Wednesday, October 26, 2011

America's Powergrid is an Embarrassingly Inefficient Eyesore

Have you ever walked down the street and gotten just a little bit disgusted by the sheer ugliness of the power grid?  Powerlines dangling everywhere, trees hacked away to make room for dangling wires that inefficiently connect our homes to a power plant that is often tens or even hundreds of miles away.

This is one of many reasons my eyes brighten at the thought of mass deployment of distributed energy -- putting a solar electric and hot water system on every house and building.  As I like to say, "empty roofs = wasted space."

Just think of the tens if not hundreds of millions of acres of empty roof tops out there waiting to be tapped for their energy potential, from homes and apartment buildings, to office buildings, shopping malls and Wal-Marts.

The power grid in America is also so outdated, it makes those tawdry Cadillacs from the '70's look like modern marvels of innovation. As this piece from Green Tech media reports, it is obscenely wasteful compared to what we're seeing from our clean tech competitors (the boldfacing is mine):
China has the world's fastest supercomputer, the fastest high speed trains and is leading the world in building nuclear plants. One of its more remarkable achievements has been modernizing the grid. The country has developed a 1 million AC volt transmission line that loses only 8 percent of its power on a 1,200 mile journey from the power plant in western China to the cities in the east. 
An equivalent U.S. line, with only 760 kilovolts, would lose 80 percent of its power.
That's just embarrassing.

So we destroy ecosystems to mine and smelt megatons of copper to manufacture powerlines that do their job so inefficiently that the majority of fossil fuel used to generate electricity goes to waste.  In effect, we're creating much of our heat-trapping and lung-sickening pollution for nothing, and are wasting untold $$billions in the process.

How might we view this glass as half-FULL?

Where there is waste (in the form of pollution), there is an opportunity to improve efficiencies of resource and energy use, cut costs and straight-up make things better.  It's time to bring America's electricity generation system into the 21st century, not only via a massive deployment of clean energy infrastructure, but with a complete overhaul of our power grid.

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