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Published on September 12th, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer

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US Must Socialize Grid to Add Renewable Energy, Study Finds

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September 12th, 2009 by  

Successfully transitioning the United States to low‐carbon electricity will require an improved

transmission infrastructure. Cities don’t grow where there’s too much wind. The best solar is far from us in our deserts.

We need to build a supergrid like the national highway system we built in the 1930′s. But a new study finds that this might be almost impossible to do in this country. A historical legacy of Balkanized ownership of multiple tiny grids and ineffective regulatory structure has hindered upgrades to and expansion of the U.S. transmission network.

In these political times of political hysteria against any kind of national common good, it will be hard to overcome a legacy that grew out of our rugged individualism.

By contrast, China and Europe have easily added more renewable power, by socializing the grid.

A national grid solves intermittency

An interstate transmission corridor solves wind’s intermittency. The wind is always blowing somewhere. Simultaneous lulls in wind across the country hardly ever happen. So if we connect the sites, if Texas has a sudden lull, then North Dakota can fill in. Long distance interconnection lets unsynchronized peaks and troughs to cancel each other out; stabilizing wind’s contribution to the general grid.

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • George

    I live in India. It is a semi socialist state with flourishing free market. The market there is so big that it allows fair competition (infinite buyers and near infinite sellers). Infinite buyers allow economies of scale too. To top it there is strong regulation. Our banks did not collapse. Our telephone companies offer the cheapest calls on earth. The public sector companies are used as tools to bring down price still nurturing competition. Airlines compete with Indian Railways. Telecom companies compete with state owned BSNL which makes profit. There is no subsidy. There is only one place on earth where there is perfect free market economy (wrongly called capitalism). It is the city fish markets around the world. Random thoughts but point we state players and regulators are necessary environment for market.

  • George

    I live in India. It is a semi socialist state with flourishing free market. The market there is so big that it allows fair competition (infinite buyers and near infinite sellers). Infinite buyers allow economies of scale too. To top it there is strong regulation. Our banks did not collapse. Our telephone companies offer the cheapest calls on earth. The public sector companies are used as tools to bring down price still nurturing competition. Airlines compete with Indian Railways. Telecom companies compete with state owned BSNL which makes profit. There is no subsidy. There is only one place on earth where there is perfect free market economy (wrongly called capitalism). It is the city fish markets around the world. Random thoughts but point we state players and regulators are necessary environment for market.

  • Susan Kraemer

    Nicholas. I was kidding in my title, riffing off the current national furor over any kind of national Common Good right now as some kind of “socialist plot”.

    A national grid infrastructure is no more socialist than national highways, railroads, pipelines, water supply infrastructure, etc.

    As a nation we will grind to a halt without them.

  • Susan Kraemer

    Nicholas. I was kidding in my title, riffing off the current national furor over any kind of national Common Good right now as some kind of “socialist plot”.

    A national grid infrastructure is no more socialist than national highways, railroads, pipelines, water supply infrastructure, etc.

    As a nation we will grind to a halt without them.

  • http://spacehabitat.blogspot.com/ Nicholas

    Aren’t we supposed to be social animals? What’s wrong with Socialism anyway, as long as it doesn’t become abusive and turn into Communism? As a matter of fact it can and shall coexist in harmony with Capitalism, as the inevitable two sides of the same coin.

  • http://spacehabitat.blogspot.com/ Nicholas

    Aren’t we supposed to be social animals? What’s wrong with Socialism anyway, as long as it doesn’t become abusive and turn into Communism? As a matter of fact it can and shall coexist in harmony with Capitalism, as the inevitable two sides of the same coin.

  • Susan Kraemer

    Inquisitive – incredibly long pdf source for this story is the link at end of story – should have some more detail on China, UK.

    Hope we do find a solution here.

  • Susan Kraemer

    Inquisitive – incredibly long pdf source for this story is the link at end of story – should have some more detail on China, UK.

    Hope we do find a solution here.

  • Inquisitive

    Thanks Susan,

    an interesting article. Links to further reading on how the UK and China accomplished their changes would be most useful.

    Also, I wonder whether — as an interim step before nationalization, and in a bow to property rights and profit motives — the Government might change its accounting rules to re-allow Pooling-of-Interest accounting treatments for mergers in the energy transmission sector? This change (and some others) would likely go a long way toward promoting mergers among transmission providers. In this way, the government could end up with a much reduced number of players, making any future regulation/cooperation/nationalization easier. It might eliminate a source of tax revenue for the government on the mergers, but so what — what it really wants is the creation of fewer, merged entities, not more tax revenue.

    Just a thought

  • Inquisitive

    Thanks Susan,

    an interesting article. Links to further reading on how the UK and China accomplished their changes would be most useful.

    Also, I wonder whether — as an interim step before nationalization, and in a bow to property rights and profit motives — the Government might change its accounting rules to re-allow Pooling-of-Interest accounting treatments for mergers in the energy transmission sector? This change (and some others) would likely go a long way toward promoting mergers among transmission providers. In this way, the government could end up with a much reduced number of players, making any future regulation/cooperation/nationalization easier. It might eliminate a source of tax revenue for the government on the mergers, but so what — what it really wants is the creation of fewer, merged entities, not more tax revenue.

    Just a thought

  • Susan Kraemer

    National pipelines for oil and gas and national highways already “trampled the right of individuals,” when they were laid. Property was bought out. Yet you now benefit, as I do, from being able to drive across country, Mr Sinister.

    Ben – you nailed it. So this is a huge problem.

  • Susan Kraemer

    National pipelines for oil and gas and national highways already “trampled the right of individuals,” when they were laid. Property was bought out. Yet you now benefit, as I do, from being able to drive across country, Mr Sinister.

    Ben – you nailed it. So this is a huge problem.

  • Mr. Sinister

    So, I suppose the rights of property owners should be trampled in the interest of the common good? I suppose small regional electrical co-ops should be smothered and absorbed into the national super-grid if they don’t play ball? I suppose the ‘rugged individualism’ that built this nation should be cast aside now that we’re so much more enlightened than our predecessors?

    If you’re so hungry for socialism, why not pick up stakes and move to Europe … they’re well on the way. Personally, I prefer a nation where the rights of the individual are equally as important as the rights of the crowd. The protections that you see as limiting progress, I see as preventing government abuse. It’s easy for you to sit back and say that we should socialize the transmission grid for the common good because you don’t stand to lose anything. Someday, though, when it’s your own rights or property that are being threatened, perhaps you’ll feel differently about government intrusion.

  • Mr. Sinister

    So, I suppose the rights of property owners should be trampled in the interest of the common good? I suppose small regional electrical co-ops should be smothered and absorbed into the national super-grid if they don’t play ball? I suppose the ‘rugged individualism’ that built this nation should be cast aside now that we’re so much more enlightened than our predecessors?

    If you’re so hungry for socialism, why not pick up stakes and move to Europe … they’re well on the way. Personally, I prefer a nation where the rights of the individual are equally as important as the rights of the crowd. The protections that you see as limiting progress, I see as preventing government abuse. It’s easy for you to sit back and say that we should socialize the transmission grid for the common good because you don’t stand to lose anything. Someday, though, when it’s your own rights or property that are being threatened, perhaps you’ll feel differently about government intrusion.

  • Ben

    Well written article. Thank you.

    Poor Obama is already being labeled as a socialist, this could be tough sell for him.

  • Ben

    Well written article. Thank you.

    Poor Obama is already being labeled as a socialist, this could be tough sell for him.

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