The Unruly Grid: One Year Later

Have the proper corrective actions in fact been taken?

3 min read

A year after the U.S. electricity blackout of 14 August 2003, the lights are back on and everything seems to be humming along smoothly, at least as of this writing in early July. But have the proper corrective actions in fact been taken? The blackout certainly seemed a wake-up call at the time, affecting a record 61 800 megawatts and costing consumers an estimated US $7 billion. Even more troubling, it came in the wake of the widespread U.S. power outages in 1999 and the two big western U.S. outages in 1996.

Altogether, there have been 130 significant blackouts since 1999 alone, by the U.S. Department of Energy's reckoning. And that's not counting the California electricity trading crisis of 2000-2001.

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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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