Crumbling Infrastructure and Red Tape Are Putting Our Power Grids in Danger
Winter weather is ripping across the U.S. And our aging power infrastructure may not be able to handle it for much longer.
Even if we were able to hold onto the power grid we’ve got today, we have a growing population. That means that those grids could buckle under the strain regardless.
I first heard about this issue back in 2013 at a Discover Unconventional Gas conference in San Antonio, Texas. This was a conference dedicated to the shale revolution gripping the oil industry.
I was in the audience, listening to a pipeline company CEO discuss the challenges of moving natural gas from fields to consumers.
He told us that it was easier to build 30 miles of undersea pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico than a mile of pipeline in the northeastern U.S.
The problem, he said, was red tape.
In the Gulf of Mexico, all he had to deal with was technical issues. There was only one governing body, so once the permit was in-hand, he could roll. But in the Northeast, there are dozens of agencies, municipalities, and governments that must be consulted. His conclusion was that growing natural gas distribution up there would be nearly impossible.
That’s a huge problem because natural gas is the dominant fuel for power generation today. And as I said, the population in that area is growing. If we can’t increase the volumes to the Northeast, then we need a different way to bring electricity to the region.
If we can’t, we’ll be looking at widespread rolling blackouts.
But Wait, What Are Rolling Blackouts?
According to the industry news site, Just Energy, rolling blackouts are emergency procedures used “to balance the power supply in a specific region.”
I didn’t understand what that meant, either… so I did some more digging.
I always thought power grids were just like pipelines, but for electricity.
But there is a lot more to them. And they are much more delicate than pipes.
To get nerdy for a moment: We use alternating current (AC) to power our grids. And that current has a frequency (called hertz). We maintain that frequency at a specific rate.
If we add demand or cut supply, that frequency falls. And power grids are incredibly sensitive to those changes. Dropping frequency can physically damage the equipment used to move power around the grid. That can lead to a total failure of the grid.
The most publicized rolling blackouts recently were in February 2021 in Texas.
A cold snap there shut down the power supply and ramped up demand. That combination caused the frequency to fall dramatically. The cold snap froze equipment and pipelines.
The issue in Texas wasn’t unique.
As we said earlier, this is a problem across the U.S. Old power plants are closing. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), almost a quarter of the remaining coal plants will be shut down by 2030.
If natural gas companies can’t build new pipes in populated areas, the best way to replace power is from a new nuclear plant… and that’s a long shot. Short of that, the grids need other forms of power – things like wind and solar.
This is a massive change in the sources of electric power at a time when everything we use is going electric. Cars, trucks, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and even boats all need electricity.
We would be crazy to not invest in the companies fixing this problem – keep an eye out for wind and solar projects revolutionizing our grids in 2023.
For The Good,
P.S. This was taken from the January issue of New Energy, where we recommended readers add a tiny wind-power company that is raking in the cash. It’s building up base-load power in the Northeast, and its business fundamentals are strong and growing.
Numbers to Know
The U.S. electric grid contains more than 642,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and roughly 6.3 million miles of local distribution lines. (energy.gov)
The annual amount of kilowatthours (kWh) generated at utility-scale electricity generation facilities in the United States. (eia.gov)
The average annual kilowatthours (kWh) consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer.
What’s New in Sustainable Investing
HSBC has halted funding for new fossil fuel projects. The bank will continue to provide support to maintain existing infrastructure. But it will accelerate activities to support clean energy deployment. (HSBC)
There was a lot of pressure on the viability of sustainable investing in 2022. The number-one threat is the rise of anti “ESG” sentiment. (Morningstar)
Video Of The Week
The Power Grid with John Oliver
John Oliver discusses the current state of the nation’s power grid, why it needs fixing, and, of course, Coloso, casseroles and fun balloons.
Warning: May be a bad word here or there