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The Land Electrification Forgot

Homes in the Navajo Nation are just now being linked to the grid—more than 80 years after the U.S. made residential electric power a national priority

4 min read
Linemen from Ohio set a pole in the Chinle region of the Navajo Nation.
Grid Work: Linemen from Ohio set a pole in the Chinle region of the Navajo Nation.
Photo: Alysa Landry/American Public Power Association

David Hefner and his crew rumbled toward Arizona in bucket trucks, digger derricks, and vehicles full of materials. The Oklahoma linemen typically drive their fleet to storm-ravaged communities after hurricanes and tornadoes disrupt power for days. But when the team set off in April, it wasn’t to repair battered poles and wires. Instead, they helped bring light to homes left in the dark for generations.

About 60,000 people in the Navajo Nation—a vast swath of high plains and desert in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah—still can’t access the electric grid from their homes. Thousands more lack running water. In recent years, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) has doubled down on efforts to extend power lines, build substations, and provide residents with off-grid renewable energy units. Now, public utilities across the United States are pitching in to accelerate the country’s longest-running rural electrification campaign.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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