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Don't Choke: How to Transform Technology

Infrastructure investment has been on a starvation diet. Here’s how to feed the need.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2006

electric-energy service by 2025. The team determined that consumers will require service that recognizes the need for much greater energy efficiency, has substantially reduced environmental impacts, and can power a wholesale shift from yesterday’s electro-mechanical or analog society to a fully digital one. It is no great leap to realize that the existing system, regardless of how expanded in capacity, still will not be capable of meeting these needs even a decade from now.

Interruptions in the electricity supply cost American consumers an estimated $150 billion a year. In other words, for every dollar spent on electricity, consumers are spending an additional 50 cents or more on the other goods and services they purchase to cover the costs of power failures. In a fully digital world, the existing “3 nines reliability standard” and its accompanying costs will be even more devastatingly inadequate. Even the slightest disturbances in power quality and reliability cause loss of information, processes and productivity. Interruptions and disturbances measuring less than one cycle (less than 1/60th of a second) are enough to crash servers, computers, intensive care and life support machines, automated equipment, and other microprocessor-based devices. In addition, a much larger fraction of electricity load is controlled electronically and is thus also susceptible.

Digital Domain

Digital-quality power, with sufficient reliability and quality to serve such devices, now represents about 10 percent of total electrical load in the United States. This demand for Internet-quality power will grow at a compound rate of 17 percent a year through at least 2010—roughly in line with shipments of high-end servers. The available digital-quality power load is expected to reach 30 percent by 2020 under business-as-usual conditions, and as much as 50 percent if the power system is revitalized to provide digital-grade service to all those who would need it. The implications for the nation’s productivity and job creation are profound.

In a world where resources are even scarcer than they are now, a system that continues to lose two-thirds of the energy it consumes also will be wholly unacceptable, and even could be dangerous. As climate change continues to threaten our world, the system’s emissions and inefficiencies will become a serious liability in the global marketplace. A transformed power system, however, can help steer national energy and security policies to emphasize U.S. fuel diversity and independence, placing electricity at the center of a strategic thrust to develop a clean, sustainable portfolio of domestic energy options together with enhanced end-use efficiency and reduced dependence on unreliable and expensive foreign energy sources.

Based on these identified drivers, matched with innovative technology opportunities at the consumer interface, the Galvin Electricity Initiative is completing a blueprint for such a transformed system. By “system,” we mean all the elements in the chain of technologies and processes for electricity production, delivery, and use across the entire spectrum of residential, commercial, and industrial applications. This blueprint for renewal incorporates an array of breakthrough technical innovations that enable the system to automatically recognize problems, instantaneously find solutions, and continuously optimize performance to meet the expectations of each consumer. The enabling