Modernizing the Grid

February 19, 2010 • Volume 20, Issue 7
Is the electric power system at risk?
By Jennifer Weeks


Work crews restore power on high-voltage transmission lines outside New Orleans (Bloomberg via Getty Images/Rae Morris)
Work crews restore power on high-voltage transmission lines outside New Orleans knocked down by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Obama administration wants to upgrade the nation's century-old power grid, but critics say energy conservation and new power plants closer to population centers are better solutions. (Bloomberg via Getty Images/Rae Morris)

The U.S. electric power grid — the nationwide system of interconnected regional power systems — is a century old and under strain. Long-term power demand has grown steadily since the 1980s, but investments in transmission have lagged behind. Three major blackouts in the past decade have raised concerns about providing electricity reliably. Federal agencies are working with utilities, manufacturers and information technology companies to develop a modernized grid that uses computers to monitor the system. Advocates say this “smart grid” will be able to generate more electricity from renewable fuels and save money for businesses and families. The Obama administration calls the smart grid an urgent priority and is spending billions to help design it. But some experts worry that a digital grid could be vulnerable to cyberattacks or that it will violate consumers' privacy. Others say that promoting energy conservation or building new power plants near population centers would be more effective than building new high-voltage transmission lines.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Public Utilities and Electricity
Feb. 19, 2010  Modernizing the Grid
Jan. 14, 2000  Utility Deregulation
Jan. 17, 1997  Restructuring the Electric Industry
Nov. 20, 1987  Deregulating Electric Power
Aug. 23, 1985  Electricity Supply: Surplus or Shortage?
Mar. 14, 1975  Future of Utilities
Dec. 17, 1969  Electric Power Problems
Jul. 15, 1953  Power Policy
Aug. 04, 1948  Power Shortage
Aug. 04, 1930  Publicly-Owned Power Plants
Jun. 28, 1928  Public Utilities' Propaganda in the Schools
Nov. 12, 1927  Power and Public Utility Issues
Aug. 30, 1926  Rural Electrification in the United States
Jan. 09, 1926  Public Regulation of Electrical Utilities
Electric Power