Thursday, February 7, 2013

Under Construction: The State of Solar

By Eric Ramsley  

The Los Angeles freeway system is in disarray. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. But there is so much traffic that there isn’t a whole lot of time to get anything fixed. Even when roads are temporarily shut down, like the 405 was earlier this year, no discernible progress is made. And by the time any construction is finished it will be time to start all over again. The roadways resemble the handful of Frankenstein cars driving along them: Pieced together with spare parts and clinging to dear life, unrecognizable from what they once were.

Swap out a few words and you’ve got the United States’ power grid. A jerry-built electrical network owned and operated by competing companies that is being stretched to its limit. Improvements have been proposed, but much like the highways in Los Angeles, by the time they are complete it will be time for the next round of emergency surgeries. Some have suggested that the grid’s poor state leaves it vulnerable to a terrorist attack; others argue that it is so shoddy and unpredictable that such an attack might ultimately fail.

Los Angeles is so developed that replacing the highways is highly improbable, if not impossible. But it’s at least conceivable that a new power grid could be built around the existing one, with the old system providing power up until the new system is complete. The benefits should outweigh the costs. The U.S. could have a state-of-the-art grid in place, securely and efficiently meeting increasing demand. This would also keep power companies in control of distribution. As much as some of them seem to want to believe it, the current setup will not be around forever.