U.S. power grid falls further behind

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Quick Take: I've attended many conferences where utility executives have proclaimed that the United States has the best electric power system in the world. Far from it. CBS News reports that the U.S. power grid has fallen to 14th place. Abstract below, or visit the full article. - By Jesse Berst

 

The United States has fallen behind other developed nations in several areas:

·         Infant mortality (34th)

·         Math (26th)

·         Reading (17th)

·         Economic competitiveness (7th)

·         Physical infrastructure -- roads, bridges and electric grid (14th according to the World Economic Forum)

 

Failures in the decrepit U.S. power grid threatened to plunge America into darkness. Some experts believe the solution is a smart grid.

 

The current grid still functions like it did in the 1800s. Something as minor as a fallen branch can cause a power outage. Utilities rely on human intervention to report service interruptions, read electric meters, search for malfunctioning equipment and other mundane tasks.

 

Some of the current grid's physical equipment has reached obsolescence. Given the outmoded state of the U.S. power grid, we could easily see a repeat of the 2003 blackout that through 50 million people into darkness.

 

Smart grids are self-healing. "The self-healing grid can reduce power outages, minimize their length, detect abnormal signals (whether it's cyberattacks, material failure, human error or a storm that is beginning to blow), make adaptive reconfigurations to the system, and isolate disturbances to eliminate or at least minimize their impact on the larger system," said Massoud Amin, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota.

 

A self-healing grid is indispensable during natural disasters. Hurricane Sandy exposed the vulnerabilities of today's grid.

 

If today's pilot programs prove the value that is expected, we can expect more smart grid development nationwide in the near future.

 

Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.