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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Minor Storms in Florida lead to "massive power outage"

Florida's highways resemble scenes from the movie "Live Free or Die Hard"

From CNN:

The outage struck shortly after 1 p.m. ET. A strong cold front and scattered thunderstorms moved through the region, including one that prompted a tornado warning for Fort Lauderdale, the National Weather Service reported.

If thunderstorms in Florida can wipe out power for millions of residents and businesses, what would happen if our electricity grid came under a terrorist attack? Isn't it scary that the US economy could get shut down in the blink of an eye if a few key targets were hit?

One of the reasons we have so many problems with our grid is that it has not kept up with the trends of other technologies, such as processing and computing power. Unlike computers today, which used to be centralized, power generation has failed to move towards a more distributed model. Some have put faith in huge batteries and generators for the solutions to our grid's woes, but to me thats not really a fix. My solution for this mess is very similar to something that was invented almost 100 years ago - detachment from the grid. Back in the early 20th century, famous inventor Thomas Edison's house actually ran on a gasoline generator that stored excess or unused electricity in a number of batteries for later use. Edison dubbed this invention the "Edison Twentieth Century Suburban Residence" and a report on it can be found in this 1912 New York Times edition. Unfortunately, sabotage ended Edison's dream of off grid power generation and storage, and also his campaign of electric vehicles against the internal combustion engine.

Today, there are options for homeowners who no longer wish to be slaves to our nation's electricity grid, which seems to be on its last legs. Companies like GridPoint offer appliances for both homes and businesses that work with renewable power sources such as solar and your connection to your utility to bring you a failsafe storage device for powering your home or business. Gridpoint's home storage solution won the endorsement by clean energy advocate and former CIA director James Woolsey, whom I met here in Pittsburgh last month. Mr. Woolsey, who is also an adviser to Gridpoint, told me he had recently purchased a system for his home in suburban DC and was very pleased with the decision as it holds promise to un-tethering all Americans from the grid. Almost 100 years after his invention of the off-grid residence, this would be an accomplishment would Mr. Edison, probably the earliest advocate of energy Independence, could be proud of.


Jason said...

I have a question for you - is it even legal in PA, Allegheny county or the city of pittsburgh to actually be off the grid?

I have read some accounts where people have tried to leave the grid and the government has forced them back on...

Schultz said...

Thats an interesting question and I do not have the answer, but I have not heard that it was illegal to not be in the grid - but leaving the grid once you are on it - that could be an issue. This seems like it could be a constitutional issue -doesn't it?

If I was able to afford solar panels and a gridpoint system I would stay on the grid with the hopes that I would be able to sell any unused electricity generated from the solar panels back to Duquesne Light. In most states and in PA, the utilities are required to purchase unused electricity from me at a flat rate.

Jason said...

I will need to look around for the article I was reading. The guy just kept fighting the local utility to become compeletely removed from the grid. The part that stuck with me was when he was arrested for cutting down the power pole at the end of his road...on his property.

So have you done anything to your house? I just got off the phone with equitable gas and I am ready to be completely off the grid. But I would be interested in learning more about the net metering.

Jason said...

Now I remember why I am not an academic...I blended a few stories into one source. Here is a post gazette article about a man cutting guy wires. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06148/693838-58.stm

Schultz said...

That guy may be my new hero! He's on my short list of local celebrities that I have to meet.

I haven't had the money to invest in solar yet but my first solar purchase is probably going to be a portable folding solar panel that I can use to charge my phone and batteries. This way if I have have to disappear into the backwoods I can still read my blogs. :)