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About 9 PM last night, I got a text from my sister in northern Indiana. She told us (my brother in Arizona was included on the text) that her power had gone out. Again.

Upgrading the U.S. Power Grid Needs to be Job One

Steve Maurer, IME
About 9 PM last night, I got a text from my sister in northern Indiana. She told us (my brother in Arizona was included on the text) that her power had gone out.

Again.

Second time in about 4 or 5 days if memory serves me right. She joked about forgetting to get new flashlights and batteries. I jested back that I would order some from Amazon and have them overnighted to her. Who knows … they might get there before the power came back on, I quipped.

About an hour later she texted us that the power was back on and she was heading to bed.
Sure, we joked around about it. Like I said, this was the second time in less than a week her power had gone kaput. The first time was due to major thunderstorms in her area.
But the second time … not a rain cloud in sight.

Yeah, we kidded each other about the outage. But the truth is … it’s no laughing matter. The power grid in the United States is on the verge of collapse. In many areas, it already has. It’s not just affecting us by shutting down our homes and businesses, it’s affecting progress in other ways as well.

In a recent—May 12, 2020—report on Reuters® Investigates, contributor Tim McLaughlin had this to say about America’s ailing power grid:

“After decades of struggle, the U.S. clean-energy business is booming, with soaring electric-car sales and fast growth in wind and solar power. That’s raising hopes for the fight against climate change.

All this progress, however, could be derailed without a massive overhaul of America’s antiquated electric infrastructure – a task some industry experts say requires more than $2 trillion. The current network of transmission wires, substations and transformers is decaying with age and underinvestment, a condition highlighted by catastrophic failures during increasingly frequent and severe weather events.

Power outages over the last six years have more than doubled in number compared to the previous six years, according to a Reuters examination of federal data. In the past two years, power systems have collapsed in Gulf Coast hurricanes, West Coast wildfires, Midwest heat waves and a Texas deep freeze, causing long and sometimes deadly outages.”

Building a more robust power generation infrastructure isn’t just a good idea … it’s a necessity.

I know this may sound like some kind of op-ed piece. I don’t intend it that way. But let’s face it … our power grid has issues. Major issues.

And improving our power grid is necessary on so many fronts. Just a week or two ago, one state issued a notification, asking its residents and businesses to cut back on power usage during peak hours. No air conditioners unless absolutely necessary, and even then they were asked to set them as high as possible.

Additionally, state officials asked folks NOT to charge their electric vehicles during this time. Going ‘green’ was taking down the grid.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for decreasing carbon emissions wherever and whenever possible. All my yard and garden power equipment is battery powered (except for my back-breaking beast of an old tiller).

But power generation still needs other forms of fuel besides the good old sun. In our own area in Arkansas, the town I live in has built massive solar farms to generate electricity for the area. But it doesn’t power all of it, by any means. And in a rapidly growing area like ours, the infrastructure necessary to feed all the new homes and businesses is, well, a bit behind.

And it’s not just making electricity that’s the problem … it’s getting it transmitted to the people that need it, whether fossil fuel or renewable source generated.

“Competition from renewables is being strangled without adequate and necessary upgrades to the transmission network.” Simon Mahan, executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association


In many experts opinions, the recent weather disasters aren’t the cause of the problem, but more likely the symptoms of a broken grid. And more frightening than that … an aging grid in need of replacement.

From that same Reuters® article:

“As the weather gets wilder, the grid gets older. The U.S. Department of Energy found that 70% of U.S. transmission lines are more than 25 years old in its last network-infrastructure review in 2015. Lines typically have a 50 year lifespan. The average age of large power transformers, which handle 90% of U.S. electricity flow, is more than 40 years. Transformer malfunctions tend to escalate at about 40 years, according to research by reinsurance provider Swiss Re.”

As mentioned, I’m not trying to write an opinion article here. Just relaying facts and figures I’ve gleaned during research on the subject. As we do work to improve our power generation and transmission networks, it might be a good idea to look far into the future of U.S. power consumption and plan accordingly.

And we need to make sure that all installations are done correctly and within Code standards. There are a lot of things to consider, including securing power stations and substations from theft and sabotage. Remember that even metal fencing used around the perimeters of these installations fall within the NEC®.

By the way, I just got another text from my sister.

The flashlights and batteries arrived a few minutes ago. LOL.
Photo courtesy of BURNDY
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