The US Electric Grid: Will it be Our Undoing? - Revisited

Below the fold is a post I wrote a little over two years ago--in May 2008--about the deplorable state of the US electrical transmission system. The situation may have improved somewhat since then, inasmuch as the American Society of Civil Engineers now gives it a grade of D+, instead of a grade of D.

But Energy Biz (an industry magazine) still is printing articles about the problem. An article called Transmission Strains: A Matter of Keeping the Lights On from the Jan/Feb 2010 issue starts out:

The strains to our transmission system have been evident for some time.

"The U. S. transmission system is under tremendous strain and only marginally stable," Wayne Brunetti, the former chief executive officer of Xcel Energy, observed in 2002. "It was designed as a regional system and has been forced to function as a national system, a function for which it was not designed and does not handle very well," he said.

The problem is that, nearly 10 years later, what Brunetti said is still true.

The US Electric Grid: Will it Be our Undoing? - May 2008

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

Richard Duncan's Olduvai theory posits that it will be our undoing. There are many areas where inattention to infrastructure are happening - oil pipelines, bridges, roads etc. The grid is unique in that a whole section of electrical power to an area can disappear rather quickly in a large portion of our country as happened in 2003.

I googled that as I wasn't sure of the year and discovered that there was also a blackout in Italy in 2003 that affected the whole country although restoration was much quicker.

When the grids go down, Western Civilization is over no matter how much fossil fuel is left. As one site says "we are 9 meals from anarchy" and given how few meals exist in any city once the trucks stop rolling I suspect that 7 days with no grid if it is country wide is all it will take for the USA to collapse.

We are already doing making progress because we are aware of the situation. I'm at least glad that here on the oildrum, the article's author provides answers along with data outlining what needs to be done. The answer also appears rather simple, but presents an interesting challenge especially in regards to our culture. How can we change the mindsets of these companies and bid them to work together?

I always figured that we can do this in the same fashion those scientist who discovered the hole in the ozone convinced the government to ban CFC's.

But I also wonder how we can provide the money to update our rather outdated system, unless that ties in with the first point. But I'm interested in reading what our more educated posters have to say. Hopefully they provide far better answers than I.

One individual I know works for one of the major companies that does electrical grid work. He tells me that their work in this area is still quite low, because companies are not replacing older parts of the grid. Instead, they are just waiting for individual parts to fail, and replacing them then, since this approach is cheaper.

So I don't think that in general major fix-ups are taking place. People have their eyes on the smart grid (and doing bits and pieces of it, in different parts of the country), and a few other things.

I don't know where one can get summaries of grid spending by year. I know it dropped off, with deregulation. I would like to see how much we are really spending now.

I know that the American Society of Civil Engineers says that we need $2.2 trillion of infrastructure spending in the next five years. With increasing complexity, simple maintenance takes more and more energy. We have our eyes so fixed on the cute little new things that we would like to do, I am afraid that no one pays attention to the un-fun details like keeping the electrical grid up, and keeping water and sewer systems repaired.

Well BAU isn't doing good enough a job, they should use their extra time to take steps toward a better grid system and just replacing the parts isn't good enough. Has that not been the line of thinking that has caused so many accidents?
As for the smart grid, it looks alright. I'm not sure if it's our best option but at least it's something.
But I have sympathy too for those who work at the companies. The work is complex and maybe one day I'll be able to see just hard it is.

Dune- I'm not sure why globalization is an out dated concept but you may be right in the sense that de-centralizing the grid may be better in the long run. Though I want to know what that would do to more isolated areas like small towns.

Gail the Actuary: The wind report is to me a breath of fresh air. Thanks for a report devoid of sentimental rubbish. I hope you could critique the Tripe System Report, with ice cold logic. It is 11 pages, and it is illustrated. I need a break. It's a totally new design for a totally new grid. No one on Cape Cod has a clue what it even is. I can't give it away. The system is a green energy grid. The system takes the rail system over, installs new equipment, which is Large diameter multi conduit pipes, as tracks. It's a two hundred year design upgrade. The system has a phenomenal cash flows: Energy, Utility, Transportation, our big three infrastructures. It will cost some money. The system moves trains of all sorts, water, natural gas, broad band, Hydrogen, oxygen rich compressed air, compressed air, and you name it: urine, feces, plastics, waste paper, or even things you can't think such as oyster spat, or agri products. In spite of the fact that I do have many systems, an idea man like me will rejoice when corrected, or even trash the concepts. I have 1200 pages of back up detail design detail on the Tripe, or Track-Pipe system. You are dead on right. Wind is so problematic. The real obstacle to wind is that it just doesn't interface with our current systems. Enter the TRIPE, now it does. Please have a look. I have not had a critique of the paper yet. A critique from you could break the log jam of sorts created because I can't get a soul to read it.

No one has said it will not work. But no one of any substance has seen it. A couple of years ago I had a 4.0 semester with 16 credits, and my professors seemed to like my logic, but even they don't know what they are looking at. They just don't have a clue what they are looking at.

This is an invitation to critique to all. Thank you. Steven J. Scannell

We are already doing making progress because we are aware of the situation.

And some major projects are moving, albeit slowly. The High Plains Express, which would eventually provide collection for wind power generated all the way from eastern Montana and south, solar power from various locations, with delivery to the major load centers in Front Range Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, still seems to be adding participants. Estimated cost $5.1B. If all of it gets built, it would include a connection to the planned Tres Amigas superstation that would support transfers between the three big interconnects. I'm sure T. Boone Pickens would be pleased if that happens; it would give him a chance to sell more of his Texas Panhandle wind power west as well as east.

I suppose the possibility of a sudden collapse of the grid cannot be ruled out, but I think emergency measures can be taken to get it up again in the event of blackouts.

(Perhaps I am wrong but as I understand it, the actual damage to the lines and generating equipment is usually not all that bad, because the equipment mostly protects itself by shutting down;the real problem seems to be getting everything running again from a dead stop.)

Such measures would of course in and of themselves result in severe economic disruptions, but they should be enough to keep the lights on and the water and sewer systems running.

I should think that an emergency consumption tax levied by executive order under the authority possessed by the president to respond to national security threats would be enough in and of itself to do the job of reducing demand enough to prevent frequent blackouts.

We would all survive if every Walmart and 24 hour convenience store in the country were suddenly required to cut electrical usage twenty percent or face a doubled bill the following month.

Residential usage could be forced down with a combination of increased rates above a certain level-say for example eight hundred kilowatt hours- and actual fines-the fines being substantial and levied to make sure wealthy people share in the sacrifice.

When I was on elementary school,not even the principal's office was airconditioned.I suppose todays kids would live over going to classes with the thermostat set at seventy eight rather than seventy two.

Maybe frequent rolling blackouts would be a very good thing.

I doubt if much more than ten percent(a wag) of the total electrical consumption of the whole country is really critical in the sense of being truly needed around the clock around the calender.All or nearly all of the rest of the consumption could be either somewhat reduced or load shifted to some extent to other times of the day or week.

The cost of such load shifting would be high, but trivial compared to the costs of a blackout.

Virtually everybody I know who has money wastes electricity-I have been in a couple of houses in the course of visiting this summer where the airconditioning is left at seventy all day when the family is away.

A couple of hundred bucks would take care of a visit by the hvac man to install a programmable thermostat, but such people could care less about thirty or forty bucks more or less every month.

Frequent rolling blackouts might serve as Pearl Harbor wake up events, which may be our only hope of jumpstarting the really hard core conservation and efficiences necessary to avoid a general collapse a few years down the road.

We must hope hope for a near term collective butt kicking to switch us from complacency to panic mode, and hope that we do at least a few things right at that time.

I fear that may be the only thing to shake us out of apathy.
Which is why I want changes now, but you can't really force things into motion now can we?

Though I'm sure you'll be glad that I'm very responsible with my eletrcity...I keep the windows open to deal with the heat and wear warm cloths to deal with the cold.

Speaking of willfully stupid energy sister works for a CA insurance company in their 4 story glass/granite headquarters. The biggest nicest offices have glass walls facing the baking sun and to keep them cool the head honchos set the central AC system to 60 degrees. The rest of the building is just cold then, and my sister and many others in the rest of the building use lap blankets and electric heaters under their desks all summer to stay warm. A bunch of people have been laid off to save costs, but energy isn't seen as a cost apparently.

I'm sure that's not a common situation, but when I hear how overtaxed the grid is and how it must have this and that to keep working I wonder how much we really need, and how much is just stupid waste. In my own job we have a waiting room/office area with the AC fired up as soon as the doors are unlocked, even though our summer mornings are 55-60 degrees typically. I'd turn it off, but the boss just turns it back on. The business is perpetually struggling financially, but still energy isn't seen as a cost.

How much do we do it?

Basically every house with a Fridge does it.

If you have an AC in summertime, your fridge is heating that air the A/C must again cool.. and in wintertime with the Heating system heating the House (and fridge) while the fridge labors on to keep itself cool within that.


Basically every house with a Fridge does it.

When we were kids in and around Sydney, refrigerators (even ice boxes) were quite often located out on the covered rear verandah. For an un-air conditioned (and often appallingly insulated) house in summer, this was usually cooler than inside ... and overnight and in winter, it was much more efficient, of course.

Another alternative is to have the rear of the fridge (the business end) located in another room or space (by having the unit recessed into the wall) - away from the air conditioned and/or heated kitchen area. Also works, but has practical problems too.

Yes, the refrigerator thing drives me crazy too. This ( ) is an inexpensive project to convert a chest freezer into a super-efficient refrigerator, which I have been planning to do for some time.

Well worth a look, and I'll post the heck out of it if I get the time to convert one!

A good reason for an energy efficient refrigerator ! Especially in warmer climates !


I keep wanting to bundle all the appliances with waste heat, and have them feed a preheating loop for the Hot Water Tank.. but of course, I'd have to turn much of the current house plan inside out and upside down to get there..

Morning, I should be headed to the reef but had to stop in...I can shut my AC off if I'm not home all day.

I'd have to turn much of the current house plan inside out and upside down to get there..

I hear you, I think rational bottom up house design is definitely going to happen for a lot of us in the not too distant future... In the meantime have a great day!

Fridges and freezers should be like dryers and have air hoses that can connect through the wall to the outside.


air hoses connected to the outside require air from outside to replace the air dispatched. The energy efficient guru's want tighter houses.

Refrigerant lines to the outside would force the unit to abide by the same difficult operating conditions as air-based heat pumps do.

A prominate Brand "new" water heater uses room air to run the heat pump it employs. Do we always want a cool area around it? Don't think about super insulating the room where it is installed! Think most existing homes would just duel the DHW heater against the A/C.

As stated elsewhere, we need to move heat to where we want it and get cooling back in return. Large buildings are beginning to find this economical (the Large Force!). Not always a 1 to 1 swap, so sometimes there is an excess. Improved the energy efficiency but not easily retrofitted to todays' home appliances. Rebate incentives?

Geo based heat pumps can be ordered with DHW (Domestic Hot Water) from cooling seasons otherwise waste heat, and also the use of the heat pump as the source of DWH in heating season via extracting Super Heat or running it for DWH heating when there is not a T'stat heating call.

Residential Geo Heat pumps can either be horizontal (large square footage), or vertical (small square footage). Vertical requires well(s) drilled; drilling into water is not a necessity but requires more depth if dry. The Geo heat pump manufacturers are already up and running; though still only a small portion of heat pumps are Geo.

All you need is a hose to bring air into the condenser and a hose to take air out of the condenser. Far simpler to have an air loop than plumbing for high pressure gasses/liquids.



"just like dryers" and then you tell me two hoses. I guess I got cheated, mine only came with one! Unless you are referring to those red and blue things.

And my refrig already knows about the zero heat emission into the house; it only requires a whole year for it to average out to zero in my climate. Would not pay extra for one of your two hose refrigs.

Besides, my refrig does not suffer an efficiency loss during the hot days of summer.

Where I am the choice is between hot and very hot:) You have been cheated with your dryer hose. You are sucking the warm air out of your house and blowing it away. Again there should be 2 hoses and a heat exchanger that would recover heat from the outgoing air. Your fridge may not lose efficiency in the summer but your house suffers unless your summer outside temperature is well below the comfort zone then you wouldn't be worrying about refrigerator inefficiency.



My point is that for me what is a positive in the winter is about equally offset in the summer. I do not contest that the summer causes undesirable heat.

In the design of my retirement house, I actually included a separate washer/dryer room. Thought I would try a DIY "two hose dryer". Gave up on the DIY because it would make that room quite cold in the winter and did not want to have to listen to the wife complain. It would have required an insulated dryer with an enclosed system for the fresh air supply (the 2nd hose). I have had two occaisions where the wife said to check the vent "the room and dryer are very cold", sure enough the vent was partially open (I used a quality shuttle style vent that mal-functioned due to lint buildup).

I have seen such dryer heat recovery apparatus advertised a few years back. When I became interested in them, I discussed this with a friend. He stated he tried one but had to throw it away. He said it suffered with a condensate problem. Would be nice for me in the winter, but be a negative in the summer unless it was by-passed.

I just bought a dryer a couple of years ago, so I am not in the market for another. But I am curious as to the availability of two airhose dryers; can you give me a brand and model so I could learn more?

Well, my dryer is a length of rope, as was my mother's, my grandmother's...... Dryer heat recovery should not have an issue with condensate if well designed. As for 2 hose models, got any 2 hose fridge models? :) That is the trouble with a society that has treated energy as something you have a right to use as much as you want.

Oh, around here we tend to get the older, less efficient models of everything, the ones they stopped selling in the USA 1 or 2 years ago or the ones that cannot be sold because they do not come up to energy standards.


While debating A/C let me ask a question. Are there any members who use solar PV to run A/C and what are your experiences of this.


We use a small window unit to cool/dehumidify the bedroom on hot, humid days. We usually turn it on in the afternoon when the batteries are near full charge and close the room up until bedtime. With enough panels and a good inverter PV is totally scalable to run a central A/C system ($$!), but being off-grid, we don't want to cycle the batteries that hard at night. Most nights our temps are in the 60s, plenty cool for a window fan.

Our house has effective passive cooling, but this summer has been tough. We use the option to run the diesel when it gets really hot. We've used over a hundred gals of B-100 since May (mainly to tame my wifes hot flashes;-) Good insulation and design, seasonal shade and fans can really reduce the cooling load.

Usually most blackouts occur during peak load conditions.

Pragmatically for the short term:
1. I think that if MW peak load generation sources can be strategically placed _close_ to demand, it would help offload the transmission system.

Examples include FF natural gas generation, large PV, and large CSP systems.

2. Additionally, if more sub-MW sized renewable sources are installed locally to demand, such as PV over parking lots, the peak MW on transmission lines will also be less.

"Residential usage could be forced down with a combination of increased rates above a certain level-say for example eight hundred kilowatt hours- "

That's fine for the summer, but you'll freeze out a lot of people in the winter. Not everyone has natural gas available. And even heat pumps need to go on backup resistance heat on the cold days.

OFM could you send me an email? my address is in my profile. Thanks.

When the grids go down, Western Civilization is over no matter how much fossil fuel is left. As one site says "we are 9 meals from anarchy" and given how few meals exist in any city once the trucks stop rolling I suspect that 7 days with no grid if it is country wide is all it will take for the USA to collapse.

I think that's an exaggeration. In several recent hurricanes (Rita and Ike in particular) large parts of Houston have lost power for up to three weeks. It wasn't particularly pleasant, but we survived. I'm talking about the places where the only damage was wind damage, mainly fallen trees across power lines. Of course, where the storm surge hit there was major damage and quite a few deaths.

Where I live we had only a minor outage of about a day during Ike, and none during Rita. But we were very lucky, with underground power lines in the subdivision and no large trees along the route of the high voltage lines leading into the subdivision. Perhaps two million people were without power for a week or more after Ike. Most people had enough supplies of non-perishable food, plus alternative cooking arrangements, to eat pretty well. In fact, there were many neighborhood cook-offs held to eat the contents of freezers and refrigerators while the food was still good. And quite a few households had emergency generators.

Ird, I didn't say one grid or one part of a grid, but THE Grids, ie all the grids that serve the mainland. To get the idea imagine a solar storm or EMP attack takes down all the grids in the US. It takes electricity to pump gasoline these days. So at some point all traffic stops. How do you repair the grid in a massive failure without the gasoline to run the repair trucks. Do a mind trip and take it from there. No vehicles, no refrigeration, no gasoline to run tractors, etc. How do you quickly scale back to non electrically run anything

While those scenarios are perhaps unlikely they point out how much we depend on electricity. Likely the grid will fail in parts increasingly often because the investment is not being made in massive overhaul. As it fails more often, businesses have more trouble staying in business and more people are unemployed. As less electricity is used, the electric companies dedicate even less to infrastructure maintenance and one day all that adds up and one grid after another fails finally and totally. When, I don't know. Richard Duncan says by 2030.

Once again the DRUMBEAT is that the writer cannot come up with a way to get the political will to take away the private profit from what will be a public catastrophe if we don't.

After carefully pointing out AGAIN that there are technical solutions to the problem, but we can't get past our corporation-shackled legislators to make these solutions work, the article fizzles out. Again.

When will the OILDRUM shift over to technical analysis of the sociological and communications aspects of all these problems?

Are we collectively and individually crippled in our ability to reach beyond mere technical solutions and explore the fields of social interaction, government, and propaganda?

This happens over and over and over, and the technical heads just bang against political wall.

Maybe it ain't just nerds we need?

Laugh at Lakoff, but his way looks like a necessity now.

Maybe it ain't just nerds we need?

Of course we need more than nerds - who are a necessary but not sufficient requirement for the liberation of peoples, the total overturn of society as we currently experience it, and of course, world peace.

But nerds need a home and a focus too - and The Oil Drum provides such a space in a very successful way. I can envisage this forum degenerating into a political miasma of drizzle, if each and every technical subject were diluted and distracted by political and sociological context and discussion.

Anyway, I can't really agree - I think there is a great deal of (usually pessimistic) discussion and argument on here (week after week) about the achievement or likelihood of sensible outcomes in relation to the energy-based fields that are covered.

More good reasons to decentralize the grid.

Bloom box runs on hydrogen too so if this technology can be scaled up we could have a good combination here.

Do we really even want a grid, is it not a dangerous Achilles heel for our civilization?

A centralized grid is as outdated a concept as is globalization. I've lived off-grid for almost 9 years, reducing electrical use by almost 90% from my previous living situations. There's no good reason why a majority of folks can't successfully transition to independent power production, either at the family, neighborhood, or village level. Those who argue against this assume BAU indefinitely. The key is to transition while capital and resources are still available to make the choice, not after the grid collapses.

Well good for you but most people don't want to go an extreme conservation route.

And going off-grid is really not a good solution. You lose the statistical sharing effect. If my solar system is generating more power than I need, it is better for that power to go to my neighbor than to have some expensive battery system. I'll then 'buy-back' power at night from someone that has windmill that is spinning at night. (OK, realistically I'll buy cheap excess power from the power company at night.)

But this is why the grid is so important . . . we need to be able to do statistical sharing better. Wind energy is pretty cheap now with really big windmills. But it is intermittent. However, the wind is ALWAYS blowing SOMEWHERE. So we need to be able to move the power around from where it is currently in excess to where it is currently in shortage.

speculawyer, what you say seems to make sense, but does it really? All the associated costs of constructing & maintaining such a grid as you describe may well be much higher than "expensive batteries". It might very well be feasible on a local level to intertie, but that's a lot different than a continent-wide system. When you say "...but most people don't want to go an extreme conservation route" that doesn't change the reality of diminishing resources. It might very well be true that most folks cannot live without the grid we have in place now. It might also be true that those who are living 20-50 years from now will more likely be those who were able to adapt to using much less.

Give it up, Dune. Talking off-grid to gridweenies is like trying to explain being gay to a macho man. There's nothing "extreme" about my "conservation route", and there are so many misconceptions about off-grid and distributed generation being repeated here, I'll just repeat myself: "When the lights go out at your place, you better bring good food and lots of booze when you show up at mine. Don't forget your sleeping bag and toilet paper."

Ghung: "Talking off-grid to gridweenies is like trying to explain being gay to a macho man."

You're right, I should know better...

I don't disagree that it's hard for some to see across into the other court, but there are also likely to be intermediate solutions as well. MicroGrids might be something that a small cluster of neighbors or a village could create (or purchase/commission), so that there is the possibility of a degree of sharing, or buying a little extra from the group when you need a few more amps than you can provide for yourself.

Like with the co-housing systems I've seen, there might be a bit of PV on each roof, and then a Wind Turbine for the common power supply..

But beyond all that is the solution that you and Dune have already experienced, which is the need to have solutions for your basic needs that get off the monolithic dependence on any single source. Electricity is an incredibly flexible power source.. but if you can't get by without it, it's just another umbilical that will screw you if it's cut.

Life doesn't have to end when the lights are off.

Well it's perhaps our greatest convience...I mean I can't even remember how life was like before the tv. What did kids used to do again?

But on a more serious note, it's needed for modern society especially since we need it to transport us around work and to warm our houses along with all the other pleasures it provides. So yes, life won't end when the lights go off but it would also be a lot less fun.

And is that second paragraph if it could be called that, your plan to deal with our crisis (if any)?

As for solutions...if the lights were to go off, we'd have to reinvent how society functions, we'd have to buy plenty of outhouses, some lightning and something to burn to keep warm. Though you could always wear an extra layer of clothing but we'd have extra laundry with no electricity to get the job done faster...

In as good a humor as I can muster, if I were to outline a plan for dealing with a coming energy/grid crisis, it would not be a single plan, as with the above example. There are multiple angles to pursue, and different situations will require different mixes of them.

If the lights go off, we only have to rediscover a variety of easy workarounds that can get the jobs done with parallel sources, or decide that a given job (TV..?) can wait til the power is back up.. in which case there is a minimal disruption, and the fun can continue.

ie, You shouldn't need electricity to heat your house, while I understand that most, including mine are largely set up with this dependency today. I just read about a builder in NY State in 1979 who was building heavily Insul Passive Solars that didn't even HAVE a furnace in them! If you're wearing extra layers for warmth, they don't need extra laundering, generally.

Your toilet doesn't generally need electricity, just water. I've heard of neighborhoods that have to pump their sewage uphill to get it to the sewer system. Poor design resulting from an expectation of perpetual energy.

RE; More or Less fun. .. I've had the opposite experience, where a houseful of people were all absorbed in their electronics, Videos and Tape decks and Computers.. and when the lightning took out the power, within ten/fifteen minutes, everyone was hanging together on the back porch around some candles, telling stories and playing some songs on guitars, etc.

I'm not advocating for having no electricity.. but that we know what options exist, and can know that parts of you wake up when the power goes out, and you have to fill the void on your own.. no automata will do it for you.


Feels entitled to as much grid power as he wants, whenever he wants it. Has little concern where his electricity comes from, how it's produced, or the environmental costs. Doesn't adapt well to limits because he doesn't recognize them. May conserve at times but is motivated purely by economics. Grumbles when the rates go up, then pays his bill and flips the switch. When electricity isn't available he looks for someone else to blame. Insists that off-grid ("grid-averse") folks are stupid because they are paying too much for too little power.


A broad range of individuals who have been motivated to take responsibility for some of their domestic energy use. Ranges from totally grid reliant with a passion to conserve, to a large investment in grid tied alternatives, producing a portion or all of their energy requirements. May or may not be left in the dark when the grid fails, but blames only himself for not installing that battery backup yet. Usually is looking for ways to conserve.

Grid- averse (off-grid):

Not connected to the grid for various reasons: Remote location; Survivalist mentality; Control freak/geek who doesn't want a bill or the easments/access that it implies; Recognizes limits to growth, environmental degredation and wants to control as much of his carbon/environmental impact as possible; Any combination of the above.
Lives with (and usually enjoys) natural and self imposed limits. Intuitively adapts to these limits and natural cycles, a mentality that eventually forms the basis for his decision making and behavior. Always looking for ways to extract more energy safely from the environment but is driven primarily by conservation. Eventually develops a need to remain humble about his ability to power down, to do more with less, while setting an example to the few that may be inclined to follow. Only exibits conspicuous energy consumption when the grid goes down (if he even notices). May be branded a malcontent or outliar by Gridweenies and scorned by the BAU estabishment.


Has solar PV + battery back-up to run "essential" low load applications but still grid tied for "luxury" high load items such as central air and electric range. Grid goes down, business as usual but without some of the comforts. Not there yet but that's where I'm headed. Still counting on municipal water and natural gas for now but in a good location for both of those. Actually not worried about our local electric service yet either; just like to be prepared and feel more self-sufficient, and it seems like a good thing to invest in.

There's no good reason why a majority of folks can't successfully transition to independent power production, either at the family, neighborhood, or village level.

It's not the household or village portion of production that can't be distributed and highly localized, it's the heavy industry portion. I would argue that the phrase "self-sufficient electrified village" would be an oxymoron. Depending on the level of technology that you assume for the electrified village, you always run into the need for some amount -- potentially a large amount -- of heavy industry somewhere.

Heavy industry implies the need for a considerable degree of social aggregation: technology at the level of electrification requires cities to manufacture it, not villages. Existing social aggregation attracts new industry: company towns are the exception, not the rule. There's a feedback loop, and pretty quickly you get to the point where you need a grid. It may aggregate distributed generation, or distribute centralized generation.

It may not be a grid on the scale of the Eastern Interconnect, but it's still going to be large.

So where does one get hydrogen from? Everything I have heard says it takes a huge amount of energy to produce--then is hard to transport and store, and is not very energy dense.

One way to get hydrogen and decrease grid demand at the same time is to use excess residential solar or wind energy to hydrolyze water, store the hydrogen on site and then use it in a hydrogen fuel cell when the wind and/or solar are off line.

It's a neat concept that has been proven technically, but it does cost money.

Yeah-orders of magnitude more money than buying from the grid, on a small scale.I expect that the service calls alone would run considerably more than most folks electric bills, given the state of the art.

Maybe in a decade or two hydrogen systems might not be prohitively expensive.Maybe in another five years or so I can justify buying a pv system on the basis of cost of ownership and maintainence versus the cost of buying my juice.

It will be quite a while yet before small scale systems can compete with centralized systems on the basis of cost of use to residental and and small business customers.

But, if the grid can't handle any more buyers, how will one buy from the grid?

Hydrogen fuel cells, along with solar and wind, will be part of the energy tools for the relatively near future -- not because everybody rushed out and bought them today, but because some unique uses and users provided the incentive to further develop and commercialize the technology.

We need all of the energy tools, and it is far too early to start to pick winners, much less losers.

Research and development investment must be commensurate with the problem. This can come in small increments over time with no crisis or in large chunks after a major failure.


I agree in principle with your comments about research and development , but it is obvious, to me at least, that conservation and efficiency are the way to go.

Plus maybe a dose of old fashioned redneck conservatism about allowing the population to grow thru immigration-our population would be stabilizing very very fast except for immigration.

(I haven't forgotten that one of my grandfathers , according to family lore, arrived so poor that all he had to do to move was to call his dog and pee on his fire, but reality is what it is.)

If you and yours have the moolah,go for something exotic if it turns you on to do so.

I don't have much money at all, and I must stick to what works financially.Most people are in my situation.

hydrogen ... It's a neat concept that has been proven technically, but it does cost money.

And yet the guy who runs a fuel cell consortium Dr. Ulf Bossel says no. (Storage was the bugga boo)

In a recent study, fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel explains that a hydrogen economy is a wasteful economy. The large amount of energy required to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds (water, natural gas, biomass), package the light gas by compression or liquefaction, transfer the energy carrier to the user, plus the energy lost when it is converted to useful electricity with fuel cells, leaves around 25% for practical use — an unacceptable value to run an economy in a sustainable future. Only niche applications like submarines and spacecraft might use hydrogen.


If you follow the links, you will see that it is not a simple no; and it's all about current economics, which are biased in favor of other fuels. Both hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen as a storage media for electricity are proven technically.

Gail, what you say is correct. Hydrogen is generally used as a means of storing energy

I have been trying to get more information on this supposedly breakthrough technology.

Sun-powered water splitter makes hydrogen tirelessly

* 13:59 11 February 2010 by Colin Barras
* For similar stories, visit the Energy and Fuels Topic Guide

Sunlight + water = hydrogen gas, in a new technique that can convert 60 per cent of sunlight energy absorbed by an electrode into the inflammable fuel.

To generate the gas Thomas Nann and colleagues at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, dip a gold electrode with a special coating into water and expose it to light. clusters of indium phosphide 5 nanometres wide on its surface absorb incoming photons and pass electrons bearing their energy on to clusters of a sulphurous iron compound.

This material combines those electrons with protons from the water to form gaseous hydrogen. A second electrode – plain platinum this time – is needed to complete the circuit electrochemically.
New benchmark

Organic molecules have been used before to perform the same feat. But they are quickly bleached by the sunlight they are collecting, rendering them inefficient after a few weeks.

The inorganic materials used in the University of East Anglia's system are more resilient. Their first generation proof of concept is "a major breakthrough" in the field, they say, thanks to its efficiency of over 60 per cent and ability to survive sunlight for two weeks without any degradation of performance.

"In fact the 60 per cent figure is probably a worst-case scenario," says Nann. "This is still a preliminary study."

If something like this actually works then it could in theory, cheaply produce Hydrogen to fuel something like the Bloom box technology.

Then you could economically have scalable decentralize production of electricity. If you needed say electricity for a specific industrial process you could build a plant to produce just enough electricity for it and you could then easily place your manufacturing facility in a strategic spot far from any grid but still with easy access to raw materials, labor and transport.

Alternatively you might want to power a small farming community somewhere too far from the current grid without having to invest in building the grid out to the farm.

You could even make it small and portable enough to power a single home completely off grid.

BTW we might even end up finally transitioning to more efficient DC power.

...dip a gold electrode with a special coating into water and expose it to light. clusters of indium phosphide 5 nanometres wide on its surface... A second electrode – plain platinum this time...

One of the issues with attempting to scale this technology up is in the raw ingredients. Back of the envelope calculations have always suggested that a few thousand square miles of desert in the Southwest can produce sufficient power for the whole country. Assume it's used to produce hydrogen instead, which is piped away to be oxidized in some fashion to produce power where it's needed.

Assume the best case, and that only thin films are needed, but you find that you need a few thousand square miles of indium phosphide nanomaterial, and a few thousand square miles of platinum. Scale up by some factor if the hydrogen gets used inefficiently (eg, internal combustion). Scale up by some factor if you do some amount of the production in places where solar insolence is not as good as the Mojave.

A relevant question is "How much indium and platinum are available?" There are some "Peak Indium" doomers that claim current uses such as indium-tin-oxide layers on LCD screens are going to use up the known reserves within ten years...

Yeah those are excellent points. As a matter of fact both the Bloom box link and the one about the solar powered hydrogen producing technology specifically address the issue of it not making much sense to base these technologies on scarce or rare materials.

He and colleagues now plan to refine the system, including lowering the cost by making it with less expensive materials. "There is no major reason for using gold or platinum," he says: those materials were used simply because they are common in the laboratory.

I couldn't find much information on whether or not they have a viable substitute for Indium but I have been following some other research in photovoltaics that lead me to believe that there may be inexpensive materials in the pipeline.

Obviously there are some big ifs to address before any of this becomes viable. I the meantime I'm just building small PV solar, with lead acid battery back up, generators.

I believe in solar coal hybrid to electricity to Hydrogen. But there must be a legitimate Hydrogen grid, because there needs to be a market commodity price, there needs to be safe and efficient "transmission" of the H which I call "frozen electricity". A coal solar hybrid would use oxygen rich compressed air. The carbon would be fed to algae ponds combined with biomass or waste, and this sent into either a solar cooker, or geothermal pressure cooker, hence your jet fuel. The synergies are the deal.

My Tripe system ( uses a new rail design to ship not only H but ORCA (oxygen rich compressed air) regular Compressed Air, AND THAT'S NOT ALL (now how much would you pay) The rail lines in the form of energy pipe, carry water for emergency, or irrigation, or for anything. I'm saying I solved the energy crisis. Everything can plug into the TRIPE grid. Our problems are mostly energy storage and transmission, and the Track-Pipe is the answer to that. The cash flow list is enormous if your H pipes also carry trains, water, natural gas, Enormous volumes and pressured extremely high Compressed Air, fiber optic cable: So I know the H economy is doable and the best bet. But it's complex. Personally, I like wind, geothermal, wave, solar, and hybrid coal, for system inputs. Out put wise: cars run off of Compressed Air now, and the best ones are CA and gasoline. The synergy of both the Compressed Air and the gasoline I think come from the super explosion with a "turbo charge" but added to that the fact that when air expands out it cools. So this hybrid deal with the gasoline and the compressed air can give 800 miles to a tank of gas. (so I have been reading I should have written down the source) Compressed Air Technologies, or pneumatics, are a real up and coming area. IF you can ship and store CA easily, then you have it beat. So with the new track pipe designed transport/energy storage/energy delivery/utilities/ these synergies make the deal affordable flexable and the best bet for our green future. Of course it's a massive worldwide proposition. So much the better. I think we can agree on standards, finance the deal, do the deal and be free of the oil and coal.

Tripe is also a slang term for nonsense. defines it as: Slang. something, esp. speech or writing, that is false or worthless; rubbish. ...

Is your Tripe really this?

My Tripe System Report is just wonderful. Tripe: Track Pipe, only related to the hot dog as a third cousin. Try it! Look at the report.

I just wanted to steal a perfectly good word, so I created an energy/utility/transportation complex system. Thanks Steve

Natural gas. Reformation occurs in the fuel cell "box."

Do we really even want a grid, is it not a dangerous Achilles heel for our civilization?

If the US is going to depend heavily on renewables, there's going to have to be a large grid.

For the most part, the areas of the US with the best renewable resources are quite far from the places where people live. Land-based wind means the Great Plains; geothermal is best in the Great Basin; solar in the desert Southwest. If you use the 20" precipitation line as a divider, most of the renewables are west of the line, two-thirds of the population east of it. Much of the population is way east of the line: over a third of the total US population lives in the states that touch the Atlantic Ocean.

Normally-intermittent renewables like wind and solar can be converted into reliable baseload generating capacity, but it takes geographic diversity, surplus capacity, and a large-scale grid to tie those locations together.

Such as ocean waves. Enough wave energy hits the Aleutian Islands to power an appreciable part of the United States. But putting stations in place, and transmitting all that power down to the lower 48 would be an horrifically large project.

e an horrifically large project.

Would the military conflict and the money spent on the military to enforce The Carter Doctrine qualify as 'large project' or a bit bigger?

(unless there is a breakthrough in superconductors I'm guessing the project would run into physical material limitations.)

Let's keep an open mind to energy storage and transmission. I feel the real key here is to use pipe-able conversions of the energy, that we can see with our own eyes. The wave is a great concentration of solar power. The sun drives the wind. The wind drives and stores power in the waves. I'm a fisherman, so this I do know. Waves have some force.

If you do go to my web page and read the 11 page illustrated Tripe System Report, you may like it. I have 1200 pages of back up detail drawings behind that. Mostly of the Georges Bank Mega Mill systems which are massive wind/wave hybrid generators of Hydrogen, Compressed Air, and ORCA (Oxygen Rich Compressed Air). These were designed for the continental shelf between Delaware and Canada, which is a gift, and so are the Aleutian Islands, especially since the chain has a fault line with geothermal possibilities. Ice can be tough. But there are options for this problem. Actually ice on the move can be harnessed for power too. So I think the key is in the conversions, and then the transmissions and storage. We can beat this.

There is an updated DoE National Electric Transmission Congestion Study - Dec 2009 that address some of the issues you've raised.

Thanks for the link. I notice this report moves away from the assumption that more grid is necessarily the answer. According to the executive summary:

The 2009 study identifies regions of the country that are experiencing congestion, but refrains from addressing the issue of whether transmission expansion would be the most appropriate solution. In ome cases, transmission expansion might simply move a constraint from one point on the grid to another without materially changing the overall costs of congestion. In other cases, the cost of building new facilities to remedy congestion over all affected lines may exceed the cost of the congestion itself, and, therefore, remedying the congestion would not be economic. In still other cases, alternatives other than transmission, such as increased local generation (including distributed generation), energy efficiency, energy storage and demand response may be more economic than transmission expansion in relieving congestion.

Thus, a finding that a transmission path or flowgate is frequently congested should lead to further study of the costs and impacts of that congestion, and to a careful regional study of a broad range of potential remedies to larger reliability and economic problems. Although congestion is a reflection of legitimate reliability or economic concerns, not all transmission congestion can or should be reduced or “solved.”

It seems to me this view is in a way rational, if it really isn't possible to improve the grid greatly. Of course, not everyone would like to see their service degraded (less ability to use electricity when it is in high demand) as the solution to the problem. There is also the issue of whether this is just working the grid harder, and leading to a possibility of total failure.

At the end of the Executive Summary, it says:

Determining what will constitute future transmission “adequacy,” however, is no simple matter. It is becoming technically feasible to drive transmission systems harder and obtain more services from them, without endangering reliability—provided certain critical conditions are met. These include:
1. The availability of detailed, near-real-time information about second-to-second changes in the operational state of the bulk power supply systems.
2. The availability of effective control devices that will respond extremely quickly to correct or avert potentially hazardous operating conditions.
3. The availability of appropriately trained work-forces that will be able to design, build, operate, and maintain such complex systems.

Working the system harder, when we are moving to more and more energy constraints, seems to me to be a way of ramping up to system failure. The system will work in the new more-stressed way for a while. Then the deferred maintenance will cause some sort of huge unanticipated problem somewhere. Eventually, the system will become impossible to maintain. The more renewables that are added, the worse the problem will be--and the quicker the downfall is likely to arrive, it would seem to me.

I think it is a problem that the thinking of a grid for power is mostly thought of as an electrical grid system. It's an established fact; a box we live in. Isn't the electrical grid wonderful for the choice of fuels we have always used? And don't they fit very well together? Yes, and Yes. But if we are to shift to remote green based systems, such as geothermal, solar, wind, wave should we not be in a new grid carriage, or transmission, system mode as well? I say yes. Electricity is wonderful, and so is gasoline. These have served well. But global supply oil will not last forever of course, coal has it's issues. Horse power from a wind or wave mill is a function of design, tonnage, height. If we want more we go bigger, higher, and we get more. But we can't use more, with the current thinking. The obstacle is in the thinking about the great unshakable fact that we need to ship electricity to get electricity. We don't need to ship electricity to get electricity. We can ship Compressed Air, the fuel, also used to save power now, similar to pumping water to later generate electricity. It's off the shelf stuff. Our problem has been the conversions of the mechanical energy into usable storable pipe-able energy. But our problem in actuality was the failure to synthesize the equipment we have off the shelf. Who ever thought of using a rail system to pipe fuel? I think I'm the first. In the 1800's compressed air locomotives were used in mines, due to the problems of bad air.

Around 1900 a German square rigger, fully laden, and driven by a gail at 18 kts collided with a steam ship that was trying to over take it. It was estimated to be harnessing about 6000 horse power. That was 110 years ago. My point is just horse power. Our problems are in thinking and not in the actual power generation. We are stuck on an old form of energy carriage, which now has been addressed with the Tripe System.

So our electrical grid was fine. And it will be fine for a long time, but it will be overlapped with greener ways. It is now becoming obsolete for green energy conversions to electricity, which we have a great need for. Too bad they are so incongruent. Above all we need interface ready systems design. Compressed Air works well with coal, gas, nuclear, because CA provides for a turbo charge to a steam turbine produced electricity. So if a grid carried Compressed air on the rail system lines, then the Air would be essentially every where, and could provide a green turbo charge to the existing systems that produce steam, and run trucks and cars too, with no problem.

Wind to electricity to the grid is just an enormous pain. And as Gail warns, it may cause some catastrophic results if we keep on wishing it to be so. We will still need all the old dinosaurs to run at peak when the wind dies. How does that work? It doesn't. But I do love wind. It just needs the proper conversions on both ends to make it workable. So the tripe is an energy system common denominator which does interface well ... the old and new. Steve

One of the standard methods for making factories more energy efficinet is to minimise the use of compressed air. The reasons for this are very simple, compressing air is a process with large losses due to the heating of the air that is being compressed, the small air engines in the air driwen power tools have a low efficency and air systems are prone to leakage.

Air systems once became very popular since early air-tools had better power density then early electrical hand tools, a blast of compressed air is often very practical for moving dust and pneumatical cylinders were cheap and neat for automation. Now has electrical hand tools with permanent magnet motors become as good or better then the classical air tools.

As a good ToD reader you should read a little about the basic physics in compressing gasses since that makes it easier for you to spot unworkable ideas.

Btw a veteran railway close to where I live has a compressed air locomotive, it is a giant steel tank with four wheels, a tiny engine and very low capacity. Compressed air is "the open fireplace" of energy systems, neat and fun to look at but very inefficient.

MR Spot on!

And he has not addressed how he is going to power the Locomotive riding on his Tripe (compressed air tank cars?). At least an electrified locomotive can get power from the catenary. I would wager a bet he thinks he can power the loco on compressed air. Or maybe he has a way to have the loco dynamically "open the Tripe" to extract compressed air and then have the caboose close the Tripe so as to not leak all the air after the train passes (if this was covered after page 4 then I apoligize; couldn't get past page 4 from Tears in my Ears from ROFLMAO!).

He states nobody has said it won't work. I guess subtle suggestions are insufficient to burst his compressed air bubble.

But don't say anything derogatory unless you search on Cape Cod Times litigation first.

You have not taken the idea seriously. I understand. You are a smart fellow. I do not intend to design locomotives, the old ones will work fine on the new track. I don't think you even made it to page four. Old steam, old electric trains, old diesel will work fine on the new system. I do believe in hybrid compressed air and gasoline or diesel. Google up compressed air vehicles, and your eyes will be opened. The technologies are coming up faster than you and I can keep up with.

The system has not been legitimately critiqued. A page four break down doesn't count for too much. This is a machine not a roast show. A complex system of this magnitude needs quality research. This is new stuff so let's all do some homework.

The Cape Cod Times is a very establishment centered political player, that calls itself a newspaper. We aren't friends. Thanks, work harder. Steve

"Old steam, old electric trains, old diesel will work fine on the new system."

Old Steam. At 56 years old, you don't remember Old Steam except maybe in the movies. Old Steam was replaced by Diesel Electric because of many reasons; one major reason was the Old Steam was HELL ON RAILS. Between the scrubbing of the rigidly mounted drive axles and the up and down pounding of the Rods, Rail had a short life. The weight per yard of rail used for steam is much more than Diesel Electric requires. Besides, very little of the Tired Iron Steam Locos exist in today's world. Once again you throw out LEAD Life Preservers to the drowning.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause a Tired Iron Steam Loco incident. And lead is too expensive for my taste in preservers. But I'll bet you love steam engines too. We all do. Of course we're not going back to those machines but they are just wonderful tourist attractions, and great center piece attractions for a museum. Sequoia CPE: You must admit to loving those old steam engines deep down. You seem to know machines of one sort or another backwards and forwards, which I envy. (I'm 53, if i recollect correct). I just read a great book on the history of the Cape Cod Railroads, mostly pictures, and I am just old enough to remember and be disappointed when the trains stopped on the Cape.

Who would ever think a new railroad design would be a key to our new found energy driven prosperity? me.

Whaat a shame booted me. Where's my hanky? Thanks Steve


Nothing seems to faze you and your idea.

Try constructing a tube of fiberglas or whatever that must be smooth on the outside as your design calls for. Think of joints (even under pressure). Think of 3,000 mile transcontinental tubes that must expand longitudinally or become either taut rubber bands in winter or serpentine in the summer. Think of your carbon fiber which needs to be heated in an autoclave for bonding strength. How do you propose to field install your bamboo and inner pipes. How do you propose railroad switches be tubed. What do you propose to replace railroad hump yards. And how do you propose to expand the right of way width to accomodate the considerable increased width of your idea. And how do you propose to cutover from standard guage to tube guage since they are incompatible (can not do a few miles at a time, must do complete terminal to terminal cutovers). And where will you get the interoperability with other lines that are standard guage, some of which are outside of the US (look at the history of Europe with their many guages and the problems they cause).

Do you still consider the railroad people "snubbing" your ideas on a dislike for you because you propose eliminating them rather than a technical analysis showing radical answers? I was tempted to say "back of the napkin" but it would do a dis-service to the amount of effort you have already expended. Thanks for trying. Sincerely.

You thought you were proposing a solution. But in reality you appear to me to propose many more problems than possible solutions. So this is my last reply to your proposal.

Dear SequoiaCPE, OK, take a break, no problem, of course I wouldn't want to hold you to that whatsoever. You are intensely valuable. But Thanks Big Time for the start of a critique.

Expansion junction boxes, and some other systems should be pretty straight forward. Composite technologies, similar to boat building, on of my trades, have some wizards who can design and construct complex things. There will be multiples of applications I assume. So for most coal or container shipments the rules of the rails will not change appreciably, I would suppose. I will offer that it may be wise to go to a steel rail up-grade, which is shown. But the gauge essentially would have to stay the same, because of course it would be ludicrous to try to replace all of our rolling stock. It would be a silly thing to propose to do so. But, I haven't done that. As for rail construction, I have in mind some complex extrusions, with of course a running autoclave, or oven. But Carbon Fiber is a cost. I hope we can go with cheaper. I installed some epoxy pipe for the stringers of my boat, which if it meets criteria, fine. Carbon Fiber is a great weight saver, and the track pipes don't need especially to be light weight. My stuff is a starting point for a system design that may work. I figure the mag-lev systems will be separate. The mag lev's may be able to help the electric grid, in that they will have a need for electricity, and that need could be co-operative, complementary to the grid. Symbiotic relationships getting us there faster and providing energy are what is wanted. In the future the tripe, green grid, will carry ever increasing loads of tourists all around the USA and the world. The cars for this will use the steel rails, and being larger cars, and actually bigger but lighter, they will be stabilized using the pipes. Again, a two hundred year system design will have some different parameters. We used different systems design parameters when the trains burned wood, and back then really there were few roads. Travels were mostly by sea, by rail, and then by roads. An so as we come to understand green fuels, such as Hydrogen, Compressed Air and ORCA rail as energy utility transportation concepts will materialize. And because we have a choice of easements for the new fuels based energy systems, which of course are not mutually exclusive: rail, road ways, water ways, transmission line easements, and of course new ground: we need to choose, to plan, to design, to brainstorm.

As for getting personal with rail people, and the snub. This proposed system is some radical thinking. So some time may be needed just to let an idea like this be analyzed. The Steven J. Scannell plan to buy rail assets going in, as the new grid system is constructed may not be relevant, those are political considerations. People will think emotionally, reactively, as is our nature, but possibly the system will be modeled up, and costed out. It's hot, and smokey in Moscow. The Sahara is expanding. What rail men think is not nothing, but green energy must over take the old systems. If the system comes down to a "What do the railroad men want to do" question, then we have some serious commitment issues to changing our world. I only wish I knew you at least read the report. Thanks Steve

Thanks for the response to this raw idea. As I said in an earlier post the "air" technologies are coming right along now. Here in Massachusetts a company you may want to google up called SustainX is able to explain the details far better than I regarding current technology. They just got a bunch of money from a government grant, somewhere around six million dollars based on their new Compressed air systems. I am very impressed with their work. Their web page gets into details. Just a quote which I hope will jog you to try their site:

"The SustainX energy storage system ESS will provide tangible economic value to wind and solar energy providers as well as other grid stakeholders".

This is new stuff. They are using slow hydraulic pressure to compress air, in order to lose the thermo inefficiency found with conventional machine or piston compressed air. Some of my off-shore based wind mills would have an air conveyor, or sort of a ferris wheel, over simplifications of course, to convey air to the bottom and into pipes: But there are probably lots of different ways to compress air.

Of course we all know it works to pump water, and then release it during peak. Similar is the current use by a utility to compress air, for later use, mostly I believe with gas turbine equipment. I would love to know more about the cute compressed air train that doesn't work so well. Thanks. I love a skeptic with a sharp edge. Steve

A normal air compressor that is capable of large volumes of compressed air works as an adiabatic process. Basically little or no heat as the result of compression is lost to the outside. A diesel uses an adiabatic process to produce about 300psi which is hot enough to ignite diesel fuel on injection. A 3,000+psi adiabatic process will possibly test the metals used to build the compressor.

An isothermal process requires allowing the heat to be transferred to the outside, this is a slower process than adiabatic; hard to see where any appreciable energy generation could take place on the scale you suggest. This heat energy would be a loss of energy if it is not captured and put to use.

In either case, on expansion at the point of use, the air will get quite cold. A proposed air conditioning system uses air as the refrigerant (probably as a replacement of refrigerants which contribute to greenhouse gases), but air is not an efficient replacement for refrigerants. Possible problems are because the air contains water vapor and may cause freezing of any orifices. 3,000+psi air would have to be reduced to lower pressures for mundane use; pressure reducers normally use variable orifices for regulation.

Government Grants are regularly issued for projects that have slim or no chance of practicality; if the government only gave grants to winners, then they would effectively be Venture Capitalistic in nature. Some Grantees will find positive things as a result of grants; some may find answers to basic questions that others may then persue. Some may wither on the vine. Don't count chickens before they hatch.

Maybe I did not get to Page 4, hard to tell. But when you went on in one paragraph to include water and feces and multiple other items, it was hard to take you seriously.

First if this system ever becomes a proposal worthy thing; by consensus, then you will have been the very first person to seriously engage this system, to rattle the cage. The Tripe is a mechanical system, but it will never be devoid of overlaps into our society, such as economics, social systems, transportation and utility systems. The multiple embedded pipes actually provide strength to the greater pipe, which is needed for spans, train weights for light vehicles, and for fairness and longevity. As a utility carrier the center main pipes would find uses for water, compressed air, and sewer. My sewage systems, and many green minded think this way, are prone to bifurcate the number one and the number two "bio products" So, I'm seeing multiple cash flows helping the bottom line. The bottom line is we need energy storage and delivery. We need it to be able to work with the existing systems, and not against them. And so we need something new. There isn't a utility we have that can't go into these pipes, and it aint all pretty. But the ability to carry broadband is big. Water availability along any line is big. You may not need it, but you can ship it in the track-pipe, if you want or need to.

Can anyone tell me if a 24 inch diameter pipe with a vacuum could work for the super conductors? What are the practical ranges for the power, in terms of voltage? and what are the relative dimentions of the conduit needed? If it would work then that would be a tremendous boost to a nuke plant. And after hearing from some nice french lady on the charlie rose show, I am a little closer to being OK with the nukes. Because she had such a nice smile. Nukes would have a conduit ready made for their lines. I don't know if that would be inherently unsafe, or if the thick wall of the tripe would prevent electro magnetic exposures. You could easily run a tripe line down the high tension easements.

Above all this is a system to augment. We can not afford to do a total rebuild of our systems. However, the monopoly issues do pose a problem, and we have problems with economic structures and utilities today, for sure. After some careful consideration I have come to hold the opinion that this tripe utility could be owned in common, by a consortium. In that market share for the regulated utilities would need support there, I have decided to also hold the opinion that for these lines to operate in a realistic fashion, the competition would have to be addressed first. I have some opinions myself, but here it is. It needs many hands. I don't own it. It's a gift to the world.

The decentralization of electricity may bother Kenny Boy, and his crowd. This system allows for lots of energy and especially electric grid security. We're NOT going to stop growing in the United States of America. Perish that thought. A new era of industry is on the horizon. Thanks Steve

I fear that the grid problem will be addressed only after we experience a series of catastrophic grid failures, ones that either directly or indirectly cause billions of dollars in damages and/or loss of life.

The reluctance to invest in badly needed infrastructure upgrades has a lot to do with the way our financial system is structured, i.e., the built-in bias toward short-term return on capital at the expense of long-term benefit. In my view there is something wrong with a system in which kilowatt-hours are traded on spot markets just like winter wheat or frozen pork bellies. The free-market proponents will insist that this results in the most efficient distribution of the electrical 'commodity'. I say it allows entities like Enron to game the system to the common detriment.

For-profit, stockholder-owned utilities appear to be incompatible with long-term planning. Then again, if these were all government owned, we'd be probably faced will all sorts of Soviet-style bureaucratic problems and inefficiencies. I don't have a good answer.

Very very scary and most interesting. It is too bad the stimulus money could not have been used for reconfiguration of the grid, in other words, the projects ready to go. It looks like there is much to be designed as well as negotiated.

Here in BC, NIMBY and political considerations have on a small scale disrupted new transmission line construction.
When our right wing Govt tried to privatize BC Hydro 10 years ago, at least began to lay the groundwork for it by breaking up the utility into 3 parts, the public rose up and protested a stop to it. Thank God. They cannot continue on that course beyond various contracting out agreements for admin and construction. Thank God generation was only screwed up for awhile with a mandate for Hydro to buy private supplies at premium prices, and now with a return to Hydro in charge of Site C we may be back on the people owned resource course.

(I am no communist, but our medical plan and Hydro dams are the jewels of our Province. Most know we cannot give them to insider friends and friendly companies).

Common sense indicates the problem, as well as basic cause and effect of feedback. You can't get something for nothing. You want cheap rates and choose to break up the monopoly, then something has to provide the gains. If the initial gains are supplemented by competition, then you have to except communication and organization of the whole will deteriorate and be reflected in the infrastructure. Unless the present course is unified, then the fracturing will continue. I suppose if individual utilities are allowed to fail, they will be bought up by survivors and a new monopoly created, (much like the airline industry has done.) However, when an airline drops unprofitable routes, no one's lights go out and the inconvenience is offset by alternative transportation.

If it continues to deteriorate the conclusions are obvious. Local providers will service concentrated centres, and rural folks and small towns will suffer. Looking at the fractured political system and continual infighting in this complex society, it will take some major problems to galvanize solutions. Capital and credit crunches are not encouraging.

With the electric car tasked to save BAU, this is a very big problem with not much time left for solutions.

All the best....Paul

Paulo, the notion of the electrical power system owned by the people is an illusion. BC Hydro is run by a cabal of bureaucrats beholden to the political party in power. The public utility is a proxy political entity and has public benefit, or public convenience a few rungs down the priority ladder. I work with them all the time and I have to give my head a shake when I hear some of the things that comes out of their mouths.

Now Site C, a good deal for whom? 80-90% of the local residents and stakeholders don't want it for a multitude of reasons; one of the primary reasons being their land and homes will be flooded. Good for the Lower Mainland maybe... Expensive private power? New energy generation sources cost more than heritage energy sources. The highest rate a private power producer will consider competitive is 0.12/kWh. Site C is projected at 0.16/kWh, so how is this beneficial to the rate payer?

BC Hydro has made acquisitions and conducted projects well above market rates for years against the best advice. The one's making off with the loot are the unions. It's right out of Animal Farm, "Of course all animals are equal, some are just more equal than others".

If one reads through the environmental assessment reports, the "mitigated" negative impacts reads like the side effects warning during a prescription drug commercial.

Recent review of the BC Hydro transmission system has made it obvious they have painted themselves into a corner. Unless someone does something bold, we are doomed to mediocrity and hand-me downs. The solutions have been proposed and are readily do-able. The resource scarcity we are facing now is leadership and vision.

True enough and I agree with most of your post. My association with Hydro is limited to many friends who work for them, generation to maint. etc....actually all phases. We were terribly afraid of the river run projects being subsidized by huge buy back prices, especially when those companies were US entities. We were dismayed to see the pristine inlets screwed up by access roads. I feel more than sympathy for those old time farmers of the Peace country.

I suppose a better approach would be to allow an escalation of price to positively influence waste and conservation. Lose the tv commercials. And only after all avenues are exhausted begin the site C type developments.

I see nothing wrong with a lineman making good wages and working in a safe environment. It takes Unions to make that happen, and for those who disagree, if Unions were not needed they wouldn't exist. (They used to beat up and shoot coal miners in most countries). I once knew a lineman who had his arms blown off on the job. All new construction is contracted out, and office people don't make that much money under Accenture, a US company. When linemen make double time it is usually when they are out at night in a howling storm trying to get the lights back on.

Hydro is an ivory tower, and I am glad I don't work for them to be honest...and it could be more efficient. However, it is no more inefficient than Telus or cable companies that funnel profits back to shareholders as opposed to a general kitty.

When I see the water shooting out of the power houses and know the penstocks will do work for us, I am pleased the water is not in private hands or water rights owned outright like the Powell and Lois Lake systems, and sold with the mil....let's see, to a US investment company, go figure. Is that why Catalyst bought the Powell River mill, to eventually shut it down and sell to Hydro? Alcan at Kitimat? private works for one thing....private interests, and not the public good.

What should happen is a ban on all exports, and make Hydro keep the water in the lakes. perhaps that way the gas fired back ups and cogen stuff would stay shut off and we would not buy coal and gas fired stuff at peak times.

Just some thoughts.

Regards....welcome rain, eh?

How much relief would be provided by a nationwide UHVDC grid to grid network, such as proposed as part of the Steel Interstate system>

This is the 5 cents a gallon crude oil import tariff version:

This is the quarter share of a 10 cents a gallon crude oil import tariff version:

Multiple Birds - One Silver BB has a long (4,000 words + 5,000 words in appendix) discussion that includes that concept.

Best Hopes !


You'll note that in taking mostly the first and second stage from the first, the "two and a half cents" version connects east and west coast via the Gadsden Purchase. I'm happy to postpone debate over the Salt Lake Valley alignment until 2015.

Of course the ultimate answer would be a HVDC grid which circled the globe via the Eurasia-America Transport Link.

WSJ ran an article earlier this week about the electric grid being vulnerable to hackers and pointing out all of the obvious negative effects.

If some nefarious group wanted to harm the grid it would probably be much easier to take advantage of the grid's old-age related vulnerabilities. Luckily the nefarious types seem to have an airline fetish.

That and a wikileak fetish.

But I tend to forget exactly what steps need to be taken in order to update our current grid system at least financially wise.

There is a glaringly obvious Achilles Heel in the grid network should anyone look for it. It wouldn't take much in either materiel or personnel, and it would cripple the country for months - not days. It's hard to believe otherwise that the country wouldn't be reduced to the Dark Ages by that time. Hackers can be shut down and isolated, this one is wide open and no one is protecting it.

If I disclose any more, I'll be in a bit of trouble with FERC.

I have always thought of utility grids as a sort of natural monopoly. It seems foolish too me to put in two water pipes into a house so you can buy you water from the supplier with the lowest price the same could be said for electricity or gas. The economic saving of having one pipe or cable gives the owner of that pipe or cable a supply monopoly, and with it a chance to game the system. The privatization of the water industry by the Conservatives under Maggie Thatcher is a very good example. Profit over service was the buzz word maintainance was put on hold as that was a cost, so they could improve profits and keep the share price up, for the benefit of the management whose bonus often depended on the share price, result misery for the rest of the people. The whole system leaks like a sieve and a few days without rain and there is a hose pipe ban. Not only that the massive influx of third world people is causing the population to explode and exacerbating the problem. This might be the reason why your infrastructure is collapsing in relation too Europe. I live here in Holland, it is impossible for me too think that the Dutch Government would sell off the Delta works which have been decades in the building and protects the coast from flooding to private industry for profit, as happened to the water supply companies and the State owned grid and power utilities in England, a failure because of maintainence cost cutting to maintain profitability would be a catastrophe for the Netherlands. Sometimes Capitalism just does not have the answer. When you have got a serious problem fix it and that means Government intervention. When you had a problem during the second world war in supplying tanks Ford was told to produce tanks not cars, it is a simple as that. Waiting for private enterprise to pick up the tab is just not going to work if they don't see a profit in it. A mixture of command and demand economics is the way, and when it comes to utilities command economics has the edge, because they are by nature natural monopolies, greed which drives the capitalist system has to make way for need.

The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment has looked at a variety of ways to physically attack the grid. The scarier one, to my thinking, was their analysis of the extremely-high-voltage transformers the connect large generators and load-centers to regional grids. Many (most?) of these transformers, particularly those connecting load centers, are easily accessible. Crashing into one with a garbage truck will generally be enough to ruin it. At least one case was found where a simultaneous attack on eight transformers would result in a short-term (hours or days) four-state blackout, but with severe power shortages in that area for months.

In most cases, there is no spare transformer. Replacements are generally from foreign manufacturers with delivery scheduled some months after order. has a story with pictures of a spare main transformer being delivered to the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska. A hydraulic component failure resulted in the $6M transformer tipping over and falling to the ground. The Austrian manufacturer supposedly examined it and declared it was unrepairable. You never know about Snopes, but this IEEE presentation includes an uncredited picture that is clearly from the same incident. Also other interesting pictures of the difficulties of moving these things to the final installation site.

Foreign manufacturers? Months at a time after an order?
Are we suppose to prepare for this and keep several transformers around just in case? How how large is this over-haul if it ever happens will be?

It gets worse.

At last year's ASPO in Denver, there was a speaker from Homeland Security talking about the "war game" exercise they had run that involved the EHV transformers. He had easily the scariest short-term story at the conference. In addition to the factors you mention, there is the problem of moving the transformers about once they get to a port. They are too heavy to move over any distance by road. By railroad, they're too big to fit through most tunnels, overpasses, and bridges, so you have to figure out circuitous routes to get them to their final destination.

My own thoughts (okay, DHS, come take me away!) was that it probably isn't particularly difficult to acquire shoulder-mounted anti-tank missiles somewhere in the world, smuggle them into the US, and with a modest number of people, take out dozens of the transformers before you got stopped.

Face it; if you can take out the right subset of those transformers, any major city in the US can be rendered basically uninhabitable.

About 15% of the rail lines are now cleared for double stack containers (most main lines are).

Recently opened was double stack service from Norfolk, VA to Chicago and double stack spur from Columbus (on line to Chicago) to Cincinnati was announced.

Add barge movements and the ability to either have 3 phases in one transformer or three 1 phase transformers (smaller, more expensive that way) and I see movements as less of a problem.

Best Hopes,


Absolutely. Standardization, single-phase transformers, and relatively modest amounts of money (compared to some of the other things the federal government is doing) would make it possible to stockpile a reasonable number of spares, move them about much more easily, and reduce the risks. Most of the decisions, though, are being left to individual private companies that have little or no incentive to make decisions that cost them money.

Speaking only as an advocate for simpler (rather than larger or smaller) government involvement, the combination of overlapping federal and state authority and ideological preferences of both major parties for highly distributed but incomplete approaches to control may make it very difficult to get consistent decisions made that would move us in appropriate directions.

That's pretty much it, except one doesn't need a garbage truck to crash into it, or get exotic with explosive devices. Those HV bushings sticking up in the air are porcelain. Newer manufacture might be silicone based, but porcelain is still the material of choice. All it takes is a mid-powered fire arm to crack or blow a hole in one of those and they're toast for a while. The trick is to take out enough in one substation so the spare on hand won't fix it and they can't cannibalize from the dual unit. That is, take out 5 of 6.

The bushings are typically custom made per transformer and it takes months for delivery. No large power transformers, no grid regardless of available generation. If someone really evil and nasty got ambitious and took out enough of the core grid units, my initial estimate is it would take a military mobilization of epic proportions just to try and get some form of temporary power and emergency repairs in place.

That ought to keep a few people up at night because these transformers are sitting out there in open substations...

Why not recommend surrounding the vulnerable points on the transformers with bullet proof shielding?

The phone company EQ is 'bullet proof' - but only for .22 cal as what they found young, dumb kids will take pot shots with a .22

A .243/.308 will put a hole in 3/8th plate. I'm not sure of how much a .50 cal can go through - but up-armoring various industrial things would be expensive.

nefarious types seem to have an airline fetish.

I don't know if anyone else has any personal experience with demand reduction systems, but as of Tuesday, i do. I live in an apartment building in Austin. My AC thermostat is programmable and apparently is able to receive a radio signal from the power company. I didn't find much about this program, but here is a link that gives some information:

It's hot here in Austin. I have a west facing balcony and live above the tree line, so there is no shade. I have some solar equipment on the balcony so it is not a total loss. I routinely record temperatures of 105-110 on the balcony around 6 pm. With two patio windows open to this furnace, needless to say, the AC unit in my apartment has a lot of work to do in August.

On Tuesday around 4pm i noticed the temperature was around 86 in my home office. I checked the wall thermostat but it only read 82. I noticed hot air blowing from the vents so i called apartment maintenance. It turns out the city was cycling my AC unit, observable by the word 'Savings' flashing on my thermostat. By 6pm, my office was 89, and near the vaulted ceiling i recorded temps as high as 94 even though i had the thermostat set on 77. By 7pm, the hijacking had concluded.

I called the power company to ask what i could do, and they gave me a number that i could call to opt out of their 'demand reduction' program. I didn't hesitate as there is no pricing rate difference, and it is very difficult to work in 90 degree weather.

I do feel guilty to some extent as i like to fancy myself as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I make an effort to ride my bike to work, and many other small 'sacrifices' so it was not without consideration that i decided to remove myself from the program and thus become part of the problem. The sense of entitlement i felt to avoid heat in the summer, and the anger that rose when that entitlement was taken away, runs deep and so long as the sacrifices are i make tolerable to me (hard to notice), i can be sure they are just tokens.

If it is not windy on your balcony, you can easily and very cheaply rig up a sunshade to keep the sun off the windows in just a few minutes.

Barring that, you can always get a fan and a cold drink. ;)

I've had a bit of consumer experience. In Wisconsin we had one of those boxes attached to the AC unit when the bought the house, and the power company could cycle it. They never took it for long enough to heat up the house. Had lots of problems though, it was a very old AC compressor, and if you turned it off at just the "right" part of the cycle, when it turned on it would trip the circuit breaker. Then after it got hot, I'd check and see the breaker had gone off. I asked to have it removed, but they said no. [I did get a new AC unit a couple of years later, I think problems stopped after that]

I am on PG&E's smartA/C -they bribed me with $25 to get it. The claim is you will never notice it. But one day it was 107 in the shade, and my wife complained -look at the temperature -it was up to 85. By the time I got home at five, the AC was running. My wife isn't sure if the smart-ass controller did it, or if we hadn't has our own thermostate set correctly. This year it hasn't been hot enough to test whether we might have a problem on very hot days.

I do see those roll up sun screens (light colored mats that you can roll/unroll] at the local H/W stores. No letting the sunlight shine in the apartment will help some. I'd love to have one, but the winds we get are ridiculous. The first couple of years I used umbrellas, but the wind destroyed them all. Owning the house I am now growing trees and vines to provide the shading. I also put reflective window film on a couple of windows that can't take blinds.

85, nice and cool :)


Heat pumps and circuit breakers popping.

A heat pump, when in heating mode, requires a compressor sump heater if it is one of the air-based units. It is an electric resistance strip whose purpose is to "Boil off" any liquid in the compressor so the compressor does not try to compress liquid coolant on startup. (Liquid Freon will migrate to the coldest spot in the refrigerant circuit.) Smart units will use a T'stat to turn off this heater when it is not needed.

Some newer compressors are somewhat tolerant of liquid ingestion, but given enough liquid all will trip the breaker. How long deprived of electricity and how cold outside determines if the compressor restarts or trips the breaker.

Heat pumps and A/C typically have a built in delay to cope with short power outages; restarting a compressor with a high head pressure will also trip the breaker. These delays are in the order of 3 to 5 minutes and will help smooth-out the initial high load on the power company restoring power.

Had a neighbor with a winter vacation house; would come in on a cold winter day and immediately after turning on power, would try to start his heat pump which popped the breaker. Called a HVAC tech who could never find anything wrong by the time he got there. Said call an electrician who also could not find a faulty circuit. I suggested that he wait a couple of hours before starting it after power-up for a "boil off" period; also that he could switch the T'stat to emergency heat while he was waiting if it was too cold. He decided to just fire up his wood burning heating fireplace while he waited. He decided that the emergency heat was too expensive as was leaving power connected while he was away for long cold periods.

UV screen on the window ? Reduces glare and heat.

I sit here looking at a toaster with a 24 hr. light on. Same goes for phone,TV,stove,etc.

x (?) billions.

10% of home energy consumption.


We need a mandate that eliminates all appliances that have "vampire" load.

I sit here looking at a toaster with a 24 hr. light on. Same goes for phone,TV,stove,etc.

x (?) billions.

10% of home energy consumption.


We need a mandate that eliminates all appliances that have "vampire" load.

Obviously a comment worth repeating. How does that 10% of residential use compare to the electrical use of 24 hour retailers like some Walmart stores and many gas stations. Way back in my childhood most stores closed by 9 pm and didn't open until 7 am. Very few stores were open on Sundays and people planned their shopping with these limitations in mind. TV stations shut down around midnight and didn't come back on until 6am. Bringing back these business restrictions would save much more energy than worrying about a few "vampire" loads. Just think about how many Gwhs would be saved by shutting off all TV broadcasts during prime time just one evening a week.

10% of home energy consumption? Really?

The average Texas (where I live) electricity consumption[Excel] is about 1600 watts. That means the vampire load is about 160 watts.

The average power drawn by these devices is about 4 watts. So the average household has forty such devices. I find that hard to believe. I know I use quite a bit more than the average, and I can only count about ten of the listed devices left on in my house. I do leave four lights on all the time, but they are 7 watt compact fluorescents, so that's still only a small fraction of the 160 watts of home energy consumption quoted.

Most of the devices I leave on have built in clocks which have to be reset if I turn the power to them off completely. Forty watts of power for the ten devices I leave on is about $3.50 per month. That's more like 1% of my bill, not 10%.

A couple of years ago my wife read that furphy about vampire devices accounting for 10% of your light bill, and made me go through the house unplugging everything. It made no visible change in the electricity consumption.

I think the typical number of devices is in the 20's.
You can put some of them on switchable power strips, so you can turn
groups off. My biggest vampire is the cable TV box, which draws 22watts. But I also have stoves and microwaves with clocks. Some vampires don't have lights, just wallwart transformers.
Now 10% of your "light"bill is different from 10% of your electric bill, which may include stuff like AC and water heaters etc.

Things vary quite a bit, some LCD computer monitors draw 30watts in sleep mode, but the good ones draw hardly anything when they sleep.

Reduce demand by more efficient use (-10% is quite easy) and the transmission grid suddenly becomes MUCH more robust.

More efficient a/c coupled with more insulation, white roofs, better windows and doors, more efficient lighting (less heat to a/c away), etc. is quite easy and actually profitable for the end user.

Reducing our retail space by draconian amounts (say -70% to -90%) would help too but that will require more changes than just reducing a/c load.

Best Hopes,


Yes. And you don't even mention our lighting habits, particularly outdoor yard and street lighting. The hysterical levels of lights on streets and public spaces leads to huge waste of electricity in this country. Most of it is also horribly ugly, prevents viewing of the night sky and is not even really that effective. There have been few, if any, scientific studies of whether streetlighting actually prevents crime or makes the streets safer in any way. In fact, there are some indications that the excessive lighting may increase vandalism and lead to accidents.

The hysterical levels of lights on streets and public spaces leads to huge waste of electricity in this country.

Such lighting leads to reductions in crime.

Well, that is certainly the conventional wisdom. Is there any actual evidence of that, or is it just something that everyone "knows." That was one of the points I was trying to make. If you can cite any controlled, scientific studies of the "lighting reduces crime" hypothesis, it would be interesting to know about them. I haven't seen any.

Besides, my objection is not to lighting per se, but wasteful lighting that is simply installed everywhere the same way, the same type of lights, x number per mile, etc., without any thought given to design or aesthetic considerations or context.

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.

Perhaps for all electric cars (17% to 20% of total electrical demand if 100% EV) but *NOT* electrified rail.

One, electrified rail can bring their transmission with them. Part of the solution.

Two, railroads are more important than air conditioning suburbs and malls. Just as hospitals and subways escape rotating black-outs, so should railroads. Either turn offices into 89 F (see Austin above) work spaces or just rotating black outs.

Three, electric rail is so efficient that we can EASILY conserve that much. Highest % I have found for electricity use for transportation is Switzerland, 5.2% of total electrical demand# (and much lower demand than USA BTW). Railroads (as opposed to trams & subways) provide 1/3rd of the tonne-km of freight and 1/6th of the passenger-km for all modes of transportation in Switzerland.

Yet, electric railroads use just 3% of the transportation energy in Switzerland.

The USA can EASILY conserve enough to electrically power 100% of our railroads, and ten times the Urban Rail we have working today.

Best Hopes !


# USA is 0.19%

If Bush had not rolled back the minimum SEER for air conditioners from 13 SEER to 12 SEER (which impacts our installed base today), our peak electrical demand might be 1% less.

1% is enough to run tens of thousands of miles of electrical railroads.

When we run short enough of diesel and gasoline, Uncle Sam can convert a lane or two, or the medians, of thousands of miles of freeways to rail right of way by presidential order , by declaring an emergency.

Laying track directly on an existing highway could probably be accomplished at a rate of many miles per day, once the manufacture of track itself is ramped up.A simple divider barrier would be all that is needed to keep cars off the tracks between exits, and trains could be restricted if necessary to off peak traffic hours to facilitate getting on and off the highway for cars and trucks.

Additional deceleration/parking lanes at interchanges would have to be built so cars could wait for a train to pass before crossing the tracks to enter or exit the highway but I believe this would be manageable..

And don’t forget that existing rail can be electrified. Rail transport works well when the lines support where the people and goods need to go.

I would like to see the US start to convert our diesel freight to electric freight and use the same lines to add copper/aluminum to the US electric grid.

An Interstate standard highway has a continuous median, even through interchanges, so cars would not have to cross tracks.

A real problem though is that road vehicles can accept steeper grades than rail vehicles. Interstate Highway standards allow gradients up to 6%. While some rail systems have used gradients this steep, most mainline railroads try to keep below 2%.

This would not be an easy problem to solve.

If rail systems were straddled by energy pipe, called Tripe,(see the tripe system report for illustrations at or track pipe, these composite pipes can provide all the needed rail way traction for grades of more than 6%. The median is a gift. But it would not suffice to just lay in the old rails of course. This is where a redesign of the basic rail infrastructure would really come in handy. Many on Cape Cod feel that the route 6 corridor would make a fine location for a string of wind mills. These could be built into the overpass structures, killing two birds with one stone.

Question: What size diameter would it take to pull the vacuum and keep cool a super conductor, so that electricity could be run through a pipe? I am told this is the best way to ship electricity, but I haven't done any homework on it.

Railroad gradients are mostly a throw back to Steam power. Steam used as an external engine requires a rigid axle frame connection; thus causes "scrubbing" when negotiating curves which greatly reduces traction power. An exception is the Shay loco, and others, which could negotiate sharp curves and steeper grades; reason is due to using railroad "trucks". Diesel electric locos also use trucks.

6% grades may be possible for adding median trackage.


We put together a conceptual electrified rail and HVDC/AC transmission system design on a cocktail napkin a few months ago. This was a result of your referral to another BCer inquiring about transmission systems.

The larger 30 m steel pylons spaced at 300-500 m on both sides of the rail would support dual bipole +/-800 VDC lines with capacity of 6-8 GW. AC lines in the 115-138 kV class are understrung to supply the train's substations and regional transmission. A lower 20 m single pole is placed in the middle of the large pylon span to support the 115-138 kV line each side. The distribution power sits below and feeds the catenary system for the train. Intermediary poles and structures are used where necessary. i.e. corners.

The one drawback is having a major bulk system parallel lines running in the same ROW, but we don't have much choice these days. Its the land issues that cause more grief than the technical

Be careful about comparing SEER.

SEER testing has undergone revision in how it is measured. Only those units that were tested with the same measurement criteria can be reliably compared.

Older units tested under the old criteria may in some cases be superior to newer units tested with the new criteria even though the newer unit has a higher SEER.

The article states that alternative energy may further stress the grid. This is not necessarily true.

In California, for example, residential solar reduces stress on the grid. This is because the peak load is air conditioning, which happens during the day when solar is most productive. Since the power produced can be used locally, it reduces the need for long distance transfer.

Indeed. Solar is still an expensive renewable energy source compared to wind but has some big advantages:
1) It generates the most power right when it is needed most . . . hot sunny afternoons when people are blasting their AC.
2) It can generate the power right where it is needed . . . right in the local residential & commercial areas by simply putting PV panels on the roofs of those buildings.
3) It works EVERYDAY. Yes, it does not work at night . . . but everyday it works . . . even with lots of clouds. And on the cloudy days, people are not cranking up their ACs.

So even though wind is much cheaper, solar has some huge advantages that make it very attractive despite the higher $/watt cost.

Wait about 2 years until the solar cycle spins up halfway. With a more stressed grid and active solar events, there may be several near or actual disasters that focus the general public's mosquito attention span on many parts of the grid.

Maybe some major improvements, after enough people sit in the dark for a week.

I forgot about that!
But the solar cycle isn't exactly the end here is it? In the sense that it will trigger the aforementioned permanant black outs we all fear.

Wait about 2 years until the solar cycle spins up halfway.

BTW - anyone have data on what EMP or a CME would do the the panels?
(eletromagnetic pulse and coronal mass ejection)

The cost of a high voltage backbone is high about
$2/kw-mile. To ship in 50 GW of North Dakota wind to
Chicago, a thousand miles away would be $100 million dollars.
50 GW of high quality steady wind could save 50 million tons of coal(100Twh) worth $2.5 billion dollars per year and free up
millions of ton-miles of train traffic used for transporting Wyoming coal.

'Green' California imports 1/3 of all its electricity(300Twh) from out of state much of it from the Pacific Northwest (hydro). Effectively transmission lines replaced in state power generation.

I expect the US East Coast is following California's example with respect to Eastern Canadian hydro. The problem child as usual is the South but it should match up with abundant Great Plains wind or local solar.

The goal should be a hybrid conventional/renewable based grid.
The simulation below shows that, counter to 'common sense', wind mixed with central stations have higher reliability than central stations alone due to the redundancy of generators and so reduce the probability of blackouts, though grid output is more variable.
The answer is load shedding, to accustom consumers to a more variable grid.

Majorian, your transmission capital costs are off by 3+ orders of magnitude. The recently licensed Sunrise transmission line in Southern California is $1.9 billion for a 1000 Mw increase in import capacity over a 150 mile line, or $13/kw-mile. The considerably cheaper DPV2 line from Blythe to Valley in California is estimated to be about $600 million for the ~180 mile California portion, and increase flows by up to 1200 Mw, or ~$3/kw-mile. But 50 GW is 50 million kw, so even at your value of $2/kw-mile, that would be $100 million per mile, not $100 million for the whole line. $100 million/mile x 1000 miles equals $100 billion for your proposed 50 GW of North Dakota to Chicago transmission, more at California transmission line prices.

$100 billion, eh? How fallible of me. Thanks.

Well, $100 billion dollars/( 50 billion watts) = $2 per kw. The typical demand charge is about $8 per kw.

American superconductor gives $10 million dollars per mile for a 5GW high voltage AC(765kv). Therefore a 1000 mile grid 10 times as big(50GW) would be $100 billion.

Currently, US operations in Afghanistan cost taxpayers about $4 billion a month. That comes to roughly $133 million per day,

2 years and change of the Afghanistan operation.

Thanks for this interesting article. One way to answer the "how do we get there from here" question is to look at the entities who are beavering away at it. Here's a report indicating that much of this activity, however insufficient it may be, can only be seen by looking at the state level.

Also there are companies that specialize in providing improved technology or building infrastructure, including multinationals like GE, Siemens, ABB, and niche players like ITC and Amer. Superconductor. To understand the scope of current activity and future prospects, one needs to stay current (!) on them.

Just a couple more perspectives that reveal the state of play.

A part of this conversation must include PJM Interconnection LLC.
It's worth reading about. You may get a somewhat better outlook of the grid issues.
As a regional transmission organization, PJM Interconnection manages the high-voltage electric grid and the wholesale electricity market that serves 13 states and the District of Columbia.
PJM Interconnection coordinates the movement of electricity through all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The PJM region has an area of 168,500 square miles, a population of about 51 million and a peak demand of 144,644 megawatts.

google; PJM Interconnection

It seems likely that the problems with the grid could dramatically curtail any efforts to return manufacturing capability to the US. Manufacturing uses a lot of electricity. We have allowed the manufacturing sector of our economy to decline, and much of the supporting infrastructure has also either declined or been re-purposed.

It is like muscle atrophy; if you don't use it you lose it, and when you want to get it back it doesn't happen overnight but only through hard work building things back up. Of course, building requires energy and capital...


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.

That is a huge canard. The DoE looked into this and basically said that as long as we plug-in at night, we could change-over 73% of our cars to PHEVs with the infrastructure we have TODAY. Here is the paper.

We humans sleep. Some 8 hours everyday. And during that 8 hours, there is a MASSIVE amount of excess electrical generating capacity and grid capacity. So if you tell your PHEV to only charge itself over-night (and all the upcoming EVs have systems to handle when charging occurs) then your PHEV is really not adding any additional stress to the grid at all. In fact, it is making the grid more efficient since they now have customers for what was formerly just excess capacity going to waste. They can pay down their capital costs faster since they will now have more people buying power overnight.

There will need to be some upgrades obviously, but it is all easily handled. The power companies are greatly looking forward to seeing EVs

All that said, we do need to upgrade the grid. It needs to be done for resilience against terror attacks & storms. It needs to be done to handle more renewable power systems being added (mostly wind).

I have a Polaris EV 4x4 "cart" which draws 1kw while charging, I charge it during the day as my solar panels have excess capacity during the day, while my situation is different in that I'm "onsite" due to this being a farm, having just up an 800watt system on my public road vegetable building using a tristar controller, I don't see why it would be hard to build a solar charging system in a parking lot for a NEV/PHEV.

The issue of course is the compromises one makes with the NEV/PHEV, if you require 70 degree constant temps no matter what the weather, than this doesn't work. Maybe it is growing up without air conditioning in home or car in south central pennsylvania and not having a working heater in my junker car at RPI (upstate NY) that makes me think that a good life
can go on without what I have right now, (airconditioning everywhere AND a pool). I've done about 10 solar installations now, and i'm teaching people how to do them, so i'm hoping that others will begin to have decentralized electric generation, on the vechile front I'd like a forum at some point in time to talk about reasonable charging infrastructure for the home, I'll throw in and say 1kw of charging for a NEV-like Polaris seems reasonable, i could goto work, and shop in the 40,000 person city that i live right outside of, with no problem using that vechile, until I needed to buy more than 10 pressure treated 4x4 posts or something.

TRIPE= Track + Pipe Our new green grid. This is not your grandmother's grid. It's new. It's all green. The use of electricity will be decentralized finally. And we will find that it is a good thing that our old grid, has a D grade. What a waste of money it would be to upgrade the old dinosaur, while we could go with a new more efficient and green grid.

We will generate great charges (3000 - 8000 psi) of Compressed Air. Offshore we will generate electricity and freeze it. Use solar, geothermal, or build a WM at home and plug into the grid and make some money. This Tripe system will mean on site transformation of wind force to Hydrogen. Put it in a pipe, with no losses: and have on hand electricity via the fuel cell. The Oxygen from the process goes into a rich Compressed air mix called ORCA. Regular? or High Test? Same Question: different fuels. Your new luxury SUV will be a hybrid Compressed Air and Gasoline, or Hydrogen, or Natural Gas, or Coal, if you like.

See the new system. It has not been reviewed or critiqued. You will be the first. go to Read the Tripe System Report, pass it on.
You can read about it also on, but they thought I was a crank of some sort. And they booted me right off. The system has an legal and economic consortium base as I have it designed. So we would buy up rail assets, power assets, going in we would absorb them. Talk about a raw nerve? Thanks Steven J. Scannell


But seriously, talkig about the US grid going down is like talking about the european grid going down. It is much more likely to fragment and some of the framgments will be unable to power some of the load for some of the time. Its very inconvenient, quite expensive and some industry might move but it is not the end of the world or USA.

Well run utilities do of course have spare transformers etc, movable high voltage switchyards, quick-build pylon kits, etc to quick fix sabotage or catastrohic weather damages. That were one of the few parts of the Swedish cold war civil defence that we kept after the large demobilization after the fall of the Sovjet union.

In my judgment, the greatest risk of universal grid failure is a Carrington class solar flare (once every 500 years perhaps, but a half strength of 1859 may well do).

Avoidable if we shut down the grid for 6 hours or so in advance and then "black start" it back up (better part of a day I would estimate).

Second is sophisticated sabotage (I can guess what BC_EE is worried about).

Gail's fears would result in African/North Korean/Albanian quality grids after enough degradation over decades. I do not have the same fears she does.

At some point we will find something the Swedes will want and trade them that for a bare minimum of electrical equipment.

BTW, transformers can be rebuilt. Not usually economic but in a crisis ...

Iceland and the United States are two major sources for the ferro-silicon steel used in transformer cores. The rest is just fabrication. Give me the ferro-silicon alloy and a local shipyard and I can design and supervise the construction of a crude high voltage transformer.

And blown transformers are a good source of ferro-silicon.

Today, the shift is towards "glass metals", non-crystalline metals for transformer cores. Higher tech fabrication and harder to duplicate with ad hoc procedures. Good to save an extra 0.1% to 0.2% in electrical power but not essential to keep a grid going.$File/1LUJ460205-LTE_amorphous_core.pdf

Best Hopes,


Where can I learn more about 3,000 to 8,000 compressed air systems?

I recall a neighbors' construction company building the "Big Inch" pipeline in New Jersey (at least I think that was the name). I was an engineering student at the time and when told they started out with a pipe of about 36" diameter and expanded its' capacity by taking the pipe past yield, I asked how big a compressor they needed. The answer was about 300HP (again based on my memory). How long did it take to pump up that much air I asked? After a loud guffaw, he answered that they did not want to blow up most of New Jersey if the pipe ruptured, so they used water because a rupture would only spill a few hundred gallons of water.

3,000 to 6,000 psi compressed air

Fiberglass pipes. Fiberglass has a fairly low Modulus of Elasticity; requires a fairly thick piece to prevent large strain deflections. A highly compressed interior could turn the pipe into a giant long skinny baloon, wanting to straighten with pressure. Interior Carbon fibre tubes; Carbon fiber has a nasty habit of shattering when its Yield is reached (think F1 racers in wrecks).

Not critiqued except by the RR industry who probably know more than they care to know about co-lateral damage from a train wreck. Steam boiler explosions would be back yard fun compared to a high pressure Hindenburg going off.

And a 48" conduit that could be used for irrigation water. I don't think that the author ever saw an irrigation ditch out west, or maybe he did and thought it was just a long reservoir. Or maybe he has a way to push water at supersonic speeds.

11 pages; I couldn't get much past page 4. To say nothing of the 2,000 pages of supporting diagrams.

TRIPE= Track + Pipe Our new green grid. This is not your grandmother's grid. It's new. It's all green.

And its what you happen to be selling.

History of people pushing what they are selling to put money in their own pocket usually don't go over well with TOD over time.

Just thought you should be warned, what with your under 2 days of existence here.

but they thought I was a crank of some sort. And they booted me right off.

Might be the fact about if you want to advertise - buy a paid message.

Dear Eric Blair, and Sequoia CPE, Scuba tanks hold 2000 to 3000 psi. For the sake of longevity I thought composites would be a better choice of materials, but I could be wrong. I'm open. Perhaps other materials would be better. I think that carbon fiber is safer than metal in an explosion. But I think you're jumping to conclusions about catastrophes. Scuba tanks do blow, but it isn't really common. With hydrogen tanks the gas sort of fizzes out, as it is lighter than air, unlike gasoline vapors. When a blow out of a metal, steel tank happens shrapnel goes every where, and not so with Carbon fiber. The rail road industry has in no way responded to the system, instead rudely and ignorantly pulling me off of the site. Just one rather ignorant comment about the fact that a pipe can't be used for a rail road line, as it just won't work, that sort of off the hip un-examined sort. Again, this is still new and has not been critiqued. I'm not proposing a 48 inch water conduit. The Tripe system is very versatile in that it can carry water. I love that. I'm a fire man. Some engineers I have talked to like that water thing too. The water can be driven by compressed air of course, which is simple. It is not a ditch. I like a ditch. But this system is not a ditch, even so it can move water as well which is an asset to the system.

Eric, I don't have the report for sale. It's what's called an idea. I am an idea man. I'm just a regular middle of the road type guy. But thanks for the head's up. I have been on Fishfolk, an MIT based fisheries discussion group for maybe 12 years, and don't have a sales mans reputation looking for money. I enjoy the challenge of working on the puzzle, same as you guys on this fine list. But I am out classed by you folks on this list. In spite of that, try the tripe. Look at the system as a machine, and never mind the fact that someone like me invented it. Thank you very much. Steve

In an earlier post, you wrote that the decreased availability of crude oil would lead to a drawn-out recession. Wouldn't a recession lead to less power consumption and therefore reduce the load on the grid?

This has already been observed in at least Sweden and Finland, I have not checked other countries statistics. Here it were explained by lower utilization of the capacity in mostly export industries.

Yes. In the three fourths of the California grid operated by the California independent system operator (CAISO), energy use dropped from 2008 to 2009 by 4.3 percent, and from Jan-July 2009 to Jan-July 2010 by another 2.6 percent. CAISO-area peak load (which tends to impose the maximum stress on the grid) was 50,198 Mw in 2006, 48,535 Mw in 2007, 46,789 Mw in 2008, and 45,994 Mw in 2009. The summer of 2010 isn't over yet; the peak so far this summer has been 44,712 Mw. Reports of the imminent collapse of the grid are greatly overstated, at least in California.

Energy and peak load data are all from

Reductions in demand (-11% peak) are just what are needed to turn a "D+" grade # into a solid "B". Add perhaps 5 GW of solar PV (rooftop or feeds into local distribution substation) into California grid at peak (perhaps 6.5 GW nameplate) and another -10% of peak disappears from the transmission grid.

# These grades are not like academic grades. They are just political tools to help create more work for the members. PR manipulation and should be recognized as such.

Best Hopes for Energy Efficiency,


"There is a glaringly obvious Achilles Heel in the grid network should anyone look for it. It wouldn't take much in either materiel or personnel, and it would cripple the country for months - not days. It's hard to believe otherwise that the country wouldn't be reduced to the Dark Ages by that time. Hackers can be shut down and isolated, this one is wide open and no one is protecting it.

If I disclose any more, I'll be in a bit of trouble with FERC."

And how do you prevent this from happening? De-centralization?

I've this comment along with several others and I want to know how a de-centralized process would work. Especialy for people living away from these larger grids. Would they have to establish a smaller, localized grid in order to meet their needs?

Mcain said: "A relevant question is "How much indium and platinum are available?" There are some "Peak Indium" doomers that claim current uses such as indium-tin-oxide layers on LCD screens are going to use up the known reserves within ten years..."

This is a possibility and we should consider this, though I have no statistics usually the more negative types end up being right in some way. I wouldn't count on it but we should weigh every possibility with the goal of being decisive.

Ghung said: "Give it up, Dune. Talking off-grid to gridweenies is like trying to explain being gay to a macho man. There's nothing "extreme" about my "conservation route", and there are so many misconceptions about off-grid and distributed generation being repeated here, I'll just repeat myself: "When the lights go out at your place, you better bring good food and lots of booze when you show up at mine. Don't forget your sleeping bag and toilet paper."

Well explain the misconceptions, I want to know what they are and along with the first guy I quoted it be useful if I knew how this off-grid lifestyle would work. Do we loose our toilets and if so how do we deal with sanitation, who'll provide us with products after we run out. Because apparently anarchy is nine meals away.

and finally...

Oxidategem said- "Ird, I didn't say one grid or one part of a grid, but THE Grids, ie all the grids that serve the mainland. To get the idea imagine a solar storm or EMP attack takes down all the grids in the US. It takes electricity to pump gasoline these days. So at some point all traffic stops. How do you repair the grid in a massive failure without the gasoline to run the repair trucks. Do a mind trip and take it from there. No vehicles, no refrigeration, no gasoline to run tractors, etc. How do you quickly scale back to non electrically run anything

While those scenarios are perhaps unlikely they point out how much we depend on electricity. Likely the grid will fail in parts increasingly often because the investment is not being made in massive overhaul. As it fails more often, businesses have more trouble staying in business and more people are unemployed. As less electricity is used, the electric companies dedicate even less to infrastructure maintenance and one day all that adds up and one grid after another fails finally and totally. When, I don't know. Richard Duncan says by 2030."

Perhaps the most dire of the scenarios presented. In the case of a solar storm or EMP how can we keep our grids safe and running and if not what steps need to be taken in order to secure them when they go down. We should make investments and update them before a crisis comes but how? This has a domino effect, once the grids are down due to the wrath of a solar storm, we will experience loss in buisness, which means no grids, leading to unemployment and then due to unemployment we suffer lack of infrastructure maintenance and well that's a not good.

Also, can we name an example of a quality grid system? What are we aiming for here?

RE: Also, can we name an example of a quality grid system? What are we aiming for here?



Real world power engineer, so I can cut through most of the Drama Queen Doomer stuff on here, if you would like.

As far as a "High" Quality system -- Many industrial sites, refineries, data centers and other critical mission sites use a double-ended, double feed from two different sources with double back-up generation, and UPS through-out the system for things that really matter. :) Either or both sides can be disconnected, and there are generally layers of tie-breakers so that both sides can be fully fed from either side.

That creates a system with near 100% reliability.

You make a very good point with your question "What are we aiming for?"

Maybe think of this like a spare tire on your car. Most folks have at least one spare tire in their trunk. Some even have air in them. :) The general grid is sort of like that. There is spare, with some air, so while part may go flat from time-to-time, we can switch and swap and motor on down the road.

But the "High" Quality Double Redundant System (also sometimes called "no single point of failure") is like having 4 spare tires on your car. For most general purposes that adds to your expense, and consumes other resources, as well. So in the interest of keeping things affordable for you and profitable for the business, we do not design that many layers of back-up into general electrical distribution systems.

So it is mostly a money thing -- (and no, for the Doomer Drama Queens, not a Peak Capital limit thingy) -- just a cost minimization thing. Folks do not want to pay double for the transmission and distribution parts of their bill to double all the system for the one day a year a drunk may drive into a power pole, or the one week a year we might get heavy snows and knock the power out.

If I were "The Power King" for a day, and could do one thing to improve the system, it would be to move much of the existing distribution system (generally running on wood poles through the trees) underground. Underground keeps people, animals, and equipment very safe, and underground lasts a long time. But then again, that is a money thing, and I am not King -- today or tomorrow.

I'm glad you aren't a doomer I've been running into a lot of those lately, mostly on


"As far as a "High" Quality system -- Many industrial sites, refineries, data centers and other critical mission sites use a double-ended, double feed from two different sources with double back-up generation, and UPS through-out the system for things that really matter. :) Either or both sides can be disconnected, and there are generally layers of tie-breakers so that both sides can be fully fed from either side.

That creates a system with near 100% reliability. "

This is what we should aim for? What about the threat the olduvai poses to this? From my understanding the faliure to change our BAU attitude will result in less effecient grids which suffer occasional black outs and I'm sure you know happens from there.

But isn't underground also very pricey and if something goes wrong, it takes time to find out where the power went out and dig it back up. But on the other hand I'd like to see those unattractive wooden poles take down, the only problem would be replacing them, since as I said you'd have to dig underground under the already established infrastructure in oder to install the newer system.

RE: This is what we should aim for?


You mean the 100% reliability option?

Not for my money. Only for the 100% mission critical sites (like the refinery, or data center, or whatever) we chatted about above. They have a budget for that level of service and the added redundancy is a very small part of their overall operations budget.

But for the rest of US in the real world . . . If I were King of Power for the Second Day, I would break US away from the Central Plant Generation model and go for a varied local generation model that could network across the nation.

Got wind today, let the local windmills carry US. Sunny? Solar PV and Solar Thermal. Same with water, wind, etc. Natural Gas back-up when really needed. And we would still have decades of surplus Coal and Nuke plants around to cover any shortage. But the big power companies would not be fond of that model, at all.


RE: What about the threat the olduvai poses to this? From my understanding the faliure to change our BAU attitude will result in less effecient grids which suffer occasional black outs and I'm sure you know happens from there.


You did not hear the Duncan nonsense come out of my mouth. :)

I tend to be a little bit embarrassed that he is/was a Power Engineer. :)

Look, here is the real deal -- Like I said, I am not a Doomer. We are not in an End Game . . . we are in a transition. Change is a normal condition and things are changing. We can change them for better options if we choose for a long term view and not one based in fear and greed. (yeah, I know -- Good Luck on that. :D )

Just as transitioning from Horses to Cars took a few decades -- about 1900 to 1940 -- it is likely we will take a few decades to transition from Oil to Electrical Power (my best guess on where is next). And it can be better, faster, and cleaner than Oil. Just as Oil was compared to horses.


RE: But isn't underground also very pricey and if something goes wrong, it takes time to find out where the power went out and dig it back up. But on the other hand I'd like to see those unattractive wooden poles take down, the only problem would be replacing them, since as I said you'd have to dig underground under the already established infrastructure in oder to install the newer system.


Little bit higher install costs. But once it is in, it runs for decades. Little maintenance, and no tree cutting budget. (We spend hundreds of Millions on trimming trees in Texas, alone.) Waterproof, and no weather to take it out. Could even survive indirect Nukes. As far as underground being a big deal . . . think about this -- Natural Gas, Water, and Sewer ALL go underground. In cities, towns and rural areas all over the US. Not that big of deal. And putting duct bank in is easier than those.

But isn't underground also very pricey and if something goes wrong, it takes time to find out where the power went out and dig it back up. But on the other hand I'd like to see those unattractive wooden poles take down, the only problem would be replacing them, since as I said you'd have to dig underground under the already established infrastructure in oder to install the newer system.

Living here in Holland all of the distribution system apart from the high voltage is below ground. Live in a small hamlet of 17 houses about 2 miles from the nearest main village. Have all the utilities mains sewage mains electricity mains gas and mains water broad band internet. The electricity went off a month ago. The utility company was there with in two hours, they had a detection van and a mini digger. Don't know how they located the fault but within two hours they had found the place of he break underground dug it out cut out a piece of about 6 foot spliced in another piece and filled in the hole and had the cobble stones back in place. I suspect that the reason is that if the fault is not repaired in 5 hours they have to pay us 50 Euro. I suspect they would have had to pay a hell of a lot more too my father in law as he could not have milked his cows. Did get a 50 Euro rebate a few months ago but that was because of a substation explosion at the power station, but that has been the only time in 25 years and the outages I can count on one hand.

Fault detection in cables can use a technology called Time Domain Reflectometry. Locates "opens" by sending a pulse down the wire; at the open point, the impedance mismatch reflects back a portion of the pulse (much like radar). The transit time tells how many feet away the open is. Works like a charm for underfloor cables, don't know if it has applicability for power lines.

RE: But isn't underground also very pricey and if something goes wrong, it takes time to find out where the power went out and dig it back up. But on the other hand I'd like to see those unattractive wooden poles take down, the only problem would be replacing them, since as I said you'd have to dig underground under the already established infrastructure in oder to install the newer system.


If we are mapping the underground maybe let's look at it from the side view?

In most of the US and North America underground water and sewer lines are subject to freezing. To protect them they are buried below what is called the "Frost Line." That causes them to go relatively deep. Next up tends to be gas lines. They are buried to protect them. This leaves us with the shallowest level (at grade and below to 1/2 to 1 meter) with little conflict.

In the US, Medium Voltage (typical distribution levels, over 600 to 34.5kV -- but more often around 2400 to 13.8kV) are either ran on overhead poles, or if placed underground, they are sometimes in cables, but "ductbanks" are recognized as very good methods.

Sorry that I do not how to place pictures on here, but here is a sample cross-section picture >>> These can be built in-place in all sorts of cross-sectional widths and heights.

What I am talking about is placing ductbanks very shallow, embedded in concrete, and most likely placing sidewalk / bike paths right over top of them. Every 200 to 500 meters there could be a man-hole type access to tap off to above ground transformers to send out local power.

This type application is not just for the here-and-now, but also since the electrical distribution networks tend to follow the right-of-ways of the roads, this also brings down to ground level power for future direct grid powering of the ground transportation. Sort of the next-step after battery cars -- where the vehicles draw their power from the roadway, allowing them to operate with little to no batteries on board.

Towards your question regarding maintenance and repairs. Ductbanks are very service-able. The conduit is protected by concrete, which has lifetimes in 100's of years, and if a cable were damaged, (very rare, if ever) a new one can be pulled directly through the duct without digging anything up.


RE: Living here in Holland all of the distribution system apart from the high voltage is below ground. Live in a small hamlet of 17 houses about 2 miles from the nearest main village. Have all the utilities mains sewage mains electricity mains gas and mains water broad band internet. The electricity went off a month ago. The utility company was there with in two hours, they had a detection van and a mini digger. Don't know how they located the fault but within two hours they had found the place of he break underground dug it out cut out a piece of about 6 foot spliced in another piece and filled in the hole and had the cobble stones back in place. I suspect that the reason is that if the fault is not repaired in 5 hours they have to pay us 50 Euro. I suspect they would have had to pay a hell of a lot more too my father in law as he could not have milked his cows. Did get a 50 Euro rebate a few months ago but that was because of a substation explosion at the power station, but that has been the only time in 25 years and the outages I can count on one hand.


Interesting perspective from around the world. Thanks for sharing that. Would love it if we have the infrastructure you all do for bicycles.

For us we are held to grid maintenance standards set by our regional "Electrical Reliability Councils." Much of the area I do work in is under the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Not only does ERCOT push us to keep the lights on everyone, but so does the money involved.

Let's do the money math on even a small outage -- that takes maybe 1000 households off-line for a day. If those households are say $200 per month customers (pretty small, on average), that works out to $200,000 a month gross revenue per month. To leave them down for a day costs us 1/30th (30 day month) or about $200K/30 = $6700, just for one day.

Overall this is a realm of big money. Distribution costs. Transmission costs. Generation costs. By comparison, the underground and ductbanks -- since they have such high long-term function and reliability may even be cheaper in the long run than the existing poles and wires that are up in the trees.

Problem on our end is with the business folks who now think looking just 90 days ahead is long-term planning.

I was in the control room of an electricity supply company during a big (for the UK) storm. Failure calls were coming in left, right and centre. I asked one the managers in charge about the underground issue. Underground has a higher failure rate than overhead and costs more to maintain. Overhead is more reliable and easier to fix.

Another point about running them under pathways etc is that there have been a number of electrocutions linked to underground cable failure.


I have known 4 failures of the systems you describe, 3 of which I have been on site for.


You mean of a No-Single-Point-of-Failure design?

I trust you were not on the Operations and Maintenance side of things ;)

So were they design or equipment failure?

On the 'clean up the consequences side' :) Design, maintenance, lack of modernisation + various other factors.
1) liquid leaked from a piece of equipment through a floor and straight into the switch box that connected the different feeds together.
2) Power failed on 1 circuit, auto switch to genset discovered that power use had grown beyond capacity to supply. Genset resigned.
3) JCB cut through loop of buried HV feed that no-one knew was there, man that was spectacular. Switch disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
4) Major web hosting centre in London, 2 feeds from 2 sides and 2 electric companies both feeds cut by JCBs at roughly the same time. UPSs ran out before the feeds could be restored (took some days to restore feed power).
Trouble is that people think they are bullet proof when they have these systems installed and sit back to relax. They just assume that their posterior is covered. When I take a lot of trouble over backup and redundancy clients think I am over doing it but I have seen too many failures. I speced 2 servers for 1 job, complete mirrors so with one out the other could take over. The manager shaved a bit of money by changing it to 1 big server which needed a separate disk cabinet. He tackled the redundancy issue by putting a multiple redundant PSU in the server. He never did understand that was pointless as he only had a single PSU in the disk cabinet. Rinse repeat.


Thanks. Those are GREAT Case-Study Examples.


1. The Tie-Breaker section damaged, and took out both ends from the middle. Great example. Have pondered that for single tie-breaker systems -- usually on a single A / B (double ended) switchgear. Speaks well to having split-up the switchgear.

2. Overloaded the (single?) generator? That would not typically happen for us. Periodic load tests and amp readings are required, that woulda/shoulda/coulda caught that. Usually our systems also have (at least) two generators -- one for each side, so that the generator itself (or the transfer switch) does not become a single-point-of-failure.

3. An HV Cut. Those ARE exciting. But a single side being cut should not take down a double-ended system, with double generator and double UPS back-up?

4. UPS (or generator fuel) ran out. Our UPS deigns are typically for a half-hour or so runtime, to cover for the generators coming on, off, being swapped, quick service, or re-fuel. The fuel tanks vary up to 3 days runtime. Usually the UPS(s) just cover the dataracks and the generators handle everything including the CRACs and lighting. I sort of wonder what happens after 3 days, but kind of figure New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina point to that answer.

1) That's what we ended up doing - the hard way. Unwiring from one system and wiring to another.

2) The used pasture hit the rotary distribution device, another genset was brought in but, obviously, too late for that time around. No info on site manager's job security.

3) Heard the bang, saw the flash out of the corner of my eye, lights went out, thought we had been bombed. Looked out the window to see 1 workman raising his head out of the trench like he was on the Western Front. Digger operate all but fell out of his cab. Bucket had a bite out of it several inches wide and more deep, fuses on the pole had simply vaporised. Again, hit the single point of failure that all sources fed back to:(

4) Don't know why they couldn't have kept more fuel coming in. Wasn't directly involved so no inside track.

Multiple feeds are one thing but if you bring them all to one point.........


I've this comment along with several others and I want to know how a de-centralized process would work. Especialy for people living away from these larger grids. Would they have to establish a smaller, localized grid in order to meet their needs?

The smallest local grid of 'em all - PV panels. Small wind and small hydro fits into that mix.

And under wish lists:
Magical capacitors to act as batteries along with room temp superconductors as long as we are wishing.

The US Electric Grid: Will it be Our Undoing?

No, it is part of the answer, not the problem!

Prudent investment in research and development of complimentary technologies such as the super grid, superconductive power lines supporting CO2 free nuclear and renewable power generation can underpin a renaissance in electrical production in the USA and a transition away from fossil fuel energy sources.

The Tres Amigas Project provides a framework and an unprecedented opportunity to build a large centralized underground nuclear generation project using direct conversion of nuclear energy to feed direct current (DC) into the super conducting transcontinental super grid.

Angry face

Just like solar panels can transform nuclear power from the sun directly into DC electric power, the same direct energy conversion approach can turn fission power directly into DC power.

But additionally, this nuclear power source can both load-level and backup an intercontinental wind generation capacity strategically positioned in the mid-west and solar generation in the southwest.

Clovis, New Mexico is the projected heart of this electrical power development zone. With a sparse population of about 30,000, this dry, isolated, high planes ranch land is an ideal location for a national energy generation park.

More specifically, the Cannon air force base is ideally suited to house an energy generation campus. It was until recently the home of the 27th Fighter Wing before it was decommissioned in 2005.

New green concepts in nuclear power production utilizing direct power conversion of nuclear radiation to DC electric current provides direct energy conversion efficiency at over 90% and nuclear fuel burn up of over 99%.

This reactor type is air cooled and needs no water making its deployment in dry conditions possible. At 90% energy conversion, this futuristic power source produces little waste heat to dissipate into the environment.

Rather than using costly heat exchangers and turboelectric generators, it uses nano-materials to turn nuclear activity directly into electric power derived from the production of electrostatic charge.

This new paradigm in power production compliments wind and solar power in that it can mitigate the peaks and valleys in large scale renewable power sources based on rapid capacitive based self regulation of the nuclear reaction.

Oh no, another techno-babbel bullshitter.

Aw come on, don't be like that.

He's at least presenting a plan that could potentially work. I don't know the reality of the situation but you can at least present us with a plan and not just say, "nope, that won't work and neither will that..."

Which gas company do you work for?

I work for a political party in Sweden but use far too much of my time trying to figure out how stuff and our world works and how to handle interesting and worrying problems like peak oil. The ToD debates are to a large degree counter productive but they are a good mental exercise. So far I am certian that most of the problems can be solved and will be solved by at least a large fraction of the global population and regions and it is possible to influence the reach of this process.

Your suggestion is a mishmash of good and nutty ideas.

Interconnecting grids, using old military bases for infrastructure building, bulding nuclear powerplants and situating small ones underground are good ideas.

We cant wait for break thru phusics to solve our problems and your basic idea fails my meager understanding of physics. It is possible to build a capacitor that has one plate covered with a radioactive substance or a fissioning substance that spews charged particles in all directions including across the gap and thus charges the capacitor. This gives a very low current, high voltage and low conversion efficiency power source. It ought to be very hard to get a good conversion efficiency from a fission reaction since most of the energy is released as movement energu in high speed fission fragments that almost litterally bounce around in the core structure and heats it as they slow down.

Making the structure "nano" with very tiny order in it do not influence the nuclear physics reaction that anyway scrables such structures including nano scale crystal structures in metals and graphite. Findind such a connection between solid state physics and nuclear physics would be a nobel prize breakthru. I hope for such "white swans" but I never count on them.

And 90% efficiency is plain outrageous.

Your post do however match my profile for lure-people-to-waste-money by mixing busswords in a nice presentation but it leans a little too much towards towards high school leg pulling or trolling. If you actually believe in what you write I would consider you a technologically confused person but nothing would plese me more then be proven wrong by working prototypes or at least physics experiments.

If you require more education on this subject, here is a patent application that introduces some of the concepts of nano-material conversion of radiation to direct current.

Be mindful that this patent just deals with the capture of narrow band nuclear radiation. Reactor design involves the correlation of many more interacting systems phenomena.

But this patent is a start.

On another note, the fate of a civilization is directly affected by the system of rewards that motivates its activities for good or ill.

IMHO, the answer to peak oil is the reemergence of the can-do engineering mentality that pervaded the start of the age of oil. Inventions like the electric light, the automobile, the movie camera, TV, AC current, the phonograph, the dynamo…inventions in their millions all based on nutty ideas that were turned into products that each did a small part in shaping are current way of life.

Putting money into such ideas is far more substantive to advancing the general good than directing our genius toward creating obscure and obstruent financial instruments which undermine the very civilization that has taken past men of genius so long to build; such misdirected ambition has doubtless precipitated our present declining fortunes.

That's a good attitude ausgang but we should invest our money into projects we know will work, but at the same time we can work toward a better solution with the methods you outlined. We can't be sure that a break through in nuclear technology will come any time soon but we do know that we can rely on wind and solar technology at least for the most part.
But I like most of your ideas.

As for the other posters it seems like many here would want us to use more local energy as oppose to nationwide. But for that to work would we need to make several more power grids to service surrounding towns and areas. But I can see an advantage, since if we break up the grids to smaller networks we wouldn't have to worry about over using the available power thus preventing a blackout.

The un-uobtainum is the superconducting do-hickies. That and the radiation to DC things. The rest is just seizing land for private profit.

Nice picture, ausgang......... Links?

ausgang -

Sounds interesting.

Two questions:

1) As this is in a rather remote location, it's not obvious to me what would be the point of putting it underground. So, what is the main benefit of putting the nuclear power facility underground that would compensate for the enormously increased cost of underground versus aboveground construction?

2) Can you provide us with some details on the specific process by which nuclear energy would be directly converted into electrical energy without the use of a heat engine? And what is the current developmental status of said process?

US law was recently enacted mandating all nuclear power reactors shall be protected from attack by air crash. Underground deployment is optimal for a non pressurized reactor configuration since it has no meters thick containment dome and since underground deployment limits precise line-of-sight target acquisition and in-flight targeting.

Underground deployment further protects from land based sabotage compared to a surface deployment as well as greatly limiting any possibility of radioactive material release if attacked successfully.

Underground deployment also supports access restrictions and safeguards to potential proliferation sensitive materials.

Additionally, such a key mission critical component in the national power grid requires top notch protection safeguards and security.

The nanotechnology has been simulated by appropriate nuclear codes and theoretically validated. Material proof of concept testing is currently underway.

Pursuant to your query, see the following for background:

"I believe this work is innovative and could have a significant impact on the future of nuclear power," says David Poston, of the US Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. However perfecting new nuclear technologies requires years of development, he adds.

Popa-Simil agrees, saying it will be at least a decade before final designs of the radiation-to-electricity concept are built.”

Such “solar panel like” DC generation technology is optimized when used with superconductor base DC power lines and super grid power distribution in cooperation with renewables.

You had me at "theoretically validated".

What kind of drugs are you on? I would like some, in MUCH smaller doses.
Underground nuclear plants? Why? Don't want anyone to know that we have electricity? Certainly not for defense. If we know that Iran has them underground then certainly every developed country would know that we do.
Air cooled? Prove it. Even Palo Verde in the middle of the Sonoran desert is water cooled. The water is "effluent", sewer water. The sewer water may be air cooled but so is the coolant from at least 75% of the nuclear plants in this country and the world.
What is "direct power conversion"? Magic wand turns neutrons to electrons? get real.

What is "direct power conversion"? Magic wand turns neutrons to electrons? get real.

Very good. Exactly. Neutrons, (gamma, beta, alpha, X) radiation and nuclear fragments produce delta radiation from knock on electrons.

The military is keen on mitigating their exposure to grid failure in CONUS (Continental US)

From Statement of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment to Congress - January 27, 2010

A final challenge is grid vulnerability. DoD’s reliance on a fragile commercial grid to deliver electricity to its 500-plus installations places the continuity of critical missions at risk. Most installations lack the ability to manage their demand for and supply of electrical power and are thus vulnerable to intermittent and/or prolonged power disruption due to natural disasters, cyberattacks and sheer overload of the grid. Because of U.S. combat forces’ increasing reliance on “reachback” support from installations in the United States, power failures at those installations could adversely affect our power projection and homeland defense mission capability. For example, we operate Predator drones in Afghanistan from a facility in Nevada and analyze battlefield intelligence at data centers here at home. This means that an energy threat to bases at home can be a threat to operations abroad

…we have begun what will likely be a major effort to address the risk to our installations from potential disruptions to the commercial electric grid. The Department is participating in interagency discussions on the magnitude of the threat to the grid and how best to mitigate it. We are also looking at how to ensure that we have the energy needed to maintain critical operations in the face of a disruption to the grid....

In a recent report on DoD’s energy strategy, the Defense Science Board concluded that, because of the vulnerability of the grid, rapid improvements in the electrical efficiency of military installations would have national security value far greater than the economic value of reduced electricity consumption. The Board argued that the risks and consequences of grid outage should be the basis for a business case to pursue higher levels of energy efficiency at permanent installations. Our planned assessment of the risk facing individual critical missions and installations will allow us to evaluate that business case.

And they are building alternate energy facilities on base. And this is the answer for many residences and businesses as well, local grid tie solar, and I'm sure the current IEEE 1547 standard is too low for how much can be put back on the grid from the homes and businesses. I was at a very large Amish pre-fab home building plant, with 400kw of solar on it, with a seven year payoff, (they use their scraps to heat the place with an outdoor furnace as well), there are schoolteachers with calculators that believe 9 years is a reasonable amount of time for a payoff on their roof PV systems for their homes that point in the right direction, thankfully. If we displaced 7.5% of residential and small business electric usage using their own roofs that would be huge, given negative growth in power in the US, you've given a tremendous opportunity for either industrial usage or displacement of liquid fuels.

It isn't a question of the engineering. It is a question of who is going to pay for it. Ultimately the ratepayers, but Wall St has encouraged the sort of short-term penny-pinching mentality where money for major upgrades are never really there.

The ultimate problem is that the utilities don't pay much of a penalty when there are outages. Yeah, they sell a little less electricity, but if a restaurant has to buy a backup generator (or has to throw out food), that's not a cost the utility has to pay.

A change in attitude is always good.
Though I wonder if a high speed train would suffice better. It doesn't depend on much oil and being a train it can carry supplies in large quanities over large distances. Here in CA they are already working on these trains.

(1) The internet is an example of a grid without central control, designed to continue operation under nearly any error (attack) scenarios. The electric grid should similarly have each node operate in its own best interest, yet avoid cascading failures.

(2) Distributed generation is a corollary, with grid design returning to regional structures. Small, modular nuclear reactors can be distributed near the markets to be served. A particularly attractive example is the liquid fluoride thorium reactor, described in the July/August 2010 issue of American Scientist, linked to from

An internet combined with a Distributed generator? Genious!
Or not, who knows...
But I've had concerns about the next solar storm which should arrive sometime in 2013. I'm not sure what to expect since we never experienced a storm this power with eletricity. But I guess we can just temporaily shut down the satelites and grids for a few hours as one poster suggested. But I also wonder if population might have any effects. Since during one of my many talks, members have discussed that scaling our population back to about pre-WWII levels is needed if we are to trying to become more substantial. But hopefully developments in technology can help us overcome other problems presented with the olduvai.

I want the seals of power and place,
The ensigns of command,
Charged by the people's unbought grace,
To rule my native land.
Nor crown nor sceptre would I ask,
But from my country's will,
By day, by night, to ply the task
Her cup of bliss to fill.

J.Q. Adams

One sidenote.

Most of Texas and Quebec are electrical islands, with only HV DC links to the rest of the world. The rest of the "lower 48" USA and Canada (except a few far north areas, Newfoundland, etc.) are divided into Eastern and Western, synchronizing at a given Hz (Grand Coulee keeps time/maintains frequency for the Western grid).

It may be useful to convert many lines from HV AC to HV DC and break up the Eastern and Western Interconnections into smaller pieces, with the "smaller pieces" connected by HV DC (HV DC Lite has positive reactive power as I understand it).

Just where to break the two big grids up is an interesting and complex technical problem.


- California (except far north), Nevada and Arizona (all areas served by Hoover Dam).
- Oregon, Washington, BC, Idaho, far north California
- annex El Paso and New Mexico to ERCOT (Texas grid)
- Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, western Ontario, Montana, the Dakotas
- eastern Ontario, Michigan, New York (except NYC & Long Island)
- Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, NYC & Long Island, eastern shore Maryland

and so forth.

Less capacitance/wave form distortion issues with long distance HV AC transmission by switching to HV DC for inter-grid power transfers.

A blackout in any of the smaller grids would still be a Big Deal, but I see this approach as being inherently more manageable. ERCOT and Quebec have two of the better transmission infrastructures and their isolation may have something to do with this.


Two points:


...there have been reports of near rolling-blackouts in Texas, when the amount of wind energy suddenly dropped.

The conventional power industry likes to blame the February 2008 incident in Texas on the drop of wind power. However, while a drop had been forecasted, it dropped only 85 MW below plan. Meanwhile, conventional power plants went 350 MW below schedule, and demand increased 1185 Mw above forecast due to a cold front moving through faster than expected. So why is wind blamed for this problem?

Part of the problem was that ERCOT used a day-ahead forecast for wind generation. After this incident, they moved to hour-ahead forecasts, and since wind generally decreases gradually, it isn't too much of an effort to mange the generation resources around wind changes.

Also, on December 12, 2007, three conventional
generation plants totaling 1,022 MW tripped offline. Frequency on the ERCOT grid dropped from 60 to 59.787 Hz, significantly worse than the drop from 60 to 59.85 Hz that was registered on February 26 ["wind incident"]. According to ERCOT, this qualified as a potential NERC Disturbance Control Standard event, while the February 26th event did not. In the December 12th incident, ERCOT was able to prevent an involuntary power outage by deploying all of the interruptible load reserves that were available.

In ERCOT, 13 conventional generating plants instantaneously tripped offline during the week following February 26th. In the largest of these incidents, 420 MW, 500 MW, 540 MW, 582 MW, and 650 MW were instantaneously lost because a conventional generating unit tripped offline. The February 26th incident was preceded by the loss of a 150 MW non-wind generating unit that tripped offline at 5:44 PM.

So help me out here, why is the wind being blamed for the incident?

Secondly, one of the main threats to the grid that Gail only touched on is the repeal of PUHCA. Effectively, this allows Wall Street to take over utilities, and then the deferral of maintenance begins to strip cash out of the utility. You can defer some maintenance for a while, but eventually it catches up to you, see the US railroad industry of 1960's through the late 1970's. Exact same sort of Wall Street strip of cash by deferring maintenance.

Electric Grid and Energy per person.

Isn't there a closer correlation with per household; and a secondary correlation with per person?

House energy audits are encouraged by my electric co-op. Purpose is to find those energy hogs and correct the easier ones. Consists primarily of an exterior door being temporarily replaced with a blower panel blowing towards the exterior. "Smoke" generators and Infra-Red cameras are then used to find the hogs.

Experience within the co-op area shows corrections can acheive 30 to 40% hog reduction without requiring a bank loan. Some people have reported that the cost of the audit was returned in one month due to savings! Once you get past the easy ones, the cost escalates.

You might wonder why an electric utility would want to encourage reduction of revenues. The co-op is experiencing a fairly rapid growth in what is typically a semi-rural area. Many areas have infrastructure limitations that require capital infusion to remedy and time to recover those up-front costs.

My area and a few others just underwent a 1 phase to 3 phase improvement project; All the tricks of boosters and power factor capacitors had been used on the one phase line. Got accustomed to seeing 105V during very hot or cold days. The problem was initially at the end of a 15 mile feeder (one of many like it), then with growth slowly progressed "upstream". But the 3 phase that it was fed off was also near its capacity, so the co-op had to redo almost 15 additional miles of 3 phase feeder. Being a co-op, they did not have the manpower to do the job in-house; had to contract the job out. Everybody in the co-op will see a cost increase as a result.

Interesting and since you work for an eletric co-op can you tell me more about how it works?
Someone asked how do CME's effect the grid, and I was wondering if you could explain that.
Anyway whoever answered my question on how underground eletricity works, thank you. So are we in agreement that moving your electricity underground is the best thing here?
As for the more important question what can be done in the short term to improve our grid? If we are to succeed we need not only a long term goal but various short term ones, does anyone have a plan that might work?
I'd like to know, I'm a big fan of eletricity.


No, I don't work for an electric company or a co-op. I think you might get a better answer than mine about their operation on the web. All I can answer is that a co-op is for the benefit of its members; membership in my co-op occurs with paying your first electric bill, and provides for 1 vote for the Board.

I am also a novice about CME.

I have had residential service both above and below ground. Other than esthetics, I can only report that underground costs are higher. Esthetics are somewhat a wash; you usually have above-ground transformers for servicing clusters of houses in place of the overhead wires.

IMHO, High Tension lines are both "ugly" and possible terrorist targets. Having been in the IT business for many years, the processes of converting from one IT system to a new is usually not a trivial task; sometimes if the conversion is not corrected designed and tested, all heck breaks out (I was witness to a case where over 100 Man-Years of programming was thrown away due to a faulty conversion plan). Converting our present grid to a new grid seems to fall in the same category. In the IT case payback may be just delayed; in the grid case there are pitfalls if existing grid maintenance money is diverted to pay for the new grid. Any delay could lead to having neither the old or the new grid operational. Risk Analysis comes to the forefront.

That's too bad I was really hoping you'd know about CME effects on eletric grids. Though looking back at the poster who presented that diagram of the multple cities and their enrgy sources. I have growing confidence that it's the long term solution to our grid problem. Though it isn't the only one, going back to the topic on the poor preformance of the grid company's service. I think we should pressure them to use their money for updating their own grids. That way we don't have to over strain our government for that expensive over-haul of the system.
I also think that we should use something more akin to the smart grid, it will help us conserve energy short term. Though I also ponder if city design is somewhat responsible for the grid's poor preformance as well. But that is something I know little about so I'll save my judgement for later.
Anyway does anyone else think that the way we plan our cities (sprawls) is partially responsible or is that just nonsense?

Open/shut windows vs A/C in humid climes.

anecdotal case. My parents, who were quite frugal due to having survived the Great Depression, retired and moved to South Florida. When visiting during an unusual warm Spring, they would start with the doors and windows open until the oppressive heat forced them to turn on the A/C (usually following the typical rain storm). When evening with its lessor heat arrived the A/C went off and the doors and windows were again open.

The problem that I wish to indicate has to do with humidity and a thing called Sensible Cooling (SC). I suggested they turn on the A/C early on those days and set it for 78 to 80F so that they would not incur the expense of just producing condensate. Despite showing my parents the large quantity of condensate they were producing under their scenerio, they refused to budge.

An A/C must limit its evaporator coil temperature to greater than 32F or it will build frost, no airflow and an unhappy compressor. The difference between the actual air discharge temperature and the lower limit just produces condensate but not SC which is the actual air temperature that we Sense (thus its' name).

When my folks first turned on the A/C the house Dew point temperature was probably in the high 70's; thus the SC was almost nil. Yes, they said, but the unit is old and it takes a while to produce cooling (only 3 years old!). It took many hours before the discharge air was anywhere near to 55F! I tried to equate condensate latent heat to boiling water on the stove. Still could not make a case they would accept, even refusing to try despite my promise of I would pay that months electric bill!

Think about windows, A/C and humidity.

That is one reason I feel that many people need de-humidifiers more than A/C. If the moisture is removed without cooling the air then less energy is needed. I am currently more uncomfortable due to humidity than heat the same temperature with 20% less humidity feels soooo much better.


It does. But we can always be old fashion and open a window, sleep with less clothes, and go to bed using only the sheets. But how much does a de-humidifier cost, they sound heavenly.

I'll check when I go to Costco next but that won't be for a few days. I will compare with basic A/C as the prices down here won't bear much of a relation to where you are. I may post the answer elsewhere depending when I have it ready.

The official numbers for last night were 26C/94%-25C/100%, my thermometer read 29C. You could cut the air with a chain saw and it was very unpleasant. Same temperatures at 80% are ok and at 60% are comfortable.


My a/c has a humdistat, set at 50% relative humidity.

WHEN the a/c runs, and the RH is >50%, the fan runs slower and extracts more humidity from the air. Directly targeting humidity is a more energy efficient strategy than humidity via temperature control.

Higher end evaporators with ICM motors have this feature, but it is rarely used.

Air infiltration is a bigger deal with humidity control than with temperature control.

Best Hopes for Humidity Control. At 6:17 AM, the dewpoint is 77 F,



My geo has computer control, but the guy who did the programming really just went only a few steps away from the old style controls. And the code is propriatary and locked.

So I am currently writing code and building a prototype board for an embedded micro-computer for data acquisition and control to supplement the existing board. I plan to take the humidity control one step further than a humidistat; start out with a slower cooling fan speed and if the humidity is not at an optimum level, add fan speed periodically during the run so as to increase the Sensible Cooling. Hoping to get the best of a compromise situation. But the humidistat is a good progression from not having one.

The data acquisition portion, in conjunction with a low-power RF to my PC, allows me to monitor the condition of the unit either at my PC or even over the internet. Possible scenerios include "tuning" the unit to meet seasonal demands (but good programming in the first place should obviate the need for this as it should use dynamic control algorithms.) Or to early detect that maintenance is required. Because small compressors are lubricated by including oil in the refrigerant, continued running when the refrigerent is low can prematurely destroy the compressor.

How many A/C units are not running optimally as a result of needing either filters cleaned or low on refrigerant. Most of these conditions show up at the worst time, on the hottest day of the season (usually the condensor coil stops making liquid). HCAV techs are the busiest at such times, so a call for help can wait days at times. Heat pumps in heating can also be in need of maintenance, but usually only resulting in the electric heating strips being used; thus wasting energy from the grid (the owner, if he recognizes the condition, is not forced into immediate maintenance; a bummer to the grid demand!).

I have had a HVAC tech refuse to run maintenance on a community buildings A/C when I suggested it be done because of performance symptoms. He said wait until it fails and then call him. I did not know that the A/C was not maintained so I did not follow up on seeing that it was done. Sure enough, the unit did fail about 2 months later. Wiped out the compressor and contaminated the plumbing with debris. The community had to replace the entire unit. As a small consolation, the community agreed to change HVAC dealers. To paraphrase: "Pay me modest now, or pay me big later!"

Maintenance of grid connected appliances.

Cars and small trucks have a system called On Board Diagnostics, OBD, whose primary purpose is pollution detection. When a polluting condition is a hard failure, the OBD forces the engine into what is called "Limp Mode". Limp mode will cripple the engine so that the owner is forced to have it repaired.

Case in point. I had a problem with my V8 Diesel pickup when the wire to one fuel injector came loose; one cylinder would not fire. Not sure why it was detected because this is not truly a polluting condition (air in, only air out of that cylinder). Limp Mode was enforced by disabling ALL four injectors on that bank of cylinders. Just barely made it home even though the truck was empty. More like wheelchair mode than limp mode.

While it may not be easy to measure, should an equivalency of OBD be required for forcing maintenance on grid connected appliances when their efficiency deteriorates and places an undue burden on the grid?

Your HVAC tech wouldn't run maintenance as he knew he could bill you for a whole load more when it failed.


he must have had no fore-sight.

He did not get the follow-on contract. Only a bad local reputation. Oh, maybe that is why he went out of business a few years later.

Short term gain v long term gain. That last sentence really surprises me;)