Barack Obama has pledged a stimulus package to resuscitate the economy. His plan contains a public works component. Certainly, repairing the nation’s dilapidated roads and bridges will help solve the high unemployment in construction. While such a project should have high priority, redesigning and rebuilding the electric grid should also have a high priority.
Such a state-of-the-art “smart grid” can increase the efficiency of green energy sources. It will require a trained workforce and extensive educational programs.
A smart grid is the computerized version of the network that brings us our electricity. It utilizes the instrument and control technology that is commonplace in factories. It will insure that power is delivered where and when it is needed and energy sources — especially green sources — are used most efficiently.
Take a final look at your electric meter. It is a masterpiece of ninetieth century technology. It’s an analog computer. It contains a motor with a rate of rotation proportional to the product of current and voltage (power) and a clock-like mechanism that integrates power over time to give energy measured in kilowatt-hours displayed on dials read by a person going door-to-door. Its biggest disadvantage is that it cannot tell when the energy is consumed.
Electricity is an extremely perishable commodity. It’s often abundant when their is little demand and scarce when needed. Except for limited pumping of water back up over hydroelectric generators, electricity cannot be stored.
A smart grid will send signals to customers telling them the cost of electricity based on supply and demand. Programmable “smart” appliances such as dish and laundry washers, air conditioners and electric car battery chargers will postpone their service until cheap power is available.
Green sources such as solar and wind energy are especially amenable to smart grid management. Both are intermittent. Solar voltaic can only deliver power during the day. While geographic distribution can improve the negative impact of intermittent winds, distant transmission results in loss. A smart grid can best manage these green sources and minimize losses.
A smart grid can use electric car batteries to store energy. As long as the charger knows when the car is needed, it can turn the charging on and off and even sell some of its energy back to the grid.
A smart grid and smart appliances are just a part of the coming green technology for which we will need a workforce trained in all disciplines. Don’t forget arts and humanities since they give us prospective.
Returning a system to its pre-broken state is not an effective way to solve the problems of a device or institution. But some are suggesting that we do just that.
Handing out money to buy the same old junk will not solve our problems. The real value of things is how they improve our lives. The real value of our home is its community and infrastructure. Intelligent public works programs — especially rebuilding education — can increase real values.
John Maynard Keynes gave an example of the value of public work projects. If you give a man a shovel and pay him to dig holes, you sustain the man and the shovel maker. If the holes are of no value then you have increased the money supply without any added value. If the holes improve or build a needed road then the money paid represents increased value.
Photo Credit: Virtualhosting
Obama Puts His Best Foot Forward To Build a Sustainable Economy