Former DoE head calls for U.S. “third-world grid” upgrade

Our power-transmission system has serious deficiencies, according to former secretary of the Department of Energy and former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson. In Politico, he writes, “As secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, I often characterized the U.S. power transmission system as resembling a 'Third World grid.' My aim was to highlight the shortcomings of the networks that deliver electric power to businesses and households throughout the United States—and the urgency of fixing this enormous problem.”

He continues, “Unfortunately, more than a decade later, the grid is little improved, and I’m still using the same analogy.”

The situation is particularly dire for renewable energy. It's not clear that the faltering grid, he says, can transmit power from remote renewable-energy sources to major population centers. Aggravating the problem, he adds, is that the U.S. grid—comprising 9,000 generating plants and 300,000 miles of transmission lines—has evolved into a balkanized combination of hundreds of local and regional fiefdoms. He urges a nationwide approach to minimize jurisdictional friction and most effectively make use of fossil, wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear energy sources.

He also comments that regardless of the energy source, the power system lacks the integrity to deal with severe weather conditions.

As an example of what can be done, he cites China's progress with ultrahigh-voltage (UHV) technology, in which the country's State Grid Corp. has invested $100 billion. He suggests a similar level of investment is required in the U.S.—as opposed to a “business as usual” approach limiting investment to something like $18.5 billion over two decades.

Likening an ambitious effort to construct a “national transmission superhighway” to the building of the interstate highway system, he concludes that a piecemeal implementation of smart-grid technology will be suboptimal and “…there is no getting around the fact that America’s power grid system needs to be upgraded on national scale.

Read his complete article here.

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