrink demand, but also want to charge an EV at peak, so we need more transmission infrastructure that will only be used 1/2000th of the time?

The problem, as I see it, with upgrading the electric grid is that we increase complexity and dependence on non-local solutions. This is how we grow cities in the deserts, outgrow the carrying capacities of watersheds and so on.

Let's use less; see how that goes.

Transmission Issues being Addressed in Texas

Short PR release

pdf warning (Texas/ERCOT starts at page 11)

Since 2005, TSPs have completed projects improving over 2,500 circuit miles of transmission lines and adding about 28,000 MVA of autotransformer capacity.

The projects that are now being considered over the next five years are expected to improve 2,538 circuit miles of transmission lines and add 14,451 MVA of autotransformer capacity.

Beyond that, Texas is actively planning (called CREZ) how to accommodate 5.88 GW of renewables (almost all wind) in 2015 and 10 GW of renewables in 2025.

All of this applies to the electrical island that is 85% of Texas load, ERCOT.

Best Hopes for Those Doing Something,


You guys probably already know this stuff but I thought this was interesting why we are where we are.


Nope, didn't know this stuff. Thanks for the link!

The real issue at this time might be that with the world's current financial problems, it will be difficult for any organization (US government or local utility) to borrow money to support such a large upgrade.

This is not correct. Infact the prevailing conditions make borrowing by the govt. easier - since people of less faith in private enterprises (not sure where I read this - may be DeLong or Krugman).

Infact I think the $750B or so that will be spent as part of the upcoming stimulus package hopefully includes some money for the upgrade.

I asked an Xcel person who works on the grid what they're thinking about the possibility of a large number of plug-in hybrids and whether that will tend to level out their peak loads. This person said yes, but that creates a problem of its own: transformers depend on off-peak loads for cooling. If the load levels out, they'll have to replace many more transformers.

Fire the Xcel guy tommyguy, he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Transformers are sized for maximum capacity with additional cooling fans if required, which can increase capacity up to 1.66. The heating and cooling is determined over a 15 min. sliding window. Capacity limitations are based on seasonal parameters due to ambient temperature. PHEVs, if they do even out the loading, will help the transformer situation, not hurt it.

The problem with PHEVs will be harmonics since these are non-linear loads. Most of the equipment on electrical systems don't like harmonics, especially capacitor banks, and this will be the significant impact. We will go from air pollution to electrical pollution.

Just how many PHEVs does anyone expect to put on the road anyway? I don't think there is enough Lithium in the world to make a dent in the existing car fleet numbers? It seems the techno-genie has granted another wish...

The problem with PHEVs will be harmonics since these are non-linear loads.

Sez who?  We have made sine-wave inverters, sine-wave chargers (with controllable VAR generation to sell services to the utility) won't be a challenge.  AC Propulsion's reductive charging system already does this; you put a high-frequency switching system on the far side of a motor winding used as a choke inductor, and your harmonic problems will be quite limited.  As long as those harmonics are not synchronous with each other, multiple units on the grid will tend to cancel out.

As long as those harmonics are not synchronous with each other

Wouldn't the chargers from a common manufacturer/model generate the same harmonics ? Synchronization via the sine wave.

In other words, 32 GM Volts in the same subdivision, charging at the same time, with identical chargers, could create a problem ?


Wouldn't the chargers from a common manufacturer/model generate the same harmonics ?

Adding pseudorandom jitter is a fairly straightforward task for software-based systems; if the phases of the harmonics are essentially random, they tend to cancel each other out.  If the total harmonic distortion is less than a certain amount (which the system already deals with today), it's unlikely to be a problem in any case.  High-frequency components tend to be dissipated as eddy currents in transformer cores, which adds to the heat load of the transformers but doesn't otherwise do much.  Odd-numbered harmonics divisible by 3 (third, ninth, fifteenth) are taken care of by delta windings in 3-phase transformers (they are generated by nonlinearities in transformers themselves and are already handled by design).

I understand about the transformers (does the "pot on the pole" absorb the 3rd harmonics (last studied that 30+ years ago) or the substation xfer do that )?

I was not so concerned about the upstream effects on the rest of the grid, but on the subdivision itself. Some power supplies (AFAIK) do a poor job of filtering harmonics. Unsure about household PV solar converters.

Household loads are shifting significantly. Hard to hurt an old fashioned toaster. New loads can be quite sophisticated, and expensive.


(does the "pot on the pole" absorb the 3rd harmonics (last studied that 30+ years ago) or the substation xfer do that )?

Residential pole-pigs are generally single-phase devices and can't do much of that.

I was not so concerned about the upstream effects on the rest of the grid, but on the subdivision itself. Some power supplies (AFAIK) do a poor job of filtering harmonics.

Digital signal processors are downright cheap these days, and they make spectrum analysis a breeze.  If your local power feed has a lot of harmonics, a V2G system capable of controllable power factor shouldn't have much trouble masquerading as a resistor and consuming them for power along with the fundamental; you could even make the car look like a much lower-value resistor for the harmonics.  Something like an AC Propulsion reductive charger should only need the correct software to implement this.

IIRC, Europe is concerned about nonlinear behavior of electronic power supplies (the typical switching power supply with a bridge rectifier feeding a capacitor creates a lot of harmonics) and is going to legislate that they attain a certain power factor, even down to units of a hundred watts or so.  What can be done in a desktop computer can be done in a car.

The chance that all 32 chargers would be running exactly in phase with one another is about on par with buying a winning lottery ticket. Even then, you would be hard pressed to keep them all sync'ed for more than 1 or 2 cycles.

Those "identical chargers" would probably be assembled out of components made in China with widely variant (+/- 10%, 20% for the noncritical bits)tolerances.

Father, Farmer, Engineer, Doomer, Drummer

I had an experience with the nighttime cooling off a couple of years back. The utility had made a poor assessment of the local climate, and underspecced our block transformer. Since it couldn't keep cool, we couldn't maintain power during a 115F heat wave. They have since replaced that transformer, although we've since not had any weather nearly hot enough to seriously test it.

I suspects it's not the night cooling that matters, but the afternoon power peak aligned with a thermal peak.

I suspects it's not the night cooling that matters, but the afternoon power peak aligned with a thermal peak.

The PG&E repair guy, claimed it was that they thought night-time temperatures were the issue, which I intrepret as meaning the length of time for it to heat/cool must be nearly 24hours. And this was a residential dirtribution trannie serving roughly 16 subburban houses. Now these guys aren't exactly geniuses, but he must have got that idea from someone.

Palecon and EoS are both right. I should have qualified the previous with an exclusion for residential distribution transformers. I was talking about power transformers.

Residential transformers only take 15 min. to cool down, but it depends if the ambient temperature is above 30 degrees C.

The problem with residential xfmrs (that's the short hand as I'm getting tired) is they are sized by general standards or estimation. They are relatively cheap and easy to replace, so not a lot of thought goes into correct sizing. Power xfmrs on the otherhand are expensive and difficult to replace (typical power xfmr size is > 2 MVA, or 2000 kVA).

FYI, sizing is done by total VA and not Watts.

S = P + jQ

S, total complex power in Volt-Amps, VA
P, real power in Watts, W
Q, reactive power in Volt-Amps Reactive, VAR

The trigonometry is up to you. hint S = (P^2 + Q^2)^1/2

When questioned about the appropriate solution to our electrical energy needs, my answer is usually "All of them". That is answer e), all of the above. Conservation and Demand Side Management (DSM) are the low hanging fruit and they make the most sense. Will we meet our projected targets? I highly doubt it as I expect the actual figure will be 50% of target. That doesn't mean we give up the effort, just don't plan on energy planning at 100% of target (and this comes from highly environmentally aware areas!).

Local generation is also a good option and I highly endorse it for a multitude of reasons; especially where electrical generation and community heating can be combined. But the grid, ah the "national" Grid...

The NORTH AMERICAN grid, (in case anyone forgot Canada - oh wait, you did), is really a cobbling together of regional grids. It works with the same efficiency of trying to make the shopping malls all over town to operate as one super shopping mall. And, for all the talk about renewable energy sources, what never gets into the argument is VARs (Volt-Amp Reactive). I don't blame anyone because its technical and boring, but what the heck, that's what makes the grid work.

In the above comment from Sir Alan of BE, Texas is upgrading transmission lines and adding autotransformers. This is to support voltage and renewable energy sources such as wind farms. Wind turbines don't put VARs on the grid, they use them; hence they have to come from somewhere. That somewhere is typically a large generation facility or lightly loaded transmission lines.

O.k., here's the link because I'm going to talk a whole lot more about VARs:

Autotransformers are used to adjust the voltage between the two sides for appropriate VAR flow. They can also be used for traditional transformer step-up or down, but they are usually used for voltage regulation. Why is voltage regulation important to you, the end user?

If one is operating an electrical grid system, voltage is important for stability whereas for the end user it is important for operating electrical devices. Power = V^2/R. If you are operating a toaster, the power available decreases proportional to the square of the voltage. This is why light bulbs burn out more rapidly with slight increases in voltage. However, for 3-phase motors a voltage drop is bad news because the motor will draw more current to maintain the torque. This is how motors get burned out in industrial locations.

Most of our electronics don't care because they have self regulating power supplies that operate over a wide voltage range - but that's a discussion for another day (harmonics).

If anyone was truly serious about improving the capacity and reliability of the Grid, they would install major HVDC corridors. The sales reps at ABB and Siemens love it when I talk like this because these are big-buck equipment contracts. Regardless, HVDC corridors allow the Grid to operate more like a digital/analogue system rather than the analogue system we have now. Plus, HVDC is more efficient over long distances. You still need VARs though, and lots of them; and these VARs are going to come from (did you do your homework?), that's right, big power plants. The Grid and large power plants are not mutually exclusive.

Here's a good way to envision how VARs work. Imagine the grid transporting power is a mesh of interconnected water pipes with nodes, intersections, pumps and valves. To make this grid work the water flow has to be controlled so there is not too much water or too little water flowing to where it's needed. To do this, we have to balance this mesh of pipe which we do with springs attached above and below throughout. By adjusting the tension on the springs, we balance the water pipe mesh to make the water flow to where it is required without damaging anything. The water flow is Power (what you pay for), and the springs are VARs (what you don't pay for), but are necessary to make the system work.

In conclusion, it is worth incorporating all the operational components of a grid system when discussing energy because they are not mutually exclusive. And, don't forget Canada! There are still large amounts of hydroelectric development potential up here and the Grid upgrades should include north-south as well as east-west.

This is just like the weather reports in the U.S. On all the weather maps, nothing exists above the 49th parallel until an Arctic cold front descends from Canada like the vengeful hockey checking line from Hell. This is the arrogance of empire I suppose...

A wind turbine uses vars? Please explain. Vars are used to correct the phase angle between voltage and amperage. Maximum power comes about when voltage and amperage are in phase. Typically such phase differentials come about in industrial facilities. Since the power company charges up the ying/yang for the phase angle mismatch, sensible plants put in banks of capacitors to correct for power factor. Most hydro plants are for power factor correction.

I am on thin ice here. It has been too long ...

Multi-pole (10 to 40+ poles) hydro generators are gods gift for power quality. Strong VARS and absorb harmonics.

From vague memory, WTs use asynchronous generators (no VARs, they create problems instead). Synchronous generators (or motors !) supply those.

I see VARS as what is needed to correct the sine wave of AC power back to a nice symmetric curve.


I have touted the 5 GW of potential hydro that Manitoba is looking for a market for. Elsewhere in Canada as well.

But Canada is an arctic wasteland and can otherwise be safely ignored.

Wind turbines per se do not use VARs.  Some wind turbines use induction generators (same as an induction motor, but driven at greater than synchronous speed), and induction generators use VARs.  Newer technologies including high-frequency alternators with cycloconverters to down-convert to 60 Hz can generate VARs (here's one patent).

Induction generators have no field winding. They use the grid to induce a current in their squirrel-cage rotor. The wind turbine pushes against the induced field. Induction motors and generators are mechanically simple, but difficult to understand or explain. Induction machines, motor or generator, are always lagging power factor. A synchronous generator (steam turbine or hydro) uses DC field windings on the rotor. The power factor of the synchronous machine can be controlled by controlling the strength of the DC field in the rotor. You can overexcite a synchronous motor or generator to give a leading power factor (also, look up synchronous condensers). Thermal machines don't like load changes. There can be a long lag time between shovelling in the coal and getting more steam through the turbine. Hydro machines are very responsive. Open the wicket gates and instant power. Thus hydro is used preferentially where available for peaking power and other fast response requirements.

Capacitors can be used in different ways to compensate for power factor. Unfortunately for wind farms, their VAR load can vary widely and quickly, making fixed banks unsuitable. The VAR changes cause voltage variations on the transmission lines which, uncompensated, are a big, big problem. Too high of a voltage and you can age your equipment or induce a failure in marginal equipment or turn on your arrestors. Too low, and you can cause stalls in induction motors (air conditioners are a big concern) and the resulting load increase could result in a voltage collapse and blackout. Wind farms can use switched capacitors to try to adjust power factor, but if the system is not stiff enough, they might go to a Static VAR Compensator (SVC) to get the response time required.

Personally, I don't think VAR load is the best reason to go to a supergrid. I do think power ramp rates from wind generation variability are a good reason. Wind is too difficult to schedule for. With even a sparse network of HVDC lines, you could share load compensation resources over a wide area. HVDC lines can alter their load levels in 1/12th of a cycle (2+ msec). With the right controls, diverse geographical areas could share load-levelling resources across wide areas, enabling a much higher percentage of wind (and other renewable) integration. I am a big believer in efficiency, but I also feel that we could have a much greener generation portfolio if we have the correct transmission resources to make up for the drawbacks to green power by having a truly continental transmission grid (including Canada).

Right no American Electric Power is pushing for a 745kVAC supergrid. Big suprise, they are the only company in the US that is running 745kVAC lines. AC lines will not give you the same kind of controllability that HVDC will, so I hope they don't dominate the discussion too much.

Jeff Barton
HVDC Applications Engineer
Bonneville Power Administration

How is modern HVDC > HVAC conversion for creating reactive power ?

The lack of reactive power is the weakest link (IMVHO) in a large HVDC grid. Of course, motor-generator sets can "get around this" but hardly an elegant solution.

Any thoughts ?


Also, I have been told that multi-pole hydro generators absorb harmonics nicely. A small hydropower plant can help power quality, even if only rotating in air.

HVDC light from ABB (I forget the Siemens trade name for the same technology) can act as a VAR source or sink at either end of the line, in addition to transmitting power. HVDC light uses Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistors (IGBTs) rather than thyristors for AC-DC conversion. Power and voltage levels are limited. The IGBTs chop up the voltage at (I think) 1 kHz. Maximum voltage and power for HVDC light is 350kV and 1100MW (though there are no current installations at these levels).

HVDC "classic", using thyristors, is always lagging power factor due to the nature of the thyristors. They only turn off when reverse biased. The station AC filters will give some PF correction. You can add switched capacitor banks to make up the rest. If you are on a weak system you can add a Static VAR Compensator. Switched cap banks are usually adequate. HVDC is nice for long-distance, point-to-point bulk power transfer. There are significant control problems for multi-terminal systems.

There should be no need for MG sets for VAR compensation. I would imagine any high-power HVDC lines would be connecting between pretty stiff points on the AC grid. It is hard for me to think of a scenario where capacitive compensation would be insufficient. If you are thinking of islanded power (either to an actual island or an isoated grid), thyristors are a problem. You could buy an HVDC light line under your HVDC classic right-of-way for black start capability. Use the HVDC light for black start. When some fraction of the grid is running, turn on the HVDC classic.

ABB has a nice webpage for learning about HVDC.

Jeff Barton
HVDC Applications Engineer
Bonneville Power Administration

Jeff, thanks for the link.

There was a fracas in Alberta few years ago about a new HV line running the length of the province.

Various groups got in on the argument and of course, NIMBY was front and centre.

One of the main issues was AC overhead or DC underground, and there were wild claims on both sides wrt cost and feasibility, and I believe that the developer finally gave up.

I'd like to hear your take on this.

I think the project you are referring to is the Northern Lights project proposed by TransCanada. You can see a project summary here:


It is intended to transmit renewables and cogeneration from Alberta (notably for this webpage, cogeneration from the tarsands fields near Fort MacMurray). Edmonton could import power from Oregon, if necessary.

I met with one of the VPs from TransCanada this year at the Celilo Converter Station. This project is still very much alive. I cannot go into more details. I am worried about violating some kind of ethics or confidentiality agreement. But frankly, I don't know a lot more than what is posted publicly on the website.

DC underground would probably not be practical. The cable is just too long. I don't think the worldwide production for cable could make enough cable to run this underground. Maybe for short runs, but this would limit your voltage. 500 to 800kVDC overhead lines are the way to go.

If it is another project, I am not familiar with it.

Jeff Barton

Thanks for your reply Jeff:

That is the one I was thinking of.

My work in utilities (DSM) was more than a few years ago, obviously a lot has changed.

The advantages of DC underground are fairly obvious, but I was surprised to see you tout DC for overhead. Apparently it is now competitive with AC. The only AD-DC-AC station I knew of was between Alberta and Saskatchewan somewhere up north, if my addled mind recalls correctly.

I guess I have some catching up to do.



Dear Jeff,

Imagine a future Florida.

Enough in-state nukes to exceed base-load; surplus power most nights from 10 PM (or midnight, depending on weather) till 6 or 7 AM.

Enough PV solar to always exceed demand at solar noon, but not enough for hottest time of the day (3-4 PM) in the summer or the 6 PM secondary peak.

Trivial amounts of wind and bio-mass in Florida,

Coal (and a little charcoal) is stored at dormant coal fired plants (24 to 48 hours to full generation) and some NG fired plants are kept on stand-by.

A bisected triangle of HV DC.

Western Oklahoma to Chattannoga TN to Orlando FL (second drop @ Ft. Lauderdale/Miami) to Western Oklahoma. Plus the triangle is bisected by a line from Chattanooga to Birmingham AL (where it connects with OK-FL HVDC line).

Each HV DC "line" is really four lines on two sets of towers (spaced a minimum of 10 miles apart, tornados, etc.). One line is HV DC Lite and 1 GW. The other three lines are 3 GW each (+ & - 500 kV) for a total of 10 GW.

Massive wind farms in Oklahoma (connected by HV DC to other wind farms from Canada to Texas, and Manitoba Hydro).

Florida exports power every night and every solar noon to pumped storage in Chattanooga# (say nameplate of 12 GW) and imports power the rest of the time.

Florida imports fresh wind power from OK if available. If not, from pumped storage in Chattanooga, and if that is low, then NG or coal locally.

OK has several markets to sell wind to, Florida and California being the two largest. And if no one wants "fresh" wind power, it sells to pumped storage (Chattanooga, Rocky MT, Lake Superior are the largest buyers). When wind dies down and summer temps are 100+ F, OK either burns coal/NG or imports from pumped storage (or Manitoba Hydro). Some solar in OK, but economics suggest putting solar in importing states.

Please also drop me your eMail address (mine is in my profile)

Best Hopes for non-GHG generation,


Good plan Sir Alan of BE. These are the approaches I have been advocating. A holistic plan incorporating the regional advantages.

Although, you may want to space the HVDC right of way farther apart. Going north-south, 30 miles makes a big difference in wind speed; 10 miles not so much.

Each HV DC "line" is really four lines on two sets of towers (spaced a minimum of 10 miles apart, tornados, etc.). One line is HV DC Lite and 1 GW. The other three lines are 3 GW each (+ & - 500 kV) for a total of 10 GW.

It would make more sense to finish the R&D required to run megavolt-level HVDC with IGBT's and dispense with the low-capacity secondary network.  If worse comes to worst, connect 3 of the ~350 kVDC converters in series to soak up 1 MV and use transformers for DC isolation on the AC side.

If modern semiconductors still can't do it, what keeps us from using vacuum tubes?  Seriously?

A pair of wires running at ±1.1 megavolt and 3000 amps is 6.6 GW.  Times four, 26.4 GW.  You don't need too many of those before you can carry the wind power capacity of the Texas-North Dakota belt.

Too many eggs in one basket.

My plan has redundancy at several levels. Orlando has 8 circuits arriving. One can be kept as "spinning reserve" is case of a fault on any of the others (remember Chattanooga-B'ham bisect line). AC links through Georgia to Chattanooga can also help make up for a fault, at least in part (automated load shedding would also be required in case of a fault).

I did fail to specify that the HV DC Lite line can be converted to a traditional HV DC line (+/- 500 kV, 3 GW) by simply switching converters at either end.

Traditional HV DC lacks reactive power, a critical failing that HV DC Lite supplies. Perhaps Florida nukes can supply that, but it seems a mismatch (1.2 or 1.7 GW 4 pole generators having to deal with up to 16 GW of imported power without much assistance). And if the nukes go down ???

Massive projects with products straight out of the R&D lab is bad policy IMO. Murphy does exist.


BTW, operating equipment with a floating ground 750 kV above actual ground seems like a disaster that will not wait long. I have been around high voltage switchgear and xfers and it *IS* worthy of IMMENSE respect !

My plan has redundancy at several levels.

The HVDC Lite isn't a backup for any of the rest, and it's a single point of failure for your "black start" capability.

The only reason to bother with "HVDC Lite" in such a high-power system is because IGBT inverters are not yet designed to handle megavolt inputs.  You can't get 200 volts out of an electrochemical cell either, but we connect bunches of them in series to get whatever voltage we want.  This is already done with thyristor "valves"; I strongly suspect that the only reason it's not being done with IGBT's for the highest voltage HVDC systems is that the need for controlling power factor has not been acute.  If that should become a technical necessity or legal requirement, I doubt that it would be terribly difficult or expensive to change (and evolution of semiconductors would eventually make the issue moot in any case; it wasn't long ago that a megavolt thyristor system was a wet dream).

operating equipment with a floating ground 750 kV above actual ground seems like a disaster that will not wait long.

Yet it's done every day with series-connected strings of thyristors.  In my memory, MOSFETs went from delicate small-signal devices to muscular power switches, and silicon carbide is re-writing the rules on temperature tolerance.  This will be quotidian very soon, most certainly if someone shows a willingness to place orders.

Thank you for providing some expert opinion on this complex subject. I am from Australia and have no idea how the American/Canadian power system works. Is there any one organisation that actually sets the power flows and generation for the whole grid? If not, how do you avoid stability problems?
In Australia, which is much smaller system than the US we do have one organisation that manages the grid and allocates generation, voltage control, etc. It does not have any generation itself but allocates it on a cost bid basis taking into account stability limits.
Power systems are complex and not easily understood particularly by economists, etc who think that selling and buying electricity is like running a supermarket. The worst thing that ever happened to the electricity industry is when the money men took over!

Not my area of expertise. My understanding is probably flawed. It is a pretty complex commercial system.

I have some wiki pages for reference:


The ISOs and RTOs handle the load balancing and reliability functions as well as marketing. But the whole system is more complex.

ISOs do the inside regional trading. They typically have a trading floor and clear prices for hour ahead and day ahead contracts.
RTOs are similar to ISOs. They may or may not have the same duties.
FERC is a USA federal agency concerned with energy reliability, including electricity
NERC is the North American corporation with regulatory authority in the US, but spans to Canada and some of Mexico.

What I know comes from the West Coast. WECC is one of a few electric domains in North America (ie CalISO, WAPA, the BPA service territory, and etc.). It is connected to Texas and the East with back-to-back HVDC stations and one or two HVDC lines. The North America runs at 60Hz, but the three domains are not synchronized. WECC was a cooperative body that set voluntary standards. There are a few locations that have responsibility for setting frequency (ie, Grand Coulee). Otherwise there is cooperation in adhering to WECC standards. NERC has recently become the regulatory body, and can now enforce these standards with fines. ISOs and RTOs will run a trading floor to set prices for power sales. If the transmission is available, a company in a one RTO can bid to sell power to another. (BPA sells power to CalISO via different interties.) Generators bid to provide power at different price points. Utilities and industry will bid for power contracts. Long term contracts are handled outside the trading floor. The transmission operators can limit schedules to the stable transmission that is available. There is a whole department at BPA dedicated to running load and stability studies to ensure proper reliability. If a transmission operator overschedules, they can be fined. RTOs must work to ensure load balance in their operating region. This may include imports and exports from the region.

It is really a needlessly complex system, but it kind of works. The US grid merged from a bunch of independant power providers, and some federal programs. All the organizations want to keep their autonomy while still cooperating.


Thank you for that explanation. It makes my brain ache just trying to understand it, operating it must be a nightmare.

Thanks Jeff, you saved me a long explanation. And since you are the HVDC guy at Bonneville, I will defer to you on these issues. I've been delving into HVDC lately as I'm lobbying BC Hydro to build a core system line from the northern part of the province to the U.S. border to tie into Bonneville.

It's pie in the sky right now, but with the amount of wind power and hydro generation potential north of Prince George, it will make a lot of sense in ten years. It will also take care of some bottlenecks on the 500 kV system as well as the aforementioned power flow control issues.

We probably know some of the same engineers and I would enjoy an offline contact. I'm not directly involved in WECC, but that could change...

I've never run fault studies on an AC system with contributions from HVDC; I would presume they don't exist or aren't appreciable. Pardon my ignorance, but I don't have any DC terminals within a four hundred mile radius...I really don't know.

However, the first thing I think of when I see that #1 recommendation for an improved EHV backbone is what dropping in a 500/230kV source (or other significant fault contribution) would do to my existing system...how many circuit breakers will I have to replace? What transmission lines/cables would require upgrading? Any insulation coordination issues? Single pole tripping for improved stability? Faster clearing requirements? I say this because there are active planning studies here in Sacramento for dropping in a 500kV termination or multiple terminations into our existing 230/115kV system. I'm only personally interested in the protection, not capability issues.

If we were to instead consider HVDC transmission expansion into California (that is, not just terminated at Sylmar/Adelanto), what might be some of your protection concerns for any existing AC system?

I haven't done a fault study with a DC source either, but I would assume it will contribute some energy. To be conservative at the outset, it may be worth treating the source as a large induction motor.

If a 500 kV circuit is interconnected into your existing 230/115 kV system it is going to increase the fault levels undoubtedly. It depends on the line length, but the 230 kV bus could increase by 800 to 1,000 MVA, which may require a change out of circuit breakers.

The two other issues that will need review are:
1) Speed. Fault clearing times may need to be improved on the 230/115 kV system to maintain stability. If the present system is primary differential or impedance, that may not be an issue. The secondary protection is probably infinite timed (i.e. overcurrent 51's or 67's) and would need revision.

2) Voltage transients. The higher the voltage, the greater the switching and voltage transients. Insulation coordination may need revising around the 500 kV terminus. I would be particularly concerned about the existing LA's on the 230 kV transformers.

Then there is the fun and games of being in a 500 kV substation. Hint, learn to hop like a bunny...

I think VARs aren't so well defined. A reactive load, stores energy in magnetic fields, and is the equivalent of mass in a sprin oscillator system. It will skew the current peak to be behind the voltage peak. A capacitive load will do the opposite. So sign matters here, you can use capacitive capacity to cancel out reactive capacity.

Another way to pay for all of this is to print money. I know that sounds inflationary, but if it adds wealth to the nation, then it wouldn't necessarily be inflationary. Besides, this is basically what the Feds are doing now anyway.

We are trying this, but it is hard to see this will work for very long. There are so many things we need, it will soon be "game over". We might be able to use currency with no backing to reallocate resources internally, but I find it hard to believe it will be worth much externally for very long.

By the way, I think it is at least equally likely that deflation cannot be overcome with this tactic, and we will end up with most everyone bankrupt before long.

We are trying this, but it is hard to see this will work for very long. There are so many things we need, it will soon be "game over".

That is my feeling as well, a couple of years of big Keynesian spending, then some combination of debt buildup and/or political reaction against the debt buildup will put it to a stop. That is why I have gotten into battles (if a few blog comments can be considered as such), with those who support the proposition that the speed of the stimulus is too important the heck with spending it well. If we only have a couple of years to spend, I sure want it to be for the things we will need later on. I hope others who think likewise make sure Obama hears that message.

There are actually quite a few sources of revenue, but they are politically difficult: defense spending is the most obvious, and maybe the most difficult (we would do fine with an 80% cut there); in the Kennedy years the top marginal income tax rate was 70% (down from 90% in the 1950s), down to what, 35%?; and in the 1950s corporations paid 22% of Federal revenue, now down to 7%. Then there are a few hundred billion in ridiculous subsidies.

At some point, the next economic shoe will drop, that is, the dollar will crash to about half its current value. Then it will be more difficult (although there is a fourth source of revenue, bonds sold to foreigners, that the US used quite effectively in the 19th century, although that might be tapped out soon).

But the stimulus will eventually have to morph into industrial policy when people realize that this will be a multi-year depression, not a one or two year recession, and that we won't get out of it until the manufacturing base is rebuilt. And that we won't get out of it until we aren't using so much oil. which will require huge investments, in...wait...aha, the electrical system! However, I admit that this will all take an enormous change in elite and mass understanding...and maybe that won't be forthcoming quickly enough.

-- Jon Rynn

Here is a chart of Energy consumption by source for 2006.


Just look at the size of the Oil pie slice. It would almost double the electrical power generation (and to a lesser degree transmission) requirements to transfer those oil quads electrically. There will of course be major efficiency improvements long term as we rebuild to use rail and PHEV but that is still a huge number of quads. Then there will be the added demand for home heating as the natural gas supply begins to decline.

It is my feeling that we will not have time to build that much new generation. Instead I think we will be forced to use less energy. Much, much less. However I still think that even if we cut energy use per capita, we will still need to improve the distribution system. We will need to build the new lines to reach the renewable sources.

And I think we will need to increase electrical transmission into the urban cores because the population density will make a major jump as the energy needed for commuting declines.


This figure is a simple map showing how much density would need to increase if the commute distance was cut by half from 16 miles to 8 miles. Just imagine those diffuse electrical power requirements concentrating around the urban core. The core is also the area most likely to add electric trains, trolley buses, or other grid tied transportation sources. Even electrical vehicles are far more likely in the urban centers than in the outer areas. I think the core is going to see an increased demand even if the energy supply as a whole is in decline.

Real estate is the most expensive way to deal with energy change. Since area is a square function, taking all those people and businesses from the area between the red and green rings and placing them inside the red ring would quadruple the red ring density. Most businesses today are located in the space between the red and green rings in this map of the Minneapolis region, so business movement would be even more expensive than people movement. It's easy to build up for people habitat, less easy for business.

In the 1950s when Minneapolis had a highly developed trolley system, half the jobs and half the stores were downtown. That's no longer the case. Today, commuting between suburbs is larger than the commute from suburb to core city. My son who lives in Burnsville has close, easy access to ten times the services that my son in St. Paul has.

There is only one New York City in the U.S., and there is a reason for that. Most people don't want to live in that kind of density. If they did, there would be many Manhattans, not just one. Humans are a generalist, territorial tropical savanna species. That's our evolutionary history. It isn't cars that made us spread out. We wanted to do that, and it is what made the rapid colonization of the earth by humans possible.

Fred, not all people want to live in the suburban savanna. Maybe it's because parts of my family has been cosmopolitan Jewish for centuries, I don't know what it is, but I'd really rather live in a dense area. It may even be the case that up to 30% of the public would want to live in "walkable communities", according to Chris Leinberger of the Brookings Institute.

It would quite obviously be much more efficient to have more density, which is why, after the savanna, civilization has been synonymous with the city. So if Minneapolis spent 50 years sprawling, it could spend the next fifty years de-sprawling. Assuming that most people would want to stay in sprawl, the question is whether there will be enough energy, and in the case of transportation enough dense energy to keep that lifestyle going. But understand that it's a cultural decision, not an economic one.

And since there is only one NYC, the prices for housing there are the highest in the country, and aren't coming down much even in the face of the biggest real estate meltdown in history. Maybe car batteries will save suburbia; I hope so.

How does the recovery of New York's inner city map to the growth of the virtual-money debt bubble? I imagine that London, New York, and Hong Kong will still be viable cities, but after dropping in cost structures to match the real world. There are only so many multi-million salaries the real world can support, and it won't pay for the existing apartments and stores at current valuation.

It isn't cars that made us spread out.

On this point I have to disagree. If you must walk or ride a train to reach essential services, then the city will be much more dense by necessity. Most older cities are denser than newer cities. The car allowed point to point travel at high speed. Such an ability has dramatically altered the design of cities. I would agree that humans would rather live spread out, but such a life requires far more energy. That level of energy per capita does not exist for most people in most of the world. I don't think it will continue to exist for people in the US.

I think that falling oil exports and net energy reductions will cut per capita energy use dramatically in the next 30 years. And I don't see renewables scaling anywhere near fast enough to make up the difference. If alternate energy sources do scale very, very fast, then I think the population will remain distributed.

I think the maintenance of cities depends very heavily on two things (1) having enough electricity to keep services like water, sewer, and most commerce going (2) having enough diesel to keep high food generation on farms, so that there is excess to export to the city. If we start to lose too much electricity, or too much diesel, cities will need to depopulate, so that the location of the citizens better matches food and water resources, and so that there are more hands on the farms for labor-intensive agriculture.

Blackouts averaging 18 hours/day (in 110 F heat !) in residential areas plus day long lines at gas stations did not depopulate Baghdad (thousands dying in military action did motivate some to leave).


I should have said it isn't cars that made us WANT to spread out. The desire to spread out is part of human nature, and cars make it much easier to fulfill that desire. Dense core cities require a phenomenal level of infrastructure. Imperial Rome would not have been possible without its water and sewer system, and it was not until the middle of the 19th century that London achieved a level of infrastructure development the equal of ancient Rome. Increasing productivity of farming allowed a large number of dense cities to develop. A century ago, most Americans lived in a dispersed setting.

The main point I was trying to bring out is that re-centralization of cities would be a tremendously expensive effort. For most people, their home is their most expensive investment. Recentralizing cities would involve monumental amounts of real estate investment, far greater than the investment needed in improving energy and transportation infrastructure.

The desire to spread out is part of human nature

BS !!

Humans are social animals. Gathering together is more of a human trait.

The driving force for Suburbia is fear of the "Other". Largely racism, but some other fears as well.

We are going to have to spend large amounts of resources repairing and maintaining Suburbia. Why throw "Good money after Bad" ?

Invest those resources in Urban Rail and TOD.


The driving force for Suburbia is fear of the "Other". Largely racism, but some other fears as well.

It isn't racist to want to be far from car theft, burglary, gang activity, armed robbery and murder, though today's thug-advocates paint it that way (people who aren't living in fear of crime or "unrest" don't hand over power to people with "solutions").  The rate of murder and other crimes in New Orleans is excellent reason to live elsewhere; the race of the perps is simply irrelevant, and playing the race card is one of the cheapest and most dishonest rhetorical devices.

White flight was very real and the fundamental social driving force behind Suburban expansion. Racism is large letters.

Avoiding integration of schools in the South#, and avoiding the mass migration of farm labor from the South to Northern cities in the North.

# Chalmette, our downriver Suburb, still has their main street named after a political leader ex-communicated from the Catholic Church for resisting integration.

White Flight was motivated by racism. Other factors aided it, and excused it, but that was the social spark.


Driving cars in suburbia is more dangerous than the risk of murder in a city. There are reports showing this, but just consider this: over 100 people per day are killed driving, whereas a really "crime-ridden" city has what, 500 murders per year?

Again, I am very culturally cosmopolitan, but I never understood the noise complaint. The noise from cars in suburbia is constant, particularly if you're living on a busy road. And besides, most people have their TV or stereos blasting. As for smells, what are people talking about?

Historically, there was indeed a racist component to "white flight", and it wasn't just crime. However, let's give people some credit - Obama was just elected -- and say that that isn't a major problem now. There are still legitimate problems of schools, although I don't know that suburban schools are really that much better. But it would be fairly straightforward to improve the school system (hint: when the military wants to improve their situation, they throw money at it).

Perhaps there is a misconception about cities (I can vouch for some African-American in-laws, who came to visit us when we lived in NYC and were convinced that they were at risk just walking down broadway. A few hours of walking and subway riding changed their minds). So maybe some good old-fashioned education (and tourism) would help.

There is a large range of what constitutes "gathering together" - historically, most human beings have not lived in typical present-day urban densities. Note that I make no claim that living in them is bad, or good (I've lived in all three and there are good things and bad things to be said about all three, including their potential for post-peak adaptation), just that I think there is no historic case for claiming that the fact that we are social animals means we have a likely drive to the urban. In fact, social lives exist in rural, suburban and urban areas. In larger areas, good social interaction generally involves scaling down society into manageable bites, ie, neighborhoods and cultural and religious communities. In smaller areas, this is less necessary.

There's no question that some of the flight to suburbia is racism - but that's not the only issue, and, bluntly, it is silly to suggest it is. The desire to tend a piece of soil larger than a postage stamp, the desire for fewer pollutants than many cities have (including pollutions like noise and light), and a host of other motivations are also involved.


All quads are not created equal. ;)

Oil's a relatively high entropy energy source, unlike, say, electricity from renewables that's very low entropy. For instance w/ two identical vehicles, one running on electric and one on gas, the electric would need a fifth of the energy to travel the same distance the conventional vehicle would. This is because electricity can be converted into mechanical work w/ very high efficiency fairly easily, at something like 80+%. Chemical energy otoh only averages ~15+% conversion efficiency for most conventional vehicles.

Hybrids and vehicles w/ small enough power plants can optimize energy efficiency for conventional vehicles, but even then we only get up to ~25% efficiency on average due to emissions requirements for most travel. This isn't including knock-on effects. For instance a typical EV would likely be more efficient than a typical conventional vehicle in design, so that drops the electricity requirements further. From there you can figure the energy needed to replace that portion of the oil pie piece. On the other hand, if we do end up synthesizing liquid fuels for heavy transport, that would require more electricity than it's oil equivalent. However that may not be grid based since it would probably be cheapest to find the least expensive source of high class wind power near a pipeline and synthesize liquid fuel there. It's using the cheapest source of energy and there's no need for transmission to be built, so it would be additional electricity production, but not for the grid.

Anyway, like I mentioned, not all Quads are created equal. WRT replacement some applications may require more and some may require less. Behavior will change, etc...

Electricity is the most wasteful form of power.
One argument made here constantly is that electrification of rail is more efficient than diesel.
That's preposterous!
Most locomotives are already diesel electric; they have a small diesel power plant on board. The diesel engine generator is 30% efficient, as efficient as any nuclear power plant and most coal fired power plants. The fuel efficiency of "electric-trains-with-onboard diesel- generators" is about 330 ton-miles per gallon of diesel fuel. This is rather amusing because 20% of all rail traffic(the largest use) for coal-fired electricity as well as 6.7% for gasoline, fuel oil and aviation fuel.

The US runs about 3 trillion ton miles a year of freight using 10 billion gallons of diesel fuel.

The reason people use overhead electric trains is because diesel fuel is expensive and there is a lot of nukes and hydro around.

One solution is to use carbon neutral bio-diesel for existing locomotives.
Another solution is to use hydrogen fuel cells installed in new locomotives(hydrail).
The hydrogen can come from electolysis of renewable electricity or reformating of fossil fuels.

Either way we have trains running independent of a grid
dependent of variable renewables or carbon emitting electricity without CO2 emissions.

If there is a lot of cheap nuclear power or a lot of cheap hydro then you see overhead electric trains otherwise they don't make sense IMO.

Don't blame electricity for the fault's of chemical energy! ;)

That said, efficiency tends to be better than 30% w/ thermal generation. And even w/ the ~93% efficiency of electricity transmission in the states, we're still looking at a bit better efficiency using larger scale generation from chemical energy, not to mention better emissions per kWh generated and used.

Still, that's an aside, since a kWh generated by a wind turbine, solar panel, or similar, can power a train just as well as a kWh from a thermal plant, and outside of cost concerns, the efficiency of renewables isn't a big issue since they don't have the externalized costs of fossil fuels and the like.

The most advantageous electrification of rail happens when it moves through high reliability, high class, renewable resources, for instance wind in the mid-west. Since we can just run the transmission infrastructure w/ the track, and electrify the trains off of that. No need for a new corridor, quick access to the equipment, and fairly cheap electrification of certain rail lines.

I am starting to rethink the electric train approach.

- Widespread use would, or should, be predicated on a robust and reliable grid, which, it appears we do not have.
- As electricity is difficult to store, grid loss means immediate train loss.
- Diesel trains have far less dependency on any infrastructure in the short term.
- If trackage uses both modes, the diesel's independence my be mooted by a dead electric "dead" ahead.

Given the high efficiency of rail transport in general, and fossil fuels will still be with us for quite a while, there may be other areas that should be addressed first like perhaps more trackage/stations to get cars and trucks off the road. Given the low ridership, rolling stock and electrification are not an immediate need.

I should point out that the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit has been abandoned for over 20 years.

Before the electric train aficionados climb all over me, I'm not saying don't do it. I just think right now it is critical to get the best bang for the buck and perhaps staging the changes makes more sense.

That said, we'll probably rebuild all our freeways and bridges and feel good about ourselves. :-)

The grid is reliable *IF* rotating blackouts are used when under stress.

Selected involuntary forced conservation reduces demand to what the grid can comfortably carry. Suburbs are typically at the top of the list. 15 to 45 minutes of scheduled blackout, then on to the next Suburb.

Such things are a horror to Americans. I noted that Gail used a Dallas article on the "we just missed rotating blackouts" as "evidence" of grid failure, anything but ! It is evidence of grid resiliency.

Electrified rail might asked to conserve by slowing down a bit, but it would not be selected for a rotating blackout. Too much value, too little electricity used.

Best Hopes for Rotating Blackouts,


An ability to implement rotating blackouts is resilency but it is an emergency since it you only need it when grid redundancy or production capacity fails.

It is a scary scenarion in Sweden where the maximum load happens in mid winter when temperatures are low, ground source heat pumps run flat out and are suplemented with resistive heating, air source heat pumps looses their efficiency and are replaced with resistive heating, thousands of random resistive heaters kick in to keep sensitive spots from freezing, resistive heated houses draw ore power and numerous summer cottages draw power. The bad thing with this is when you shut an area down and drop say a 10 MW load it wont come back on line as a 10 MW load but as 11 or 12 MW load since the cold seeps in and more thermostats trigger. Only parts on the load has automatics to stage the power on to avoid overloading after a power failure.

This is not the end of the world but it means that there is a risk that you need to rotate out two areas to rotate in one area. The overall system will still find a ballance since the load addition is limited but if you stop juggling it becomes harder to get the balls up again.

And what areas are suitable to rotate out? If we shut down town areas we loose the district heating due to lack of power to run the pumps for the local loops in the individual houses. This also removes the heat sink for the combined heat and power plants wich reduces electricity production. Shutting down rural areas hurts livestock farming although many farmers have emergency generators and shutting down industries can give large disturbance costs.

I know there are manual routines for handling rotating blackouts but they have never been needed and this has resulted in a lack of legal framwork and contracts for such an occasion. Almost all the automatics and remote control is adapted for fault isolation and not power interruption.

This scary scenario has been used as an argument for additional local production to make in inproductive to disconnect the local municipiality and it is an argument for continued maintaiance of a common pool of emergency powerplants and contracts for interruptible power use in industries. Its either that or investing in implementing a fine grained infrastructure for providing bad service to consumers.

I would rather invest in more emergency generators, more grid redundancy, more power production and control infrastructure for using energency generators as an addition to the grid capacity, more contracts for interruptible power use and more insulation and replacemet of resistive heating. The best already made preparations for rotating blackouts are propbably some local efforts to make it easier to run an iceland grid around a local powerplant, I would be happy with more of those preparations since they give more resilience per buck.

Rotating blakcouts is imho a thirld-world solution for countries without resources or ability to run a proper grid. It would be shamefull to be forced to use it as a solution and it should prompt immediate investments!

The risk for rotating blackuts in Sweden is below 10% and perhaps below 5% wich I find way to high, we only need a "ten year winter" and having one or few large powerplants off-line and a lack of imports to get below zero margin and needing rotating blackouts to preserve the spinning reserve and the fast start gas turbines that are needed to handle a second n-1 fault. Fortunately there are ongoing investmets in new production capacity and we should soon be able to get what I concider adequate margins, that is handling all reasonable weather and a few malfunctions withouth any normal customer noticing anything.

Gail is *WAY* off base on the grid. She is horrified (see her links) at rotating blackouts (downsize load to what the grid can comfortably handle by involuntary, forced conservation; the lights go out for 45 minutes# and blackouts rotate around the Suburbs).

Rotating blackouts among low priority users is a sign of grid resiliency.

Electrified rail would not be among the areas selected for a rotating blackout. Too high a value, too little electricity used. A request for a slow down (to use less) may well occur.

*IF* (very unlikely) blackouts were to spread to electrified rail, it would be simple and cheap to install their own back-up generators (like hospitals). From vague memory, to run DC Metro at full speed at rush hour takes 40 MW. Slower speeds and somewhat reduced service (all 6 car trains, no 8 car trains, but rush hour # of trains) would be 28 MW for 106 miles. A group of 2.5 MW diesel or natural gas fired generators scattered around the Metro area could supply that "as needed".

Diesel trains can "slowly" push a dead train ahead if need be. For example, the Trans-Siberian Railroad (100% electrified) keeps diesels around for "rescue locos". Maintaining a grid across Siberia in the winter is a heroic task, but they do it.

Diesel locos do have the annoying habit of running out of fuel and needing refueling.


# As Gustav was coming into New Orleans, most of the grid in New Orleans was shut down for safety at 6:30 AM. After peak winds passed, sections of the grid were briefly turned on, checked for ground faults (lines down) and if everything checked out, power returned. For me, about 5:15 PM

Was this a "grid failure" ? IMO, not. It was just good grid management.

I wonder if anyone here has anything to say about the US vs. German electric grids. Whenever I visit Germany I'm struck by how I constantly see gigantic transmission lines, huge, huge pylons with four, six, or more sets of phases, with the paired or quadrupled sets of conductors on long insulators of very high voltage lines. My German friends think nothing of them, just a normal part of the infrastructure. Do they need big transmission lines to serve more densely populated cities? Wouldn't denser population and major power plants located right inside the urban areas, and a smaller country in the first place, tend to reduce the need for major transmission lines? I don't know enough to know.

It depends on the demand of the city.

Heavy industry or lots of air conditioning (or electric heat in bitter cold) will increase the load, and the power requirements.

In the case of Germany, they like to import French nuclear power, which adds to the transmission required.

Houston has some large lines coming in, despite a lot of generation in town.

But any large, First World metropolis will have some major lines coming in.


Federalizing the grid solves most of the systematic problems. It is part of our essential social infrastructure and should be treated like the national highway system. Users pay a user fee, as is done now for the highway system.

Federalizing makes it possible to bring systematics back into electricity transmission. With deregulation, it seems as if nobody owns the grid anymore. It is the poor stepchild of energy policy. Federalizing puts one overarching agency in charge, allows for efficient transmission and communication among its various components, allows for systematic planning for future improvements and expansion, especially for wind and solar electricity production, which is distributive rather than point source and thus not a good match for the present grid.

We've federalized investment banks. It's an easier leap to federalize infrastructure investment.

I agree, but there are an awfully lot of businesses / infrastructure / states in need of help. The federal government can't really bail out everyone. Printing more money is not that effective a long-term solution.

Federalizing the grid is not a bailout. The grid is revenue generating, the present problem being that it doesn't generate enough revenue to allow for its private investors to upgrade it. This is a case of undervaluation of essential infrastructure. Federalizing would allow the grid to rise to its proper value.

Historically, the money is in energy production, not energy distribution. However, there are historical examples of federalization, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and Rural Electrification Association. Private power companies were not interested in electrifying rural areas. It took federal grants and low interest loans to accomplish what ultimately became highly successful enterprises.

Hi Gail,

As others have suggested, we should be doing much more in the way of DSM, and not just in areas that are generation and/or transmission constrained. There are several key reasons for this, not the least of which simple economics, and I'll sketch out one small example as it relates to my work.

A large percentage of our clients use conventional, 400-watt probe-start HID fixtures to illuminate their work spaces; these fixtures are commonly known in the industry as "steelers" due to their round metal shades, although in big box retail environments they're typically fitted with acrylic lenses to allow more up light. These fixtures are notoriously inefficient because their metal halide lamps suffer from severe (and surprisingly rapid) lumen depreciation -- as their lamps reach end-of-life, the amount of light they produce is typically less than half their initial output. To help compensate for this, the lighting systems in these work spaces are often intentionally over-sized so, consequently, you get too much light when the lamps are new, an appropriate amount at about mid-life and too little as the lamps reach full maturity. The long and the short is that you end up consuming a good number of watts, without necessarily having all that much to show for it.

We generally replace these HIDs, one-for-one, with six-lamp high bay fluorescents equipped with 32-watt high performance T8s. These new fixtures draw about 220-watts, substantially less than the 455-watts of their HID counterparts. Although initial lumens come in somewhat lower, the gap quickly narrows over time, so by the 2,000-hour mark they're pretty much at par and, beyond that, the fluorescent system continues to pull ahead (high performance T8s maintain 93 to 95% of their original light output at end-of-life and their service life at up to 46,000 hours is more than double that of a 400-watt HID). The other big issue with steelers is that their metal shades absorb approximately 30 per cent of the light and what escapes is tightly pooled below -- in effect, you get a good amount of light on horizontal surfaces (that could very well be a concrete floor), but comparatively little along the vertical plane (e.g., the packing labels on the racks of stock). The luminaire efficiency of a good high bay fluorescent falls between 94 to 97% and its light is distributed in a more usable pattern. In fact, it's so much better that we can sometimes substitute a four lamp version and still achieve good results, whilst cutting the lighting load by as much as two-thirds.

A six lamp high bay fixture will save about 235-watts at an installed cost of roughly $200.00. If the utility picks up 80% of the tab, say, with the customer co-paying the remainder, the utility's cost per kW saved is less than $700.00 -- that might be one-half to one-third the cost of new coal-fired or nuclear generation. In cases where you can go with a four lamp version, you save 305-watts at an installed cost of about $150.00/fixture, which puts the utility's cost per kW saved at under $400.00. And given the utility will likely be compensated for its lost revenue by way of a special conservation surcharge or some other rate recovery mechanism, there's really no financial penalty to going this route.

This is a tremendous opportunity for electrical utilities and one that provides significant benefits to:

the direct recipient, in that they get a brand new, state-of-the-art lighting system that will greatly reduce their energy costs, year-after-year, thereby enhancing their economic competitiveness;

the utility, as they will defer and possibly eliminate and/or otherwise minimize their investment in new generation capacity and associated T&D, and all the regulatory, logistical and PR baggage that comes along for the ride;

the ratepayer, as customer demands are met with the lowest cost option; and, lastly,

the environment as we end up burning less fossil fuel and hopefully flooding fewer valleys.


Isn't there an additional invisible 30% return based on averted HVAC costs for the conserved (and therefore not dissipated) power?

For most commercial and retail environments that's pretty much the case -- the general rule of thumb is that for every 100-watts you save in lighting, you save a further 30 to 35-watts in terms of reduced a/c requirements and because internal heat gains are so great, these spaces tend to be cooled virtually year round, even in colder climates such as my own. Warehouse and industrial spaces are not generally air conditioned (at least not in these parts) so, in this case, there's no secondary benefit.

I'm working on a proposal to replace five hundred and fifteen 75-watt PAR38 in a large retail outlet with 50-watt halogen IRs. The client will get the roughly the same amount of light as they do now and, most importantly to them, the same light quality, but their lighting load will drop by 12.9 kW (they're a high-end fashion retailer and use a mix of ceramic metal halide, fluorescent and halogen sources). Based on their hours of operation, this simple, completely transparent and surprisingly inexpensive swap-out will save over 60,000 kWh/yr on their lighting budget and another 15,000 to 20,000 kWh/yr with respect to their cooling requirements. Their co-pay on this project puts their simple payback at just over one month and the upgrade generates significant positive cash flow from day one.


When I redid the HVAC system for a 5 story, 1960s building (2x60 tons on roof originally), I first cut load.

-10 tons with solar film.
-40 tons with new lighting
-2 tons from improved air handling
about -5 tons by tightening up building envelope ( did not include that savings when I resized equipment)

The capital cost saved on new HVAC equipment ALMOST paid for the retrofits.

Overall building load down about 75%.


Very nice article, Gail.

Do the tables identifying electricity importing states include fuel imports as well? EIA figures for 2006 show that just about 50% of New York's electricity production is from oil, coal, and natural gas, and one suspects that a very large part of those fossil resources come from outside the state. Heck, New York doesn't even make the EIA's list of coal-producing states. IIRC, New York City has two 36-inch natural gas pipelines delivering Gulf Coast gas that is predominantly used to for electricity generation (that's from memory and could be wrong). Also IIRC, gas was the only fuel source that was clean enough for them to burn in the city itself in any quantity. The point of the question being, some of those states may be even bigger importers if imported fuel is counted as well.

The imports listed are only imported electricity. Most everyone imports the fuel for electricity that is made in state. Coal and natural gas are generally US produced, but something like 90% of uranium is imported from abroad. The local sources of electricity tend to be hydro-electric, biomass, and occasionally wind and solar. Heavy biomass use can result in deforestation.

In any regionalization scenario, there are winners and losers. Regions which are relatively rich in energy resources have a leg up on regions that depend almost exclusively on imported energy. My favorite "target" is the strip from a bit north of Boston to a bit south of Washington, DC, and 100 miles inland from the coast. Almost 25% of the US population lives there, and there are minimal energy resources. Any "region" which includes that strip starts under a tremendous handicap. Such a region is much more dependent on an inter-region transport system which they cannot power themselves, and on being able to produce goods or services that other regions want enough to exchange for energy resources, including the energy to transport the goods.

I live in Front Range Colorado, an area that I believe has the potential to be the hub of a region with sufficient energy resources (depending on how you draw the regional boundaries, all of coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear, wind, solar, and geothermal) to maintain a more efficient version of a modern society for a very long time. It also has a cultural meme of long standing that distrusts people "from back East". I think it is quite likely that Washington will make decisions over the next 10 or 20 years that will eventually be interpreted here as greatly favoring the East Coast at the expense of the West. Secession scenarios are interesting to play with.

Economics is not a "sole source" issue. The Front Range has some negatives as well. Not enough water, relatively poor energy efficiency (it is not just what you have, but how well you use it) and the cultural issues you illustrate are some of the drawbacks.

That "Northeast strip" is already energy efficient by US standards, and is much further along in converting to an even more energy efficient future with minimal oil use.

Teaming up with HydroQuebec and Newfoundland to further develop their hydro and wind resources, develop their own wind and more new nukes will put them in a better position.

Secession scenarios are interesting to play with.

Not really. At first impression, yours seem to be motivated by hate and a desire to hurt.


As the tables at the top show, it's Pennsylvania and West Virginia that power the BosWash metrocoastal district. Labrador hydro by way of Quebec provides a lot of peaking power.
Secession would make offshore wind, nuclear, and tight shale gas more affordable since BosWash would no longer be providing financial support for the flyover. Is that what you meant about "hate and a desire to hurt?". What makes you sure that the post was not from a New Yorker? It could have been some person from BosWash for all you know. There's no evidence that he's from the Front Range as he says. Could be a troll.

What makes you sure that the post was not from a New Yorker? It could have been some person from BosWash for all you know. There's no evidence that he's from the Front Range as he says. Could be a troll.

I've been posting here for something over three years, and will stand by my history of comments, in which I have regularly indicated where I live :^) Nor do I take any offense at Alan's comment. He's right about a lot of things -- for example, the Front Range needs to move much more quickly on local light rail and heavier passenger rail running from at least Ft. Collins on the north to Colorado Springs on the south. We disagree, I think, on the speed and extent to which regionalization may occur, and the consequences that might follow from that. For example, if the depopulation of the Great Plains continues at its current pace, I think it quite likely that in a relatively short time Denver will view itself as being on the eastern edge of a "West US", rather than the eastern edge of an "East US". And that people on the East Coast may very well see it the same way.

The Front Range has some negatives as well. Not enough water, relatively poor energy efficiency (it is not just what you have, but how well you use it) and the cultural issues you illustrate are some of the drawbacks.

I will certainly grant you that we poorly manage the water supply that we have. Something over 90% of water use in Colorado is for agriculture, and far too much of that is used to grow corn for livestock feed (and now ethanol). And the urban/suburban areas could roughly cut their use, already a relatively small fraction, in half by getting rid of "private" grass. The Front Range can't continue to use water in the same way; but I would argue that the supplies are adequate for the current population. Nor can we continue to use energy in the same way; but the local supplies are more robust, so efficiency may come more slowly. As to cultural issues: what is, is. The US Deep South has issues. Having lived in the Northeast for ten years when I was younger, they have issues.

Teaming up with HydroQuebec and Newfoundland to further develop their hydro and wind resources, develop their own wind and more new nukes will put them in a better position.

This simply changes the sources that are exploited, but doesn't change the fact that the northeast strip needs to exploit external energy sources. Nukes are an exception to that, assuming they can continue to buy fissionables from elsewhere. And transport of fissionables requires little energy, once properly refined. OTOH: do you realistically see that corridor building the necessary new reactors?

...yours seem to be motivated by hate and a desire to hurt.

Will you say the same thing when Mexico chooses to meet domestic demand for petroleum first, rather than selling their declining oil output to the US, which can pay a much higher price for it? Or if HydroQuebec elects to stop exporting power to New York City in favor of meeting needs in Ottawa? If regionalization occurs on any scale, why should an official division of the US be any less likely than that Quebec would align itself with the northeast US?

The fact that a large number of transformers are nearing the end of their projected lifetimes, could be seen as an opportunity, not a problem. A substantial amount of power is wasted by transformer loses (I don't know any figures, but I think it is at least several percent), so replacement with state of the art technology would improve efficiency substantially.

Hi EoS,

That's a good point. I'm sure someone can provide us with a more accurate assessment, but the energy losses are relatively small -- in the range of 1 to 2 per cent (it does vary somewhat with loading). Of course, given the number of distribution transformers in service, taken as a whole, the numbers do add up.



While transformers have improved over the years, they have always been a relatively high efficiency device. I think that there are far greater savings opportunities elsewhere, particularly with DSM. By all means, when a xformer reaches EOL, a high eff. device should be installed, but not before. As you mentioned, sizing affects efficiency so there may be additional gains if the replacement is selected properly.

As for DSM; Up to now power grids have been expected to withstand the vagaries of the consumer and sized to "worst case" scenarios. Load shedding and off-peak scheduling, if widespread, can have the effect of increasing the capacity of the grid significantly, without adding one more wire.

In North America, people tend to be pretty selfish, so the best way to get cooperation is to hit people in their wallets with time-of-day variable and peak demand rates as is done with most industrial customers. Convenience needs to come at a price.

Of course most industrial customers pay a lot less than consumer rates, too, time of day or not.

My thought is we need more efficient appliances first, then more smarts for time-of-day usage. Shifting inefficiencies is sub-optimal.

It will take a pretty smart "house controller" to properly trade off tiered mains power, local solar PV, potential load-shedding premiums, time-shiftable home loads, and personal preferences.

Of course most industrial customers pay a lot less than consumer rates, too, time of day or not.

Not where I live, and industrial customers are subject to a peak demand charge for the peak in any 15 minute window which lasts for the whole year.

A "smart house" is not needed immediately, much can be done with timers and simple awareness.

My thought is we need more efficient appliances first, then more smarts for time-of-day usage.

Efficiency, yes, and if you are talking about "more smarts" being in the appliance, definitely. The problem is that without a tariff change, there is little incentive for manufacturers to add something as simple as a clock based start function. My dishwasher has it, but it is a high end model from Europe. Funny, considering I do 90% of my dishes by hand.

Which is why I think there should be big money in industrial peak-shaving (regardless of the base rates) using current-generation battery technology.

You are completely correct about awareness. That's the cheapest efficiency gain of all.

Load scheduling and peak monitoring with load shedding can be almost as effective without the cost of inverters and battery banks.

I did an analysis for one customer, who had a scheduled weekly ritual of testing the back-up firefighting system. The test ran for 1/2 hour and involved a 750 hp electric motor, resulting in a huge monthly demand charge that ratchets up for the next 12 months.

Most customers can be shown there is alway some load can be shed or deferred without process disruption.

In the case of existing large UPSs, they can be used to shed load, but tends to be a tricky policy decision.

Hi pragma,

My Bosch dishwasher and front load washer have a time delay option and if I were billed under a time-of-use rate code, this feature would be useful, as my electric water heater would likely be under time control as well, so to lock-out its operation during peak hours. I pay a flat rate per kWh regardless of how and when I use power, so there's currently no financial incentive for me to shift load off-peak, but if Nova Scotia Power were to offer TOU rates to non ETS customers at some future date, I'd sign up in a heart beat.

For residential customers that have all-electric homes and the option to be billed on the basis of demand and energy, an intelligent load controller is a terrific tool -- if the controller can keep the home's monthly peak at reasonable level by seamlessly juggling various loads, this could prove to be a real money saver (family members would likely need to adjust their usage patterns, but the changes wouldn't be too onerous).

For anyone not familiar with this technology, check out the video link at: http://www.blackhillspower.com/demand.htm#


but the energy losses are relatively small -- in the range of 1 to 2 per cent

If that is 1 or 2% per trip through a xfrmr that adds up. After generation there is at least one xfrmr to high voltage power line, than on the other end a substation, then probably a sub-substation, then a distribution xfrmr. So each electron has traversed several transformers, losing a percent or two each time adds up.

Hi EoS,

Sorry, I was referring to only the final step down or pole pig. If I recall correctly, Ontario's combined transmission and distribution losses are in the order of 11 or 12 TWh/yr -- not an insignificant number by any means.

Nova Scotia Power's transmission system efficiency is estimated to be 97.1%, just slightly above the Canadian average, whereas its distribution system comes in a little below average at 94.7%. With respect to NSP's distribution transformers, at 50% load, they're reported to be 98.8% efficient; by comparison, Hydro One's average efficiency at 50% load is 99.3%.


Power transformers have been maxed out for efficiency for quite a while. There isn't much room for improvement. They are the most efficient apparatus in the transmission and distribution system. The rule of thumb is efficiency increases with size.

If N.S. is averaging >97%, that's pretty good and I would suggest if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We up against the limitations of physics and any efficiency gains will come in small stages.

The real efficiency gains lie in behavioral supported by technological. The answer has been obvious for years, get off the 9 to 5 work wagon and we can make huge gains in energy efficiency and resource use. Plain and simple.

So why can't we make these necessary changes?

Baffled in BC


If N.S. is averaging >97%, that's pretty good and I would suggest if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Nova Scotia is relatively small province, geographically speaking, and so our generation resources are reasonably close to the major load centres and our system peak is in the range of 2,200 MW -- 1/12th that of Ontario.

For an overview of our transmission system and its future development, see pages 19 ff. of: http://oasis.nspower.ca/documents/UARBapproved10YearSystemOutlookNov08.pdf

On the flip side, the distribution line that supplies my Toronto home operates at very respectable 27.6 kV and the one that serves me locally, I'm embarrassed to say, is just 2,200-volts.


I'm not as starry-eyed as others about HVDC cable as a result of being connected in 2006. The effect was to export local hydro peak power and re-import cheap lignite power. Incidentally those dirty power producers will be effectively cushioned from Australia's lame duck carbon trading scheme that supposedly starts 2010. The underwater 400kv HVDC cable was sold for $A1.2 billion which I apportion as $300m for the inverter-rectifier stations at either end plus $3m per kilometre for the mostly underwater 300km. So for above ground pylons make that $2m per km plus $300m for power electronics. Thus for a desert CSP station 1000km away budget 300 + (2 X 1000) = $2.3 bn. Not so cheap after all, maybe adding a few cents per kwh of delivered electricity to recover capital outlay.

Moreover I don't see PHEVs taking off because of cost and inconvenience. I think we should continue to lighten the electrical load by maintaining the gas network. If necessary pump it with syngas made with the help of negative net energy hydrogen.

I also think we should cut loose some big electricity users like aluminium smelters who in Australia consume 11% of the total grid. The deal would be make your own off-grid low carbon electricity or face regular supply interrupts such as during heatwaves.

In Australia and I suspect in most economies were aluminium smelters exist, the electricity companies have a contract with the smelter that enables the smelter load to be controlled by frequency relays so that a sudden loss of generation which results in a dip in frequency automatically shuts down a smelter or two. This can quickly take out 300-400MW of demand virtually instantly and gives the electricity controller time to get other generation in service to replace the generator that had tripped out of service. This also avoids the need to have a lot of spinning reserve (partially loaded generators) to cover the loss of the largest single input and is why smelters get special and very generous electricity tariffs.
In Australia we have a relatively small power grid but our standard generators are mainly 660MW or 500MW. As a result the loss of one these units can cause a significant impact on the system. In larger systems eg.US or Europe the loss of such a generator would not be such a significant issue.

Frequency relays are just a software tweak to a dynamic charging/V2G system.  At a mere 1.5 kW per vehicle, a metro area would require just 400k vehicles on-line to get 600 MW of spinning reserve (even fewer if they could go from some level of charging to full back-feed).

The Melbourne area has about 3.8 million people, and perhaps 2.3 million vehicles.  There are clearly enough vehicles for PHEV to offer gigawatts of regulation and spinning reserve using even 110V/15A circuits; with 220V 30A and higher, it's downright trivial.

I can see different perspectives as I live half way between a 440MW hydro dam and an electrolytic zinc smelter (now threatening to lay off 550 employees). I got a lift in the maintenance cable car at the dam and the blokes told me the zinc smelter did have supply interrupt clauses. But zinc uses a hydrous process whereas molten aluminium sets hard with power off. I think they like to use the aluminium pots (cells) 24/7 until the liners need replacing.

Living on back country dirt roads a PHEV is of little use to me nor many others. I would upgrade my UPS with a bigger battery so it could send corrected power back to the grid but there is no incentive.

When I was involved in system control and we tripped the smelters, the outage time was measured in seconds, just enough time to get hydro up and running at full capacity. My understanding was that the aluminium smelters could be shut down for up to a couple of minutes before the aluminium set solid and jack hammers were required to clean it up!

I agree there are many other ways of achieving a spinning reserve but don't forget that the time when you need this type of insurance is when the system is at maximum load which is not overnight when charging a PHEV would most likely occur.

In Iceland, it was 5 to 6 hours (depending on temperature, specifics for the cell, etc.to aluminumsicle.


Living on back country dirt roads a PHEV is of little use to me nor many others.

You get motor fuel for free?  How do I get in on a nice deal like that (do I have to sell my politics to Hugo Chavez)?

GCC has regular news items about PHEV retrofit kits for vehicles like school buses, so your high-clearance vehicle isn't as far from the realm of PHEV as you might think; it would just take a bigger battery and motor.  You'd spend more on those parts but you spend more on fuel anyway.

I think you're missing the point of a 'national grid'.
It increases reliability by providing diversity of supply, especially renewable energy sources. This is largely a matter of topology. Europeans have used 100 kv loop feeders for many years but in the US is built almost entirely on cheap radial feeders. The loop arrangement is of much higher reliability than the existing radial arrangement though it is somewhat more complicated and more expensive in terms of conductor.

In fact the whole subject of the grid is really very complicated.


You're right that the national grid is precarious but a simple replacement of transformers won't give us what we want most; reliable power. We need an inherently reliable system.

I thought the USA also did distribution loops. In my limited experience ...


There is networking capacity at the transmission level 138kV and above but the way switching works you really have a radial system in effect. Almost all distribution level systems in the US are radial. The recent jump in natural gas generation has been connected to lower voltage(feeders <138kV)downstream of the higher level grid.
If you add up all the exports and imports from Gail's table you come up with around 310 Twh even crossing state lines out of a total of 4000 Twh used and we import 42 Twh from Mexico and Canada.
Nuclear France, the largest EU exporter, exported Twh out of 540 Twh consumed
Germany imported 42 Twh out of 566 Twh demand.
Italy imported 27 Twh out of 304 Twh demand.

We are very far from electricity flowing over large scale grids.

I am more familiar with distribution lines (10-22 kV range from memory) connecting in a loop back to the substation or connecting between two substations.

Break line at any one point and service continues.

VERY limited sample (perhaps not industry standard practice).


Alan, my experience to date is that most utilites usually have the capability to parallel distribution feeders, but almost always run them radially.

The capability to switch, and the corresponding fast restoration times, are seen as an acceptable trade off against the complications introduced by parallel operation.

The main problem with the grid is that it is all tied together.
If part of it goes down, it puts a huge strain on the remainder, and then causes it to go down too.
It then has to be brought back up slowly one piece at a time.
The extreme load in the summer A/C season causes damage to the system.
Many older coal burning plants are on the brink of massive failure due to old components.
Much of our power infrastructure is nearing end of life, and will need replacement soon.
Since we do not have the money and resources to replace it all at once, it will need to be done on a priority based approach. Some states will be better positioned than others.

Electical Engineer

Re: the main problem with the grid is that it is all tied together...

I saw someone else had earlier mentioned the same, but interconnection has so many vastly preferred benefits relative to the drawbacks that it really isn't a valid point. No utility of any scale operates islanded.

The drawback is a very obvious one -- a system disturbance can cause widespread outages, rather than localized outages. This disadvantage is weighed against:

  • Relative infrequency of such disturbances
  • System regulation needs would be substantially more without interconnection
  • How much more expensive reserve requirements would be without reserve sharing
  • Greater inertia brought to bear against system disturbances to help withstand them
  • Massive increases in system reliability and power quality.

These benefits are not nearly as visible, but are substantial nonetheless.

Yes, when the wires and towers are torn down by the hordes, seeking metal to build with, you will have local grid/no grid anyway. When the idiots in washington call out the military to the cities, who will protect your "precious" technology, your grid?

Why not stop the mentality of more, more, more, get off the technology merry-go-round and think small and local? Local power, local distibution, local energy. It is what is coming, whether you, or anyone else throws billions at a make work program. We do not need, cannot afford, and will never have the "smart house" with an electric controller working all the switches, just so some lazy nitwit can spend more time watching the boob tube. What ever happened to personal responsibilty? Too lazy to get up from the couch to turn on the washing machine at 9 pm, midnite, or whenever the power is there/cheapest? Too lazy, or too stupid to turn out a light when you leave the room? Apparently, common sense decreases when education increases here. Come on...tech is not going to save anyones ass. One does not need to be a Luddite to understand what is coming, and think in a truly different way. More, more more, bigger, bigger, bigger, sounds like the typical Male fantasy that kills millions of humans every day, and is killing the planet.

Small is beautiful...learn to live with the natural world, not force your way thru it.

Power Down.

Or do we need an inherently UN-reliable system?

Bear with me a moment while I explain my 'dumb grid'.

I know little about power, but when I plug in my Watt's Up power meter the variation in voltage over the course of the day is small but significant. Can we use this as a signal to 'ration' power?

For example: say there is a big demand, the voltage decreases from nominal 240 to 230 v. If there was a 235 volt cut-off switch in, say, water heaters they would turn off at this point freeing up power to critical things, like baby incubators and beer fridges. Presumably each appliance would have an adjustable limit so each 'consumer' (or are we now 'citizens' again?) could decide what their priorities were.

Having one set value would produce a terrible surge at, say 230v but if each person chose a random cut off voltage there would be a smooth transition through various voltages.

Contrarily, when excess power comes on line from solar or wind sources this could be allowed to push up the voltage by a few volts, dumping energy into all the items that can wait a few hours, like BEV cars, chest freezers and residential water heat. These could be installed in new production but I can picture plug-in filters (like power strips) that would work for any portable appliance.

Instead of having a requirement for 'reliable' power we would achieve a level of resilient unreliability - sometimes the "Glade(R) Plug-In(R) 'air freshener' would remain odourless, the shower would be lukewarm and one's hairdryer would not work, but the train would still be running.

The 'smart grid' seems to try to achieve this same result with appliances that are responsive to, say, wireless signals from the utility that ask air conditioners and water heaters to shut down, and smart meters that remind people to go looking for the light that has been left on.

Can this 'high tech' solution be replaced with a whack of little electrical low-voltage cut-off switches? Can society in general be convinced that this is a reasonable 'sacrifice'? Am I a complete noodle-head? These are all rhetorical questions, by the way.

Good thinking :-)

Some island grids do that. When voltage falls below a preset level, power is cut to deferral loads (hot water heaters, refrigerators, sometimes water pumps). They make a device that the appliance plugs into, and it in turn plugs into the socket.

With national grids, by the time voltage drops, the TV is full of appeals to use less electricity.


Voltage isn't the big deal (it can be raised using capacitors, which generate no power at all).  Frequency is the thing to watch.  If it's low, the grid has a power deficit; if it's high, the grid has a power surplus.

This is one of the ways that V2G could compensate for transmission outages or power plant trips.  Vehicles would watch the grid frequency closely and attempt to damp any short-term frequency variations by moving power to or from the grid, even before the information systems could issue new commands.  Sudden jumps in phase caused by utilities changing transformer taps could be handled by informing the fleet that it's coming and to ignore it.

Frequency is the thing to watch. If it's low, the grid has a power deficit; if it's high, the grid has a power surplus.

If this is a universal property that can be counted on, it should make it easy to progressively plug in smart appliances and controllers, no extra utility to appliance information channel needed.

This thread has degenerated into techno-babble

Ohhh, but I like it!

This system has been researched and field tested by Pacific Northwest National Laboratories as part of the Gridwise initiative (group? organization? www.gridwise.org?)

You can read about the study here:




In a nutshell, if there is a drop in frequency, your dryer's heating element shuts off automatically to shed load in a system disturbance. With enough of these devices in refrigerators or heaters or HVAC systems or other intermittent load items, you have some cushion to avoid a system break up. It does this automatically without an internet connection.

Jeff Barton

And I might add that monitoring frequency electronically is relatively cheap and simple compared to power or amperage.

Monitoring by voltage alone could lead to power swings and instability.

IMO the solution is simple: Support market based (price signal) decisions with inexpensive and easily installed technology. It should be easier than VCR clocks and recording. Don't rely on altruistic actions to reduce demand, that only appeals to about 5% of the population.

Carrot and Stick. KISS.

This thread has degenerated into techno-babble, evidenced by Alan and E-P's comments.

Gail has clearly posited that the grid is toast and so by default our electrical civilization.

Unfortunately, the peculiar perception most of us share precludes us from imagining any other way of looking at the world.
That perception and the world view it creates is in for some nasty shocks.

I wish that we hadn't tied everything so closely to electricity.

We need electricity to operate oil pipelines, and some gas pipelines. "Modern" gas furnaces have electrical starters. Geothermal heating depends on electrical components. Gas water heaters require electricity.

Electricity is used in water purification and in pumping water to higher stories than handled by water towers. Electricity is also used by sewage treatment plants. I have a hard time seeing how cities will continue to function, if we lose most electricity.

About the only things that don't require electricity are cars, trucks, and most trains, but electricity is required to run the pumps that dispense the fuel they use.

Yes, Gail, I agree, and I think that the real Long Emergency is going to be when electricity becomes scarce. Petroleum is more of a cultural need (via cars), we can fairly easily do without it with an electrified , mostly rail system. But electricity is critical for a post 1900-style society.

-- Jon Rynn


In a twisted bit of optimism, our relationship with electricity is not as dire as you might think.

The electricity grid is just one example of the complexity that we have created, and must unwind like everything else. It's important though, to differentiate the grid from electricity itself. The former is a delivery system, the latter is an energy carrier.

Not surprisingly, the intertwining is a menage a trois. Oil is connected to electricity and vice versa, and we are intertwined with both.

The upside is that electricity can be generated locally in many different ways, where it is most needed. We can't do that with petroleum as yet. Dr. Emmet Brown, where are you?

If there is fuel, then we can generate electricity to pump the fuel into diesel trains (that move using electricity). Some things are more difficult to decouple, like sewage plants, but replacing electric prime movers with ICEs creates fuel supply problems.

As I'm sure you know on a logical level, it's all about energy. Decoupling, like unwinding, is doable and is part of the process. We already decouple things like hospitals with battery backup systems or standby generators. Wise folk will do the same with their own situation.

To me, the key is accepting the need to unwind and do it in the most orderly and least damaging way possible, electricity is just part of it.

Damn! This is the weakest Happy New Year message I have ever posted.

That said, all the best to you and yours, and to all here on TOD!

If there is fuel, then we can generate electricity to pump the fuel into diesel trains (that move using electricity).

And therein lines the beauty of electrified rail:  petroleum becomes largely irrelevant, as the system's energy can come from coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, wind or any combination.  It becomes simultaneously more independent from imports and more robust.

And if the rail corridors are used for electrical transmission (just found out that Progress Energy in Florida wants to use some rail corridors for new transmission lines), then that improves the supply situation.


The EERE(?), well, DOE, has maps of the most consistent/predictable high class wind resources. Overlay that w/ rail, and we can see what parts of the network will be electrified, IMO at least. :D

Don't forget the fibre optic cables carrying virtual commuters to work each day.

Load on server farms can be controlled remotly and represents a possible solution to off peak building heating, e.g a block of appartments could have a data centre in its basements which could provide data access for the residents, and process other traffic during the night turning the low cost off peak electricity into a valuable service and 'waste' heat from the servers which can supply the balance of the buildings thermal requirements which haven't come from the sun.

I was wondering if you have looked much at using low head tidal pumped storage, it could be built as part of a new port / rail terminal with some sort of sea defences as required for the area.

I have a hard time seeing how cities will continue to function, if we lose most electricity.

See Baghdad, especially in the summer and in the poorer areas without generators.

Rotating blackouts divert limited electricity to critical needs (American occupation is one, but water and sewer are others).

6 to 8 hours/day are just enough to keep refrigerators useful.

IMO, US authorities would do a better job than Iraqi grid managers.

Basic services, such as water & sewer # and electrified transportation would never be scheduled for a blackout. Hospitals, police and fire stations are scheduled only after confirming that their generators are up and running.

Suburbia would be the first to be scheduled for blackouts, with urban residential neighborhoods with minimal imbedded critical infrastructure next.

Post-K, I knew several middle class families that lived in tents inside their gutted homes, with the only utilities being water & sewer. It is surprising what some (not all) people can deal with.

I think your conclusions are based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of utilities.

BTW: Amtrak inherited it's own generating stations for the Northeast Corridor (electrified from DC through NYC to New Haven at the time). They could and did generate their own power until budget cuts resulted in scrapping that.

The same was true of a number of Urban Rail systems.

*IF* grid power becomes an issue for electrifed rail (unlikely even if you are sweating in the dark at home), the electrical needs of electrified rail are small enough that building separate generation for them is quite doable at minimal cost.

Best Hopes for Seeing the Light about Electrified Rail,


# water pumping to towers is already scheduled for off peak when possible, but sewage lift stations typically cannot wait long.

Baghdad currently has a military occupation which detracts from societal instability, is in a region of the world where people have lived for thousands of years in the intense summer heat so they already know how to deal with it, and the civilized Baghdad is surrounded by a world that is still electrically- and fossil-fuel-powered.

The concern was about cities, multiple, global, in tandem. The comparison to Baghdad only is like saying since Joe is starving and hasn't died yet, that we should all be ok to starve. However, Joe is receiving saline and glucose intravenously, because the rest of the system is functioning, which is what is keeping him alive while he's starving. Just like Baghdad receives inputs from the still-powered world around it.

I did a thought experiment some two years ago that caused me all sorts of consternation, and direct dialogue with NERC security engineers. What I did was come up with a way to take down the entire N.A. Grid relatively simply (low tech) and cheaply. Less than the cost of one Tomahawk missile.

Then I went on to ascertain what it would take to get things going again given the scheme since repairs could take a month or more. Aside from using outhouses or hand water pumps, it seems everything does come down to electricity - even the fossil fuels. Without electricity there is not distribution and disbursement of fuels; therefore, backup generator systems have a short operating time and then they are kaput.

It's an easy thought experiment to do. Just go through your everyday life and consider each action, and then reduce that action to its inputs. Follow the supply line and see where it ends. Then work up the supply line again to see how dependent each of us are - it gets scary in a hurry.

This thread has degenerated into techno-babble, evidenced by Alan and E-P's comments.

The facts are relevant, and they happen to be technical.

Gail has clearly posited that the grid is toast and so by default our electrical civilization.

So she has.

I can posit catastrophe, and so can anyone, but will it happen when you do posit it?

Making plans based on Gails' analysis seems much more sensible to me than putting stock in your "delta windings in 3-phase transformers".
Talk about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic!
You guys are only fluffing up the seat cushions.

I now POSIT that TSHTF will be the beginning of permanent electrical blackouts and as we've seen this year in the financials, the unravelling of such complex systems can proceed blindingly fast.

My sense of things is that people will abandon these systems once their basic unreliability is proven.
Then its anybodys guess as to what will transpire.

Gail's analysis is simply wrong IMO. She extrapolates from relatively minor problems (the grid is sub-optimum) to "multi-week blackouts".

The tried and true solution for a stressed grid is rotating blackouts. 45 minutes out when it is your turn. A culture change to make "pulling the trigger" for rotating blackouts sooner is all that is needed.

The easiest grid expansion was not mentioned. Take an existing corridor and upgrade it. Raise voltage and/or amperage.

Nor was the second easiest, using railroad corridors (already endorses by BNSF RR CEO). (I wrote http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4301 )

And she is TOTALY wrong about this statement:

we will need to downgrade our expectations for applications such as electrified rail and ...

2.8 watts/capita today, 30 watts/capita in a couple of decades does NOT require a brand new grid !

So planning based on bad analysis leads to bad plans.


Good Lord Alan, look around you.
Do you actually see anything improve with age? Other than wine and cheese?
Think those overhead wires, exposed to all that Nature can whip up will be maintained and replaced indefinitely? Nationwide?
And at the end of the line that the electricity being used, whether it powers a train car or big screen TV, doesn't create greater disorder somewhere in the world?

"The easiest grid expansion was not mentioned. Take an existing corridor and upgrade it. Raise voltage and/or amperage."

More growth, eh?
What you're planning is BAU with some modifications.
IMO rather than offer people false hope it is better to plan on life without electricity.

electric experts;
well actually on topic- local hydro generation;

i have a very large[300 amp- max today is 250 amp i believe] old 60's lincoln welder[has 2 110v outputs too]. works-gas hog. an intermittent-6 mo. of the year, 20' drop stream is very close[100 yds]. any possibility of some hydro generation at slower RPM's i might get off the stream. or sell it as i am currently considering. thanks for any info/recommendations!

I suggest doing a search for "micro hydro".  Home Power magazine has published several articles by people who have done things very similar to what you are asking about.

You would probably spend more converting the welder to work as a generator than purchasing a new micro hydro generator and penstock. If you are a DIYer, you could install this system.

I would suggest a bit of weir storage at the intake to the penstock (pipe) to keep flow and pressure consistent. This would be the size of a small pond. Then you have to watch for silting at the intake area which might require an annual dredging (think hip waiters and flat shovel).

You might get 300 - 400 Watts out of it. Also, check to see if your utility supports net metering. The payback might be 10 years, but you'll have some fun and have a power source during outages. Also, the utility will probably require an islanding device during outages so you aren't putting energy back into the system unexpectedly.

thanks a lot guys/gals. i hope to source this stream somehow. i've seen the amish/shakers get back & forth motion/energy from such a stream.

thanks again for the directing & details.

This is an excellent discussion of the current state of the US grid, but the entire discussion is based on an assumption that the current price structure of electrical power generation is real. In fact, the pricing of "cheap" coal is illusory, because it does not include the costs of the destruction of watersheds and mountains in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. The price of coal fired electricity also does not include the health costs of worldwide mercury contamination or runaway release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

I, and many of my compatriots in central and eastern West Virginia, lie in the path of one of the "grid upgrades" Gail writes about. This is the PATH extra high voltage power line proposed to be built by Allegheny Power and American Electric Power in 2013. The line does not start at a wind farm or mass solar array. It starts at the John Amos power plant, one of the largest coal fired electrical generating plants in the US that gets most of its fuel from mountaintop removal coal mines. The only thing new about this grid upgrade is that it guarantees massive destruction of my state for decades to come.

Look at the tables Gail presents on electricity exporting states. Those are coal states, not wind and solar states.

Gail points toward re-regulation and returning to a re-localized grid structure as the best alternatives to the present situation. Along with demand reduction, which is already occurring, this provides real solutions.

"Re-localized" Grid does nothing particularly useful and a lot that is harmful.

Mountain top removal coal can be burned at mine mouth or close; or shipped to localities that need power.

Shutting down the grid dramatically reduces the options. Pumped storage, using wind as an energy source, likewise solar, are effectively killed without a grid. Local coal burning plants are the likely outcome.


There is no "mine mouth" with mountaintop removal. The "mouth" is gone.

"Local coal burning plants" are not the likely outcome of pricing coal at its real cost and generating electricity closer to where it is consumed. When coal is priced at its real cost, natural gas becomes the logical next fuel for base load power. Gas generation plants can be scaled smaller and located in or near cities because they produce no sulfur or particulate emissions.

Smaller scale generation from diversified sources produces a more secure, more resilient grid.

There is not enough NG to expand it's role in electrical generation. It is highly questionable if natural gas can even sustain 21% of US generation within the plant planning horizon time frame.

So, more NG is not going to work.

NG does produce NOx and this limits it's use near cities that have pollution problems.

Quite frankly, the easiest (and likely best way) to cut back on coal generation is 1) more conservation and 2) more nukes.

A more involved way (see my future Florida) also includes, besides more nukes, wind and pumped storage in combination (with a little solar on the side). A MASSIVE grid upgrade is required for this.

Best Hopes,


Perhaps no more NG could mean more UG = unnatural gas but the technology (eg plasma torches) is immature. The trouble is even before carbon taxes actually arrive places like Australia and California are jumping on gas fired generation. With nukes + wind + harsh demand management then the NG could be saved for CNG, Haber processes and low level heating. That will make it last longer. When it too runs out wind and nukes could help make mainly methane syngas to save the NG grid from shutdown and also take pressure off the electrical grid. Not so efficient but resilient.

Any one who has even complained about the inherent inefficiency of government systems modeled on 'command and control' centralized planning need look no further than the US electric grid for inspiration.

Generating electricity from large centralized plants and transferring it to where it's needed via long costly vulnerable transmission lines is an old Soviet style comic vision of efficiency that only the 'free=market' hypocrites so numerous in the US would tolerate, much less support politically.

In all other sectors, so called US 'conservatives' (who conserve nothing in their own lives but their own bank accounts and not much else) want to get Central Planning out of the picture in All areas in favor of 'local' control in almost Everything, except power generation. Their hypocrisy in this manner is so glaring and obvious, the only explanation is that they have been bought and payed for by 'centralized' power interests. They don't talk the talk and walk the walk. Never did in fact.

Contrast their perverted vision of the present 'command and control' electric grid system with a truly decentralized electric grid in a large town/ small city were electricity is generated locally, within municipal borders, through a mixed multitude of small generating sources. All locally maintained and even manufactured. From even a security stand point, trying to compromise a decentralized grid is much harder than a centralized one, another point of hypocrisy for the 'national security' conservative phonies out there.

Centralized systems are very expense to secure and make great 'bullseye' targets. One stop shopping. Decentralized power generation is redundant and models the internet's structure of reliability. Centralized electric production resemble medieval fortresses dotting the landscape like big fat targets.

Current just-in-time thinking favors 'efficiency' over redundancy (read reliability)

So what's it going to be?

Forced municipal poverty from financial collapse will render the choices for the US:

local decentralized electric power from a hodge-podge of not very reliable or well thought out sources.

That's what you get for wasting the last forty years with IEI (Intentional Energy Ignorance), then losing the means to finance any meaningful change in the Eleventh Hour with a massive collapse of the financial system.

Sumus Quid Sumus

Important point. The major problems of energy are generation, transport, and storage. Most people focus only on generation. If energy can't be transported or stored, what is generated is wasted.

I took these pictures last year in Bedford, Massachussets, USA - an old and wealthy town West of Boston. Walking around the streets, I was struck with the poor shape of the residential electrical distribution (and communications) grid: poles leaning in crazy directions, tree branches mixed in with the wires, the poles overloaded with way more kinds of wires than they were designed for, etc. Just an example of the neglect the grid has seen, and this in a town that could certainly afford to maintain the infrastructure, but chose not to. But nearby roads have been recently re-paved.

Leaning poles

Tree and wires tangled