Embracing the coal industry will not push us into the 21st century, but the “smart grid” certainly will.
An FKD Feature exclusive

From afar, the Trump administration waging war on the Environmental Protection Agency while ramping up its efforts to fix old bridges and to deepen old ditches looks like some weird political balancing act. On one hand, they are shrugging off climate change, but “Look! Jobs!”  

Both of these efforts seem to be leaving us FKD’d. However, the progressively backward movements on these fronts can be corrected if instead of refurbishing all the old stuff, we aim our focus on the future.

The future lies in an area we often take for granted: electricity.

The power grid is an old grid

Though there is still a large portion of the global population without access to high-quality electricity, in the U.S., we often forget the game-changer status of electricity. If you didn’t know, in a list of important things to have happened to humans, the most important accomplishment is electrification made possible by “the grid.”

The power grid is the largest interconnected machine on Earth with more than 9,200 electric generating units, 1 million megawatts of generating capacity and more than 400,000 miles of transmission lines. But, the grid is antiquated and is in need of some serious infrastructure attention. The electricity system of today is 99.97 percent reliable, yet power interruptions and outages cost Americans $150 billion each year, which roughly equals $500 per person.

For the last three decades, the growth of the population along with our demand for bigger houses, air conditioners, TVs and computers has slightly increased our demand for electricity. OK, not so slightly. Since 1982, our growing need for electricity has surpassed the speed at which electricity transmission infrastructure is built by around 25 percent every year!

The big culprit of pollution is electricity

Despite electricity being so embedded into our daily routines, many don’t really know how electricity gets to our homes. To put it simply, electricity goes down a one-way lane to the consumers, but here’s a picture that does a better job explaining how.

For 100 years or so, most of our electricity has been generated at power plants through the use of carbon-polluting coal and fossil fuels. More than 30 percent of the carbon emissions produced in the U.S. come from generating electricity. What’s more, with the increasing need for electricity to power all of our tech, more power plants have been built and are running at full capacity.

Enter the “smart grid” initiative.

With the rise of technology geared to automate our jobs and how we interact with each other (and ourselves), consumers are putting pressure on utility providers to have more control over their energy usage. By investing in turning the old grid into a smart grid, it will do just that.

The smart grid would install sensors at a bunch of points throughout the distribution network that would allow electricity to be redirected automatically wherever there is a power outage. It would allow utility providers, and more importantly, you and me, to see exactly how much electricity is used and when to best run our high-consuming energy appliances such as washers, dryers and air conditioners. On top of that, with solar power becoming a cheaper product for us to use, we will be able to store unused electricity to use later.

Uber-izing electricity

What makes Uber so cool is that it connects people who need rides to those who can give rides. If we can store our electricity in our homes, the smart grid will act as a platform that connects those who need more electricity with others who have electricity to spare. So, instead of electricity going one way straight to your home, it also will be able to go from your home to where it’s needed.

The smart grid will be able to easily incorporate renewable and alternative energies such as nuclear, wind and water with the two-way transmission. Addressing the infrastructure needs of electricity will help push the economy well into the future by making our energy use cheaper yet alleviating the rampant carbon emissions that come from power plants producing so much electricity on demand.

Takeaway

The Trump administration’s embrace of the coal industry may be heartfelt, but it will only hold us back. Job creation is rising quickly in the renewable-energy sector while coal is dwindling due to the increase in technology. Perhaps a better method would be to combat climate change and create more jobs by making electricity sexy again.

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Header image: Adobe Stock

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Posted 04.06.2017 - 01:58 pm EST