Thursday, August 21, 2003

More on the power grid

Why didn't circuit breakers seal off certain areas and contain last week's blackout to a single city or state? That question has come up a lot. In the Time magazine article, it talks about the fact that Vermont cut itself off power feeds from New York and saved itself. Circuit breakers between Ohio and Tennessee worked and kept the problem from spreading south. So why didn't the circuit breakers seal off Ohio completely and spare the whole Northeast? Think about it this way. Let's say that Ohio was supplying large amounts of power to the grid, and that power was heading toward the New York area. Ohio has a problem and starts to go down, so it cuts itself off of the grid. Since Ohio was supplying power, that creates a deficit in the next state over. Now the next state over blacks out. It ripples through the system to every state that is a net consumer rather than a net supplier of power to the grid. Circuit breakers are no help for net consumers -- when the circuit breakers trip, net consumers lose power, which causes them to fail.

For the grid to be able to have a cellular architecture that allows regions to "cut themselves off the grid", every cell has to be in a position to be energy self-sufficient when it gets cut off from the grid. But if every cell is self-sufficient, you don't need a grid. The whole idea of the grid is to let companies share power so that they can run deficits to increase profit. To prevent large scale blackouts, all we have to do is create self-sufficient energy cells and eliminate the grid. Or, we have to monitor every part of the grid and make sure power is not flowing across five states to supply New York. New York, in other words, has to become energy self-sufficient. The same holds true for every major city.

Recharging the Power Grid is an article about the world's largest battery. This battery has 4 million liters of electrolyte. The idea is to store power from the grid during off-peak hours and use them during peak hours. It also creates the world's biggest UPS. Right now the grid can't store power, so this is a very innovative approach. Maybe this is one solution to NY's problem.

In Time magazine's article on the blackout, there is this interesting quote:In other words, we can't decentralize the power grid because if we do, it will put too many people out of their jobs. Pity the poor company that develops inexpensive solar shingles that let every homeowner become energy independent...

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