Wednesday, July 30, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: The vital grid

By
November 10, 2012 |

Some say it’s the most complicated machine we’ve ever built. We rely on it not just each day, but each moment of each day. It reaches into our homes, factories, offices and stores. And at times it’s surprisingly fragile and subject to massive failure.

I’m talking about the electrical grid. We’ve recently seen it tested by Superstorm Sandy.  I’ve been reading up on it in several sources, including in an interesting book appropriately called The Grid by Phillip F. Schewe.

I think of the grid as that miraculous machine that starts with energy sources like coal or water behind a dam and ends up with a highly flexible form of energy that we can use in myriad different ways. We run our heating systems, lights, computers, stoves, washing machines and more on electricity.

Occasionally a downed limb of a tree takes out a power line in a neighborhood. Usually such an event is nothing more than a local and temporary inconvenience. But the complexity of the grid is enormous, and sometimes that complexity has led to cascading series of events from an initial small problem leading to major regional outages. And that’s been the case even without problems like hurricanes.

There are several different examples of major grid outages not related to mega-storms. Their causes and history differ. But a recent one occurred on Aug. 14, 2003. People in eight states and two Canadian provinces were plunged into a world without electricity when the grid failed.

Everyone suffered, some more than others. Some people were stuck in elevators, some in subway trains. It was a hot day in many places, and air conditioners immediately stopped working. Many people in New York City who relied on the mass transit system couldn’t get home – some slept in public parks and the steps of public buildings.

Still, what may be most impressive about the grid is that so often it functions well. That fact, of course, makes it easy to increase our dependence on it.

The story of the grid starts in the Big Apple with Thomas Edison. He was the first person to have a vision of what the grid could be and how much it could mean to our daily lives.

Famous for inventing the light bulb and phonograph, Edison also devoted a great deal of energy to the project of building the first grid. And I do mean building. A consummate inventor, Edison was also of necessity an industrialist. To make the first grid he helped manufacture such things as circuit breakers, fixtures, wiring and conduits.

Edison’s first major power station for the delivery of electricity to diverse customers was in Lower Manhattan on Pearl Street.  On Sept. 4, 1882, Edison threw the switch that activated the Pearl Street system. Juice flowed down the wires from six sets of steam-generators.

Once the switch was thrown, the energy of fossil fuels was converted via steam to electrical energy flowing through Edison’s wires. I would argue that day in 1882 set the stage for the revolution in modern living the nation enjoyed throughout the 20th century and down to our own day. Nothing is as transformative to the daily lives of citizens as a grid bringing electricity into homes, schools and businesses. As we have seen in the aftermath of Sandy, a world without a working grid is radically different from what we’ve come to expect in our daily lives.

Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. 

Comments

comments

E. Kirsten Peters

.

News

 
District 2 candidate statements tell of goals

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1

Sand Fire nears containment: 66 structures destroyed

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Schedule for Highway 50 blasting closures

By News Release | From Page: A3

Tails wagging over dog park approval

By Julie Samrick | From Page: A3

 
Quarter-acre fire in Kelsey

By Rebecca Murphy | From Page: A3

.

Opinion

My Turn: Privatization of public services

By Mark Belden | From Page: A4

 
Policy book

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

 
.

Letters

Large bangs

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 2 Comments

 
Private property gets no respect

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

GDPUD management report

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
District 2 supervisorial special election

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 2 Comments

Piano replaced

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Comments sign-in policy

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Save the Guinea Worm

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
.

Sports

Sierra Sharks finish middle of the pack

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A8

 
Roundup: July 29, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A8

Taz pull through for SSL trophy

By Patty Pope | From Page: A8

 
Ex-Bruin lends a helping hand

By Steven Shaff | From Page: A8 | Gallery

.

Prospecting

Nuns discover a pleasant place

By Lexi Boeger | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Bargains can be found everywhere

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

At a glance: Game time

By Mimi Escabar | From Page: B2

 
Barbecue dinner to benefit Blue Star Moms

By Mount Aukum Winery | From Page: B2

Stagecoach story takes riders on a trip

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: B3

 
Help needed to make cool ties

By Sew 4 | From Page: B3

Stroke and osteoporosis screenings planned

By Life Line Screening | From Page: B3

 
Gold Rush Days activities cancelled this year

By Sacramento Convention And Visitors Center | From Page: B4

Master Food Preservers: Tomato time

By Monique Wilber | From Page: B4

 
Build an author platform at the Library

By El Dorado | From Page: B5

 
Sacramento area museums offer summer fun

By Sacramento Association Of Museums | From Page: B5

.

Essentials

Weather stats 7-29-14

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

 
Building permits 6/2-6/2014

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2Comments are off for this post

Crime Log: July 17

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

Merlyn Wilbur Adams

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Lisa Oliver Rose

By Contributor | From Page: A2

Wallace Murrel Thomas

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
.

Real Estate

.

Comics

.

Women’s Health

Love the skin you’re in

By Noel Stack | From Page: WH4

Dump stress and improve your health, productivity

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: WH7Comments are off for this post

Women’s Health Expo

By Marshall Medical | From Page: WH8

Find the confidence you need to fight back

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: WH12

Our choices directly affect our health

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: WH14

They’re NOT your mother’s hearing devices!

By Marshall Medical | From Page: WH17