I wrote a Clean Break column this week on the need for more attention — serious attention — to matters involving the electric grid. My concern is that we put so much focus on new power generation, arguably a more sexy topic when we talk about wind and solar, and seem to forget that maximizing renewable output means improving the way the grid operates and expanding its reach. In other words, we need to be moving more aggressively toward a “smart grid” that’s self-healing and automated to the point where the energy from a wide variety of resources — wind, solar, ocean, biomass, biogas, geothermal — can be tapped, directed, managed and carried to where it needs to go.
Vinod Khosla has raised this concern and need. So has the U.S. Electric Power Research Institute, which considers grid modernization a top priority. Unfortunately, the utilities themselves and politicians don’t seem to get it — at least not yet. This could become a major bottleneck within a few years, so we need to start addressing it today. If we envision a world of electric cars, plug-in hybrids, smart appliances and more and more renewables, then the grid is what ties it all together and makes it work. The grid we have today, built with technologies from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, just won’t cut it.
What this will take is a vision from government — at all levels, but particularly federal government — and a clear policy direction with benchmarks we need to meet.