The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

How the Free Market Rocked the Grid

It led to higher rates and rolling blackouts, but it also opened the door to greener forms of electricity generation

12 min read
Opening photo for this feature article.
img Photos, Clockwise from top left: David McNew/Getty Images; Mike Theiler/AFP/Getty Images; Joe Jaszewski/Liaison/Getty Images; Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images

imgCalifornia Screamin’: Los Angeles protesters (top left) show their anger over electricity shortages in June 2001. California Senator Barbara Boxer (top right) uses a chart to show wholesale electricity costs climbing in 2000 and 2001 and the suspicious timing of stock sales by Enron Corp.’s CEO, the late Kenneth Lay. California Governor Gray Davis (bottom left) wipes his brow after testifying to congress in the summer of 2001 about the energy crisis his state was then facing. A worker monitoring California’s power system (bottom right) shows his consternation two days before Gray Davis declares a state of emergency in January 2001.Photos, Clockwise from top left: David McNew/Getty Images; Mike Theiler/AFP/Getty Images; Joe Jaszewski/Liaison/Getty Images; Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images

Most of us take for granted that the lights will work when we flip them on, without worrying too much about the staggeringly complex things needed to make that happen. Thank the engineers who designed and built the power grids for that—but don’t thank them too much. Their main goal was reliability; keeping the cost of electricity down was less of a concern. That’s in part why so many people in the United States complain about high electricity prices. Some armchair economists (and a quite a few real ones) have long argued that the solution is deregulation. After all, many other U.S. industries have been deregulated—take, for instance, oil, natural gas, or trucking—and greater competition in those sectors swiftly brought prices down. Why not electricity?

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

The EV Transition Explained: Charger Infrastructure

How many, where, and who pays?

7 min read
Illuminated electric vehicle charging stations at night in Monterey Park, California.

Electric vehicle charging stations in Monterey Park, California.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

The ability to conveniently charge an EV away from home is a top concern for many EV owners. A 2022 survey of EV owners by Forbes indicates that 62 percent of respondents are so anxious about their EV range that travel plans have been affected. While “range anxiety” may be overblown, the need for an extensive and reliable external charging infrastructure is not.

Infrastructure terminology can itself be confusing. For clarity, bear in mind that a charging station is a specific physical location which has one or more charging posts. A charging post itself may have one or more ports, where each port can charge a single EV. Each post may have multiple types of service connectors to support different EV charging connector standards. And a port may supply varying power levels.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":[]}

Video Friday: Humanoid Soccer

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
Humans and human-size humanoid robots stand together on an indoor soccer field at the beginning of a game

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ICRA 2023: 29 May–2 June 2023, LONDON

Enjoy today’s videos!

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Modeling and simulation in Simulink and Simscape

1 min read
Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Design and simulate a fuel cell system for electric mobility. See by example how Simulink® and Simscape™ support multidomain physical modeling and simulation of fuel cell systems including thermal, gas, and liquid systems. Learn how to select levels of modeling fidelities to meet your needs at different development stages.