News Archives: June 2011
THE moment I realized that driving the new Chevrolet Volt was fundamentally a new experience was not when I first turned it on and went around the block. Yes, it was whisper-quiet, powered by its 16 kilowatt-hour, 400-pound battery, but it still felt like a “normal” automobile. And it wasn’t when I drove the 100 or so miles from Manhattan to Southampton, N.Y., either. Although the battery’s range is only about 40 miles, the car kept going even after the battery was drained; it just switched to its gasoline engine, in a transition so seamless I barely noticed it. It wasn’t even when I arrived in Southampton that evening and plugged a special cord into an electrical outlet in the garage, to recharge the battery overnight.
No, what made the experience truly different — and what got me thinking about the Volt’s potential to change the way we think about gas consumption — was what happened after that.
eremy Pettet is saving 18 percent on his electric bill because he used a Chicago-based website, Power2Switch, to find a ComEd competitor offering cheaper rates.
Pettet, whose electric bill averages $51 a month, would have saved $109.80 off of his total $610 in 2010 power bills had he had the alternative provider the entire year. He switched to the new electricity provider in February of this year.
Since long before the dawn of the “information age,” people have separated information that is safe to share from information that is private. Firewalls, virus protection software and message encryption tools are the vault doors, secret police and ciphers of their time.
When we think of cyber security, some people focus on ensuring the confidentiality of our information first, but computer systems do more than store and share information. They help control our traffic lights, trains and specifically, our electric grid — tasks for which continuous function is the primary concern. Protecting control systems on the grid from cyber attack requires a completely different approach to cyber security than information technology systems.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan is right to oppose the “smart grid” legislation recently passed by the General Assembly (“An experiment too expensive for consumers; A smart risk — for ComEd,” Commentary, June 21). But she is wrong about this new technology, which does far more than enable consumers to monitor their electricity usage.
If done right, a smart grid also could increase the reliability of the electricity grid in a variety of ways, tell the electric company when and where there’s a power outage, and improve the security and efficient operation of the system without any action by consumers at all. Smart-grid technology facilitates integration of small-scale resources like wind and solar power, and it allows electric vehicles to connect to the grid and charge when power is cheapest. It can reduce harmful emissions from fossil fuels as well as make Illinois more attractive to high-tech businesses that need better power quality.
Obama Administration releases: A POLICY FRAMEWORK FOR THE 21st CENTURY GRID: Enabling Our Secure Energy Future
A smarter, modernized, and expanded grid will be pivotal to the United States’ world leadership in a clean energy future. This policy framework focuses on the deployment of information and communications technologies in the electricity sector. As they are developed and deployed, these smart grid technologies and applications will bring new capabilities to utilities and their customers. In tandem with the development and deployment of high-capacity transmission lines, which is a topic beyond the scope of this report, smart grid technologies will play an important role in supporting the increased use of clean energy.
A 21st century clean energy economy demands a 21st century grid. Much of the traditional electricity infrastructure has changed little from the original design and form of the electric grid as envisioned by Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse at the end of the 19th century (EEI 2011, p. 6). In a 21st century grid, smart grid technologies will help integrate more variable renewable sources of electricity, including both utility scale generation systems such as large wind turbines and distributed generation systems such as rooftop solar panels, in addition to facilitating the greater use of electric vehicles and energy storage. Moreover, such technologies will help enable utilities to manage stresses on the grid, such as peak demand, and pass savings on to consumers as a result.
There is no shortage of field guides to the greatest driving roads in the United States, where switchbacks, curves and corkscrews test the mettle of wannabe Earnhardts. High-riding trail raiders can reference a wealth of catalogs and online forums for remote routes guaranteed to crack teeth and shred oil pans.
The International Parking Institute, a trade organization based in Fredericksburg, Va., is an authoritative source for tamer vehicular pursuits.
On Tuesday, the institute recognized some of America’s best places to park, announcing the winners of its 2011 Awards of Excellence competition.
Among the honored parking facilities was the Greenway Self Park in the River North neighborhood of Chicago. The facility, which was singled out for architectural achievement and design, was attractive, fully automated and designed for sustainability, the institute noted. The parking structure features charge ports for electric vehicles, music videos to help remind motorists where their cars are parked, and recycling systems for water and power.
It’s almost enough to make a driver set a course to Chicago — and park.
ComEd wants to rewire Illinois in two important ways. First, it wants to upgrade its power system, which has a century-old design, into a “smart grid” that uses new technology to increase efficiency. Second, it wants to revise the century-old way that Illinois regulates electricity bills.
Everyone agrees that a smart grid is the wave of the future. It’s the second part of a bill passed by the General Assembly late last month — the part that would change the regulatory process — that troubles ComEd’s critics. Gov. Pat Quinn has threatened to veto the bill, saying it does too little to protect ComEd ratepayers from unnecessarily high electric bills down the road.
If Quinn does reject the bill, which already reflects a good deal of last-minute compromise on ComEd’s part, we urge him to do so with an amendatory veto that resolves the remaining issues in dispute. Protecting ratepayers shouldn’t come at the cost of missing out on a digital-era upgrade that could benefit consumers and businesses by making the entire electrical grid more efficient.
As the US economy slowly rebuilds and the smoke from four years of charred capital starts to dissipate, we can discern the shape of the next 20 years of job growth. What we see is an economy unlike any we’ve ever known.
The recovery needs to be revolutionary, because our most recent financial meltdown laid bare a fundamental change in the US economy. Since sometime in the 1970s—economists generally agree on the trend, if not the exact date—the US has been increasingly divided into two groups: those whose economic fortunes grow and those whose wages stay stagnant. This divide has many potential causes, including the rise in global trade, technological advances, the decline in unions, and slowing growth in education. But the full impact of these shifts was long masked, first by the stock market bubble and then by a massive credit and housing bubble, which flooded the economy with money we hadn’t really earned. For nearly 20 years we felt richer than we were.
Now, as the economy slowly rebounds, it is doing more than just gaining jobs. By looking closely at data from both government and academic sources, we can see the gradual emergence of a whole new category of middle-class jobs: a realm of work that (given time and luck) could begin to close the chasm in American employment. These new middle-class jobs are what you might call smart jobs. They’re innovative and high tech, but most of them are located far from Silicon Valley or New York. They’re specialized, but that doesn’t mean you need a PhD or even (in some cases) a college degree to get them or to do them well—though they do require some serious training, whether on the job or in a vocational program.
Ground has been broken for a $95 million Energy Sciences Building on the campus of Argonne National Laboratory near Lemont.
The Herald-News reports that U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Energy Secretary Steven Chu attended the Friday groundbreaking. Durbin said we need to “invest in science and innovation” so the U.S. can remain a world leader.
Durbin says the new facility will let hundreds of “the best minds” in the U.S. meet to lead energy research. Chu says the building will help in the development of energy alternatives, like cheaper battery-operated vehicles.