Solar Anyone?

Solar Anyone?

If you are like me, you probably take electricity for granted. We are a generation who has never been without the ability to flip a switch and behold the results. I know from my own point of view, from the moment I wake up in the morning, electricity could be considered to be my very best friend. Electricity powers my alarm clock with the additional-big LED numbers, powers the pump that sends water to my faucet, and-if we had an electric hot water heater-would truly be responsible for making sure my shower is piping hot. Electricity is responsible for the lights that come on, one after another, the coffee maker that brews what gets me going in the morning, and the microwave that heats my oatmeal. Thanks to electricity my milk is cold, and the toast pops up nicely browned. I use the majority of each day in front of a computer, and no matter how big the hard excursion, how complex or fast, without electricity all I would see is a black screen. Telephones, hair dryers, televisions, stereos, printers, blenders…..the list goes on and on.

Scott Huler, in his book “On the Grid,” writes “And all because a associate of clever people sat around and figured out how to whack uranium molecules into pieces, harvest the energy from that change, heat water with it, use the resulting steam to turn a crank, use the crank to spin a magnet within coiled copper wires, and then harness the electric current that results.” Piece of cake, right? During the recent bout of bad weather, there were strength blackouts across the nation. In Texas we had some minor “blips” in our strength, none lasting more than a minute, however I found myself getting totally upset about having to go throughout the house and reset all the electronic clocks. I cannot already fathom a time when I would have to do without electricity for more than a few minutes, and however that day may be much closer than we imagine.

Scientists say that the threat to our national electric grid from electromagnetic pulse attacks come in three forms: solar flares from the sun, which can fry microchips and disrupt electronic devices, a nuclear blast 200 miles above middle America, which could wipe out every electric grid in the United States, or radio frequency weapons which can be carried in backpacks or medium sized trucks and are used to attack specific targets (think Social Security Administration, IRS, Pentagon, Banking Systems, etc.) to wipe out sensitive data and financial information. America’s electricity is currently generated by energy companies throughout the country via hundreds of strength companies and electric grids. Our bulk strength system includes more than 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, thousands of generation plants and literally millions of digital controls. Because we are so dependent on electricity, our vulnerability to any of the above threats creates a very real possibility of long-term, extreme consequences.

Our own country used EMP non-nuclear weapons against Iraq during the first Gulf War in order to disrupt-and destroy-electronics systems. In 1962, an EMP from a high altitude airburst of a nuclear weapon near Hawaii disrupted the complete electrical system in that state. Losing our electric grid could be devastating to both Americans and Canadians. Remember 1977 when New York experienced a blackout? That night was described as a “night of terror,” by many who lived there as stores were looted, cars overturned, and general chaos reigned. In 1989, more than 6 million people in Canada lost strength due to solar activity which caused a enormous strength failure. In 1998, Auckland, New Zealand experienced a blackout which lasted five weeks, (their water and sewage systems remained functional.)

already if none of these possible terrorist threats come to pass, remember that our electric grid system is a product of the 1960’s-a time before man walked on the moon, a time before cell phones and personal computers were invented. At that time electric utilities were local operations, but the 1970’s brought deregulation which impacted the electric grid by offering less motive to continue transmission lines, since no one really has responsibility for the lines, and profits are higher if the equipment is allowed to run until it fails. Deregulation was also responsible for overuse of lines between systems, more rapid decline of strength plants, unplanned additions to the grid, increased line congestion, little motive to add generating capacity, difficulty in assign costs back, and, finally, no overall plan for an improved system. In short, the system that is responsible for powering my computer right now is on very shaky ground. Few experts have much that is complimentary to say about the United States electric grid; when Bill Richardson was energy secretary during the Clinton administration he called our grid a “third-world grid.” A little harsh, perhaps, but not without some truth. In a “report card” prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the electric grid of the United States received a substantial “D.” The explanation of that dismal grade is as follows:

“The U.S. strength transmission system is in urgent need of modernization. Growth in electricity need and investment in new strength plants has not been equaled by investment in new transmission facilities. Maintenance expenditures have decreased 1% per year since 1992. Existing transmission facilities were not designed for the current level of need resulting in an increased number of “bottlenecks,” which will increase costs to consumers and elevate the risk of blackouts.”

An article by Edwin Hill, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers states that:

“The average age of strength transformers in service is 40 years which also happens to be the average lifespan of this equipment. Combine the crying need for maintenance with a shrinking workforce, and we may find that the 2005 blackout that affected parts of Canada and the northeastern U.S. might have been a dress rehearsal for what’s to come. Deregulation and restructuring of the industry produced downward pressure on recruitment, training and maintenance, and the bill is now coming due.”

Our electric grid, while being used extensively for long distance transportation of electricity and switching among providers, was never designed nor intended for such use, so is stretched to the max. With more and more stress being additional to the grid daily, it seems logical to conclude that it is only a matter of time before Americans must figure out how to survive with no electricity. Solar anyone?

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