21st Century Challenges: Is It Time America Invested in an Intelligent Grid?

The United States has spent the better part of the past decade fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the meantime, the infrastructure that our grandparents built has fallen into serious disrepair. As recent disasters such as Hurricane Sandy have demonstrated, the time has passed for America to invest in an intelligent grid.

For those who protest that the costs to repair and upgrade the grid are too high, the response is that the cost of delay is even higher, and that every day that passes without action adds to the inevitable price that we all pay.

A Third-World Grid

By all accounts the United States is a force with which to be reckoned throughout the world. Especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it can be argued that America is the world’s sole reigning superpower. Even the emergence of China as an exporting powerhouse has not toppled the United States from its position of worldwide dominance.

solar-electricity-plantHowever, the untold story of the United States is its crumbling grid. While other countries were investing in transportation, renewable energy and education, the United States was pouring billions of dollars and expending thousands of American lives into two large scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The result is that the country has been left with essentially a third-world grid that is frayed at the edges and incapable of standing up to such twenty-first century challenges as climate change.

Looking to Europe

The present state of disrepair of the American grid represents a tremendous opportunity to incorporate renewable energy sources into any repair and upgrade operation. One of the best examples is a close ally, Germany, which has gone all in for investing in renewable energy, particular solar power.

In 2011, Germany set a global reliability record with an average of 15.31 minutes of downtime. As an exporting powerhouse and the world’s fourth largest economy, Germany is no lightweight where demands to the power grid are concerned. Nonetheless, it has achieved this impressive landmark while drawing down its reliance on nuclear and coal powered energy and installing enough rooftop solar power to meet approximately half the country’s midday demands for electricity.

Reinforced Grid and Stand-Alone Islands

Extreme temperatures and catastrophic climate events have become increasingly frequent in recent years. The time is now to create a reliable grid, with a significant segment drawn from renewable energy sources. A reliable grid is required to stand up to the demands created by population increases, technologically ever more sophisticated devices and of course, climate change. Embarking on creating an upgraded grid now would also allow for the creation of self sufficient stand alone islands that could function in the event of a generalized power outage.

The Price of Delay

In the atmosphere of the ongoing worldwide financial crisis, there is significant pushback on the idea of investing the billions of dollars needed to bring our infrastructure back up to code. The Gavin Electricity Institute averages that the average expense of power outages that occur as a result of the present state of disrepair to the grid is more than double what if would cost to make investments in preventative upgrades.

Just to maintain the present antiquated system would require $673 billon US by 2020. Doesn’t it make sense to invest this money in a system that will stand up for the next twenty, fifty or one hundred years instead?

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