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Technology Corridor

Has the Aug. 14 blackout finally made it more than a pipe dream?
Fortnightly Magazine - October 15 2003

on. "We need to determine information at a glance," he says. Depicting data well means that operators can make a decision more quickly, rather than needing first to analyze the data and wasting precious minutes doing that rather than deciding how to handle a growing disturbance.

As Gellings says, "It's a computational ability that we really don't have now."

In fact, E2I just released a request for proposal in September, to develop some of those computational abilities. Yet even assuming that E2I can figure that out-and Gellings expects that they're only a few years away from doing so-the single biggest problem with creating the smart grid isn't technology. It's money.

Many estimates put the total for upgrading the grid at around $100 billion, which sure sounds like a lot of cash the industry simply does not have. Yet on a macro level, that is the cost of a single year's worth of outages to American business. And, of course, there is the inconvenience to consumers, 50 million of whom received a memorable shock on Aug. 14.

The blackout may prove a blessing in disguise for the industry, by focusing public attention and political pressure on the transmission system. There is even a chance that the blackout could galvanize Congress into actions that would either make or encourage transmission investment that has not been made in the last 20 years.

Perhaps Ralph Cavanagh, director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and former Clinton Energy Department official, put it best when he told the Washington Post, "This is the moment when the electricity industry will either make a credible showing of openness to new technology, or it will sink back into the quagmire of new transmission-line battles."

Are we ready for the life raft?


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