The Issues with Our Nation’s Aging Power Grid

Our national grid was created in 1938, not exactly our most current project. Since then, the power grid has provided electricity to millions of homes and commercial buildings. It’s the reason our phones can be charged, our light bulbs can illuminate our rooms, and our TV’s can provide us entertainment. We often don’t realize it, but we use electricity so much in our daily routines, and it’s all because of our electrical grid. However, many scientists and electrical engineers are worried about our grid, as even the slightest issue can cause thousands, if not millions of Americans to lose power. So why exactly are they worried, and what is being done to improve our electrical grid?



The Grid is Outdated


The Grid is OutdatedNo one has denoted that our grid has served us well for over a century. However, the grid is old and in need of modernization in order to be reliable and adapt to evolving technology. The issue with this is that replacing faulty parts of the grid is incredibly costly. Not to mention, each new part must be brought in from foreign countries and can weigh upward of 400 tons. Needless to say, replacements aren’t a walk in the park. So, over the years, we’ve simply repaired broken parts of the grid regardless of the risks that comes along with doing that.



It’s Growing Weak


It's Growing WeakThere are numerous vulnerabilities within our power grid. Our grid is growing incapable of the handling the amount of electricity running through it. Take a wind farm, for example. In this interview, cultural anthropologist, Gretchen Bakke explains that when we get a large gust of wind, our electrical grid obtains too much energy, thus creates too much electricity. The unused electricity builds up in the grid and causes the grid to become overloaded. This creates a surge. This kind of surge will leave the area of the interconnection, or region’s grid, without power. Also, there is a lot of concern of a security breach. Seeing as our nation’s grid was created so long ago, security threats were not nearly as prevalent as they are nowadays. Forbes contributor, Loren Thomson, says that our electricity system is full of seams that can be exploited by hackers. The problem with this is that one breach can cause a cascading amount of outages. It’s like a domino effect.



What’s Being Done


What's Being DoneVarious reports show grid operators with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Southern Company using innovative technology to relieve some of the stress on our grid. This technology, Smart Wires, is a company that developed electrical wires that “dynamically react in real time to changing grid needs to give a precise, granular control of how power flows on a network”. Also, companies like Duke Energy and Exelon are investing directly in distributed solar power. Many companies are starting to invest in renewables, as well. Renewable energy systems help to power homes and small businesses. While this is not necessarily going to solve the grid problem as a whole, it will help to take a significant amount of pressure off of the grid with the millions of homes and small businesses around the United States.


International Energy Efficiency Scorecard

The largest economies in the world – a total of 16 nations – were ranked for their energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The results may surprise you.



U.S. in 13th Place


U.S. in 13th PlaceThe United States ranked 13th out of 16, surpassed by both China and India. The only economies that ranked below the U.S. were Russia, Brazil, and Mexico. The rankings are calculated by a variety of metrics, mainly focusing on the sectors most responsible for consuming energy in these economically developed countries: transportation, industry, and buildings. One reason America ranked so poorly is transportation. Not only do Americans drive more than anyone else ranked, they also came in last place for using public transportation.





Another area that America needs to improve: national energy efficiency building codes. This could make a tremendous impact on energy efficiency. For example, we know that buildings account for 40 percent of all U.S. energy used and that windows are responsible for 25 percent of a building’s consumed energy. Imagine the difference energy-efficient window film could make if its use was more widespread.


As Rachel Young, ACEEE Research Analyst and lead author of the report explains, the U.S. needs to become more energy-efficient if it wants to remain competitive in the global marketplace: “Countries that use energy more efficiently use fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable natural resources, and gaining a competitive edge over other countries.”



And the Winners Are…


And the Winners AreGermany took top honors, followed by Italy, the European Union as a whole, China, and France. Germany’s Dr. Philipp Ackermann commented that “every kilowatt hour of electricity that is not consumed saves on fossil fuels and the construction of power plants and grids.” This speaks to a possible overall economic advantage over the U.S. because, according to the report, “using less energy to produce and transport the same economic output costs them less. Their efforts to improve efficiency likely make their economies more nimble and resilient.”



To learn more, download the entire report.