Will the U.S. Finally Get a Unified Power Grid?

The long-delayed Tres Amigas superstation would help move up to 20 gigawatts of electricity around the continent

4 min read
Illustration: Elias Stein
Illustration: Elias Stein

It is a decades-old dream: a single, vast North American electric grid, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Mexico to the Arctic Circle. Such a continent-wide supergrid would let officials transmit the tens of gigawatts of wind-generated power from the Great Plains to cities on both coasts. It would let Pacific Northwest hydropower flow to Chicago and let Texas wind power find its way to Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Montana. The benefits, measured in financial and reliability terms, would be fantastic. And yet despite many studies and even several attempts to create such a grid, it has never been achieved. The technology and the political will have been lacking.

In 2016, though, engineers will make a major stride in the former. An ambitious project known as Tres Amigas, eight years in the making, is finally getting under way. Eventually it will link the three largest North American grids: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Texas Interconnection, which together cover the lower 48 states plus 8 Canadian provinces. Tres Amigas, located in eastern New Mexico, where the three grids converge, will be a transmission “superstation,” able to transfer up to 20 gigawatts of electricity in almost any direction.

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2022—The Year the Hydrogen Economy Launched?

The Inflation Reduction Act and the war in Ukraine pump billions into clean hydrogen R&D

5 min read
A man in a blue lab coat looks at equipment in a lab

A technician at Plug Power in Concord, Mass., secures a connector before a test of a hydrogen electrolyzer on July 5, 2022.

Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Among the technological visions that seem perpetually futuristic (think commercial nuclear fusion and maglev trains), the hydrogen economy has always been tantalizing. Hydrogen produced from renewable energy or nuclear power, with minimal greenhouse-gas emissions, could be piped or transported pretty much anywhere, using mostly existing infrastructure. It could power trucks, cars, planes, and ships and generate electricity, either in fuel cells or combustion turbines. In short, it could do anything fossil fuels do now, but with substantially reduced climate impact.

Now, after decades of false starts and overly optimistic projections, several factors are giving an unprecedented lift to clean hydrogen. In the United States, sweeping legislation capped a series of moves by the country’s Department of Energy (DOE) over the past year to drive down the cost of low-carbon hydrogen and stimulate demand for the fuel. And in Europe, a looming fossil-fuel crisis has sent officials scrambling to find alternatives to the 155 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas that EU countries imported in 2021.

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The founder of Boston Dynamics talks with us about the new $400 million research institute

12 min read
Marc Raibert, an older white man with a bald head and a short white beard and glasses, gestures as he speaks on a stage. He is wearing formal pants and a flower-print short sleeve shirt.

Marc Raibert, founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics, speaks at a Hyundai Motor Group news conference during CES 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Steve Marcus/Reuters/Alamy

Last week, Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics announced an initial investment of over $400 million to launch the new Boston Dynamics AI Institute. The Institute was conceptualized by (and will be led by) Marc Raibert, the founder of Boston Dynamics, with the goal of “solving the most important and difficult challenges facing the creation of advanced robots.” That sounds hugely promising, but of course we had questions—namely, what are those challenges, how is this new institute going to solve them, and what are these to-be-created advanced robots actually going to do? And fortunately, IEEE Spectrum was able to speak with Marc Raibert himself to get a better understanding of what the Institute will be all about.

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A Multiphysics Approach to Designing Fuel Cells for Electric Vehicles

White paper on fuel cell modeling and simulation

1 min read
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Comsol

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) often reach higher energy density and exhibit greater efficiency than battery EVs; however, they also have high manufacturing costs, limited service life, and relatively low power density.

Modeling and simulation can improve fuel cell design and optimize EV performance. Learn more in this white paper.