Some believe that small-scale, distributed generation will usher in a new era of magically inexpensive power: Industrial users will run their own cogeneration units. Many residential customers will use some sort of portable (em perhaps exotic (em power equipment in their homes. Existing, utility-owned, large-scale generating stations will be cast off on the path to ultimate efficiency.
Meanwhile, New England is running out of power this summer. At this writing three nuclear plants have come off line for various reasons, while a fourth could follow by press time. The situation already threatens widespread brownouts.
Let's revisit the question of dynamic system efficiency over extended periods of time, with particular emphasis on the essential role of the transmission grid and associated computer, control, and communications (3C) systems.
Research at MIT
Industry deregulation, while introducing welcome competition and perhaps lower prices, also harbors some less palatable side effects. First, a power-distribution system with multiple suppliers and customers is much harder to control than a system in which a single utility decides whether to take its own units on and off line. Second, competition among suppliers tightens profit margins because new, smaller, gas-fired units can produce electricity more cheaply than nuclear power plants and older coal plants.