The electric grid is interwoven into the fabric of our everyday lives just as the highway systems are. Without a vision and a systematic plan to upgrade and modernize the grid, we will experience outages that compromise our way of life, impact our economy, and jeopardize our security. The National Public Radio series Power Hungry: Reinventing the U.S. Electric Grid presents the history of the grid and the challenges of creating a new, smarter, "green" grid for the future. This series will give you a good introduction to these challenges and what is being discussed to take the grid into the 21st Century, and it will provide an excellent backdrop for the remainder of the course.
Listen to this!
The Power Hungry series is a collection of National Public Radio broadcasts that have been placed on the Web and accompanied by text and visuals. Go to the Power Hungry website and read the information and listen to the broadcasts for the entire series. It will take you one hour to listen to all of the broadcasts.
As you read and listen to the series, keep the following questions in mind...we will be discussing these in our lesson discussion assignment!
- What do you think are the major congestion issues Mr. Mansoor of EPRI is referring to, and do you see the utility industry solving these? Do you believe these congestion issues will require a standardized, nationwide transmission siting criteria?
- Many utilities are now looking at installing rooftop solar collection systems on commercial buildings to generate electricity for the commercial entity and store the remainder for the grid. If we can take this one step further—economical, easy-to-install rooftop solar systems for residential use—what do you think the utility industry's response will be? Will they embrace it? Will they attempt to offer the service to homeowners?
- "Eisenhower was a master of military art," McNichol says. "He understood from his readings and history that the best road systems were built by the central government," including the roads built by Rome, Napoleon, and Hitler. Each state transportation department managed its own highway-building program, but the central plan was put forth and managed by the federal government. In today's culture of NIMBY ("Not in My Back Yard"), and congressional gridlock, how do you see the final act of a national grid authority being played out? Should it be a central top-down program managed by the government? Or, should it be managed by the private sector, with minimal government oversight?
- The electric grid may be more important for the country's national security than the federal highway system is. If you accept this premise, then how should the grid be financed? Should it be funded by the federal government, just like the national highway system, or should it be a public-private venture or solely privately funded?
- Currently, wind and solar energy generation have a greater cost per kilowatt hour than other sources of energy such as coal, hydro, nuclear, and natural gas. Do you see the cost of wind and solar dropping to compete with the other sources of energy? If so, why do you believe that will happen? If not, do you believe we will see a "green energy bubble"? What do you see as the major impediment to the mass use of solar and wind energy in the United States?