Protecting The Big Easy From The Next Big One

U.S. Army engineers face New Orleans dilemma

6 min read

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has its work cut out for it. The corps holds the primary responsibility for the const0ruction, maintenance, and operational supervision of the New Orleans levee system. After Hurricane Katrina, Congress told the corps to restore the system to at least pre-Katrina levels, and to get that job done fast. In the middle of last year the corps reported back that the ­mission was largely accomplished [see photo, ”Restoration”].

But now comes the hard part. Congress has told the corps that its next task is to build up the New Orleans hurricane protection system to shield the city from all but a 100-year storm—a hurricane of a ferocity that would be expected, statistically, to occur only once in a century. Congress has authorized the corps to spend US $5.7 billion to restore the system and achieve 100-year protection, giving it until 2010 to finish.

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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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