The Modernization of the Electric Grid — 4/11/17


In the United States, we are lucky to take reliable electricity for granted — at least most of the time. So many objects, systems, and processes on which we rely — both as individuals and as a society — require electricity to function properly. This week, we will take a look at our electric grid, the system that ensures that we can function in modern society. What exactly does it do? How does it work, and what happens when it doesn’t work properly? How is it changing as our energy economy changes? These are the questions we are looking to answer this week.

All Readings

(1) A retro New York Times report (video) on the blackouts that occurred in a large portion of the Northeast and Midwest in 2003. This is meant to provide some context around how important a functioning electric grid is to our society.

(2) An informative webpage on how the grid works. It also talks about the evolution of the grid, the importance of effective grid transmission, and new opportunities on the grid. This website is pretty biased in general, but this page is strictly informative.

(3) This research paper by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory answers the following question: what causes grid failure and subsequent blackouts? There’s no need to read the full paper — just read the abstract on page 4 of the PDF. After reading, take a moment to reflect on how this relates to our discussion on climate change back in December.

(4) This is the main reading (well, more of an interactive website containing a combination of reading and videos) for this week. What is the Smart Grid? Many people are not familiar with this term — this reading is to understand a topic with many moving parts coming together in a way that will likely have a huge impact on power producers, utilities, energy industry workers, entire nations, and consumers alike.

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