Many don’t realize how important the role of the electrical power grid is in our lives. Some believe it influences our sense of well being. Others say it’s a source of protection. One might call it the “critical infrastructure that runs the world”, or perhaps, “the great enabler.” Mostly, it’s important to know the grid is an enormous, complex, and aging system of electricity that runs our livelihood today, sometimes meaning the difference between life and death in certain situations. According to a program from American Public Media’s Burn: An Energy Journal titled “The Switch: America’s electric grid”, electricity is everywhere..and when it isn’t, it’s “big trouble.”
The program covered several grid-related topics, including the effects of hurricane Sandy , life outside the grid, protection under the Department of Defense, and the future “smart grid” system. Guests represented various perspectives of the grid in our daily lives.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer and members of the town of Hoboken, New Jersey, discussed how hurricane Sandy affected them when it caused excessive damage to the town’s grid and access to electricity, shutting down the hospital, fire departments, and ambulances amongst flooding that took weeks to die down. Science reporter and producer for NPR Josh Kurz explained the grid in greater detail (complete with sound effects and a video) calling it the most important engineering feat and discussing how it works now and looking to its “smart” future. Michelle Nijhuis, a National Geographic and Smithsonian reporter, told her story of living off-the-grid in a sun-powered “mud-hut” with her family in Paonia, CO. Members of the power linemen discuss the long and sometimes dangerous work hours they put into providing constant electricity to people in various cities. Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy – the nation’s largest electric company, calls the grid “the great enabler” because of everything it powers in our society. He believes the digital grid system will unfold within the next 20 years, opening up opportunities for a more efficient, cost-effective grid operation. Members of the U.S. Army discuss the release of a new, smart micro grid called the X-camp, onto the battlefield that will save energy and lives. Paul Stockton, former Assistant Secretary of Defense of the grid for the Department of Defense, talks about the Department’s work to protect this “most critical infrastructure of the U.S.” from “cyber attackers.”
To hear the full stories and insights from these guests, check out the podcast on Burn: An Energy Journal.