The Grid

The Grid

The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future

Book - 2016
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"The grid is an accident of history and of culture, in no way intrinsic to how we produce, deliver and consume electrical power. Yet this is the system the United States ended up with, a jerry-built structure now so rickety and near collapse that a strong wind or a hot day can bring it to a grinding halt. The grid is now under threat from a new source: renewable and variable energy, which puts stress on its logics as much as its components. In entertaining, perceptive, and deeply researched fashion, cultural anthropologist Gretchen Bakke uses the history of an increasingly outdated infrastructure to show how the United States has gone from seemingly infinite technological prowess to a land of structural instability. She brings humor and a bright eye to contemporary solutions and to the often surprising ways in which these succeed or fail. And the consequences of failure are significant. Our national electrical grid grew during an era when monopoly, centralization and standardization meant strength. Yet as we've increasingly become a nation that caters to local needs, and as a plethora of new, renewable energy sources comes on line, our massive system is dangerously out of step. Charting the history of our electrical grid, Bakke helps us see what we all take for granted, shows it as central to our culture and identity as a people, and reveals it to be the linchpin in our aspirations for a clean energy future"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Bloomsbury, 2016
Characteristics: xxx, 352 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
ISBN: 9781608196104 (hardback)
Call Number: 333.79 BAKKE

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SeattleSaul
Sep 05, 2018

I think that most of us consider the electric grid as an already-solved problem on how to distribute electricity, which so much of our world depends upon now, myself among them before reading this book. Bakke points out that it evolved in the late 19th century and proceeded to grow using early 20th century thinking and is by now in serious need of a 21st century update. More frequent blackouts lasting longer are symptoms of the problem. However (my analogy) if we decided that the Interstate Highway system was poorly designed, it would be terribly expensive to rip up and start over with something new and better.
Bakke suggests that the grid problem is also very difficult, but there are new ideas that are coming around and that we should keep an open mind to, like personal generators for the home. Wind farms, solar fields, geothermal, coal, hydro, and nuclear are also sources of electricity, but they need to part of the overall solution, not just “I got mine, you get yours” (my wording).
Overall a good explanation of the history and problems, but I’d like to have had a little more on the technical side (watts, joules, amps, ohms, volts) in the text or footnotes so that one can get a real grasp of what electricity is and how it is measured and ultimately paid for by its users. Some of the writing gets tedious at the end when she is pushing us to realize that we need to change this over-a-century-old servant before it becomes too broken to fix.

w
WendyLC
Jul 01, 2017

When I grew bored with this, I went to read Goodreads reviews and someone there said that what this was was an investigative journalism piece stretched into a book, and bloated with unnecessary stuff to make it book-length, when it should have been the length of the original article it was. I thought "uhuh, that makes sense now." So what that guy said. ;-)

I did come away with a better understanding of why the grid fails more these days than ever before, and why it is likely to fail more often in the future, and why people in Tucson can no longer sell solar electricity back into the grid (I had assumed it was just rich/greedy power executives being rich and greedy, but while it may be partly that, it's more complicated. Not saying they aren't rich and greedy and probably evil and nasty too, just saying that it'd also kill the grid to keep adding home solar arrays to it, and none of us living through 109 degree days as I type this wants that!) I appreciate that knowledge.

In a sense this book is a call to entirely re-imagine and redesign the grid. California has enough electric cars it is able to dump some of the excess into batteries with the cooperation of their owners. More will be done, piecemeal, no doubt. In 50 years The Grid will probably be an entirely different animal. And probably controlled remotely, so we can't put demands on it that it can't handle, meaning you won't set your A/C temperature, a switching authority likely will. I can't wait to hear the screaming about that!

p
pm221
Dec 05, 2016

Absolutely great. I thought I understood all the issues, but this book revealed a number I was not aware of. A very easy read as well.

s
StarGladiator
Jul 25, 2016

This is one hellaciously thorough scholar/researcher - - there will be zero gaps in your knowledge after perusing this book!
Ms. Bakke covers every imaginable facet, and does so in a most superlatively accurate manner.
WARNING: Heavy doses of coffee, or similar energy drinks may be required.

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