Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Will Hurricane Irene leave behind a better power grid?

As Hurricane Irene ravaged the East Coast last weekend, one was left wondering just how country’s aging electric infrastructure was handling the fallen trees, downed power lines, and blown-out transformers. In the end, as many as 5.48 million homes and businesses were left without power in the wake of this massive storm. As companies work to restore power, will they be able to improve the grid?

Christine Tezac is a Senior Energy and Environmental Policy Analyst for Baird. She spoke with CNBC on Sunday. According to Tezac, there could be a stimulative effect to rebuilding the damaged parts of the 50-year-old grid. It will “provide an opportunity to put in more advanced, digital transformers and to string new lines. It certainly provides the opportunity to increase the automation and digitization on the distribution system.”

While Tezac praises the grid for doing as well as it did, she points out that real improvements such as underground power lines are still unattainable. In the current economic climate, substantial improvements cannot be made if no one will pay for them. As Tezac concludes, “At the end of the day we can continue to make incremental improvements but nobody is willing to write a check for a gold-plated system starting today.” You can see Tezac’s full interview here.

Will Americans ever get a new grid, or for that matter, a smart grid? The government’s smart grid program is developing a network of transmission lines, equipment and new technologies to meet energy demands. Treehugger points out that this allows for “real-time feedback to optimize energy efficiency and minimize both the resulting monthly energy bill as well as the need for additional power plants.” 

President Barack Obama has pushed for the creation of a national smart grid. Southern California Edison has made moves towards a Smart Grid, but points out that "it will be a twenty year journey" toward achieveing it. 

And movements to improve our energy grid have slowed. While countries like China surge ahead with improving to their infrastructure, one expert notes that our “relatively weak federal policy power (as compared with the power of state public utility commissions, in [China’s] case) and the huge number of utility companies in the U.S. combine to make developing a coherent smart grid strategy daunting.” It seems that educating people and improving policy may be the first step in reshaping our energy grids.

When Obama proposed a smart grid, he stated it would be “more secure and more reliable, saving us some of the $150 billion we lose each year during power outages.” While American’s don’t want to pay for new grid to improve energy efficiency, it is noteworthy to point out that we will continue to pay for it anyway through less-efficient systems.

Image: madame_furie/Flickr