Gregory F. Reed is a professor and director of the Energy GRID Institute at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. He recently warned that we could expect more power outages unless we begin investing in our country’s power grid.
Before the summer’s hottest months, utility providers in California warned they might cut power on windy days to prevent wildfires caused by falling power lines. In Texas, utilities said they would urge consumers to conserve electricity to avoid the need for rolling blackouts when record heat leads to record electricity usage.
And despite having one of the most reliable electricity systems in the country, most Manhattan and parts of the Upper West Side were dealt with darkness last month, 42 years to the day of the New York City blackout of 1977.
One of the factors was that some of the electrical infrastructure of the Con Edison system in the city is old enough to have been involved in both outages. A week after the blackout, Con Ed had to cut power to more than 50,000 customers in Brooklyn and other boroughs to prevent a larger outage.
All across the country, and especially in major metropolitan areas, the power grid is in need of repairs, updates and, in many cases, redesign. This is an issue as demand for electricity continues to increase. These blackouts underscore a significant, persistent threat to our country’s electric power grid — and they won’t be the last.
Almost 600,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and approximately 15,000 interconnected substations serve the U.S.’s intricate power grid. Much of the infrastructure and equipment is over 40 years old, and in some cases, 80 years.
Those stations did not anticipate today’s power demands, nor were they designed to easily integrate sustainable power generation or two-way interactions between the grid and consumers.
Overhauling the power grid would be a massive undertaking. Reed says that “We need the power equivalent of our commitment to the Manhattan Project or NASA’s endeavor in the 1960s to put a man on the moon.”
“It is worth considering that nearly everything we do in modern society is dependent upon the reliable supply of electricity. Our nation’s power grid is at a critical crossroads.