America’s electric grid is really good at transporting electricity–and really bad at storing it. This is a challenge for renewable energy sources, which tend to produce at high rates under certain conditions (sunny days for solar, windy days for turbines) and not at others (cloudy or calm days). The grid was designed to be managed in a centralized manner, with generation and transmission intertwined. Since 1996 that has not been legally required, but the informal governance of the system has yet to catch up (p. 21-22).

This is a very good book, one that I plan to re-read in the next year or two. The post-mortem of the 2003 Northeast blackout is worth reading for anyone who has to deal with incident response in complex systems (ch. 5).

A few additional notes:

  • Hawaii has so many home solar panels–around 12 percent–that in 2015 the local utility stopped allowing them to connect to the grid (xxi). Electricity is expensive in Hawaii due to the fact that its generated from oil that comes over on tanker ships.
  • Bakke claims that 60 percent of men employed by our electricity system are within 5 years of retirement (p. 4). Can that be true?
  • American wind farm developers are obliged to use turbines that are small by international standards due to the Wwakness of our grid: if the wind picked up, the wires could not handle it (p. 15).