Texas discovered just how disruptive a power grid failure can be in the winter of 2021. Due to lack of proper winterization of the gas-powered electric plants, and an unusually cold winter storm, the grid could not produce and deliver enough power to keep everyone warm. This caused a lack of power to millions of homes that made everyone acutely aware of how much we rely on 1)electricity, and 2)the internet.
People couldn’t work, cook, buy gas from gas pumps, heat their homes, use their WIFI, water pipes froze and broke, and people died, all because of a lack of electricity. The Texas economy was frozen and the damage was somewhere around $100 billion in direct and indirect costs. The great freeze was a handy illustration for those who want funding to modernize the electric grid into a ‘smart grid’.
What is the Smart Grid ?
The short answer: A smart grid is a remodeled electrical power system that is configured so that the electrical lines are connected to computers and millions of sensors on devices that will tell those computers how much electricity is being used and by whom. The people and AI monitoring the grid will also be able to reroute and stop the flow of electricity when needed.
The smart grid is, according to http://www.smartgrid.gov, “millions of pieces and parts—controls, computers, power lines, and new technologies and equipment” that will “bring the same kind of transformation that the Internet has already brought to the way we live, work, play, and learn.”
What exactly is it though? Not surprisingly, when I researched this simple question, I found many sites that tell us that we need a smart grid and how wonderful it will be. The websites I found used technical language or marketing that obscures other reasons for building it and the loss of privacy and personal freedom that will come from modernization/digitization of the electric grid. To find answers, I had to do a lot of digging.
Reasons given for building a smart grid include that America’s current grid is getting old and can’t handle the demands of our growing population and has been failing to deliver power more often in recent years. Another major reason is the plan to phase out gas-powered electric plants as they age and replace them with renewable sources. Doing this will require a whole revamping of the grid.
Solar and wind sources will be connected to the smart grid as they are built. “Mini-grids’ will bring renewable power to areas without electricity, and the smart grid will ‘decentralize‘ energy, according to many articles. But before the grid’s benefits can be proven, renewable energy infrastructure must be put into place to produce the power. This means building more solar panels, more windmills, hydroelectric power plants, and power storage facilities.
Energy and Geopolitics
While climate change is often given as a reason for the need for the expensive and disruptive energy transition from oil to renewables, there is another reason: geopolitics. The race to modernize the electric grid is actually a strategic imperative if the West is to maintain it’s economic dominance over China and Russia.
Having enough electricity is necessary for modern living. Of course there are many people in the world without either electricity or internet at their homes. And the smart grid builders want to fix that problem as well because people with electricity and the internet will eventually become part of the global economic machine. There is a race to make sure that ‘democratic’ nations control the global economy and security.
The struggle for geopolitical dominance never stops. “Democratic” nations are those that share the wealth and power amongst their citizens more freely than others. These governments and organizations are working to create geopolitical stability by improving the living conditions and the economic opportunities of the poor in developing nations.
This work benefits the U.S. by creating good will and new consumers, while also solidifying our own position as top world power. Poverty creates suffering and an opportunity for bad actors to build their own power by starting revolutions. Even though our country has it’s issues, it has managed to prevent a revolution by social welfare programs. Peace is good for everyone.
The price of progress
Since the industrial revolution, new inventions and innovations have been changing the lives of human beings. With each one there is almost always the loss of the old way of doing things. In the beginning this seems like a good tradeoff.
When it comes to electricity, I think most of us much prefer flipping a light switch or turning on the heater to lighting an oil lamp or building a fire for light and heat. But eventually every new technology reveals it’s bad side. For example, we are now very dependent on electricity. And the many gadgets we use that need electricity can be expensive. And there is the environmental damage involved in producing electricity and gadgets. And there are many diseases related to modern lifestyles. But I don’t think any of us want to go back to life without electricity.
But are we willing to live without two things that will come along with the next evolution of electricity, privacy and, eventually, freedom? The smart grid will require the use of millions of data-collecting sensor-embedded devices that send live data that is then acted on by AI-controlled computer systems. All of these smart devices that enable the smart grid will collect personal data from the user including our location and other information we may prefer to keep private, privacy policies notwithstanding.
Turn off your air conditioner!
In addition, although we are being told that the smart grid will help the consumer control their spending and save money on electricity, I believe this is like telling someone that you can control your food costs by eating less. Sure, you might be able to cut back a little on snacks, but you need a certain amount of food to live. And with electricity, they are claiming we can ‘choose’ to reduce our energy usage at peak times to save money. Um, there are peak times for a reason! Those are the times that people NEED electricity. Yes, you might be able to reschedule some laundry for the evening, but if everyone does that, won’t that change the peak time to evening? I’m not buying this supposed ‘benefit’ of a smart grid.
The reality is that currently most customers are paying a flat rate for electricity and according to energy providers they are the ones losing money under this rate plan. The smart grid will allow variable rates that mean they can charge MORE during peak times.
As for freedom, eventually the grid will be controlled by the government, directly or indirectly, by regulations and the implementation of personal carbon credits. People will be allotted so many credits and then you’re done. Like data on your phone. Sorry, you’re out of electricity for the month! Unless of course you can afford to pay more.
And the two-way flow of information that will be needed for the smart grid will be able to make usage decisions for you, like it or not. This kind of control may be years in the future, but it will come, just like water flow restricting toilets and catalytic converters.
Biden’s Smart Grid Funding
Since Obama was in office, Joe Biden has been pushing for a smart grid.
April 16, 2009
Vice President Biden Outlines Funding for Smart Grid Initiativeshttps://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/realitycheck/the-press-office/vice-president-biden-outlines-funding-smart-grid-initiatives
Announces plans for nearly $4 billion in technology deployment, monitoring and viability
Based on my research, much of that grant money went to installing smart meters (AMI) in homes to remotely and more accurately monitor electricity usage. Some electric providers also used the funds for distribution automation technology and demand response technology. I would love to see how many jobs were actually created with that $4 billion and which companies profited most.
Now that Biden is President, he continues to implement Obama’s agenda, including the smart grid development. His Infrastructure plan includes $2.3 billion in grants to modernize the grid. Hopefully they will spend it on actually providing more energy, not just more meters.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today opened the application period for States, Tribal nations, and territories to apply for the $2.3 billion formula grant program designed to strengthen and modernize America’s power grid against wildfires, extreme weather, and other natural disasters exacerbated by the climate crisis. The Preventing Outages and Enhancing the Resilience of the Electric Grid program is established by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and administered through DOE’s new Building a Better Grid Initiativehttps://www.energy.gov/articles/biden-administration-announces-23-billion-states-and-tribes-strengthen-and-modernize
Increasing numbers of liberals think everything, including electricity, is a ‘human right’ these days that should be provide by ‘the government’. The problem with labeling anything as a human right is that someone still has to pay for it and building power plants and grids is very expensive. But eventually the free market will find a way to provide electricity, for a price, to the whole world. But while Democrats are in power we should expect to see more taxpayer money going to businesses, especially any business even remotely connected to the climate agenda.
This article written in 2015 explains many of the issues that make grid modernization difficult. Since it was written, our current grid has become even less reliable. Basically the democrats have made the decision that since energy companies are not willing to foot the bill for the upgrades, the government will have to do it. However, sometimes they want to spend money on renewables, but political obstacles prevent projects from moving forward.
If we can’t cooperate on this issue that is supposedly central to America’s stability as a nation and world power, we may be in big trouble soon.
Electricity was an interesting subject to investigate. I learned a lot about something I have always just taken for granted. My opinion is that we need reliable electricity and we as consumers are going to take what we get. Oil and gas will continue to be energy sources far into the future. But having additional options may lower energy costs. I still don’t trust the government or smart devices, but what can you do? In the meantime, check your electric bill to see what you are paying per kwh. If you are paying more than .14 cents per kwh, you are getting robbed. I was shocked at the prices some people are paying in the Houston area.
What do you think?
How much are you paying for electricity? What do you think is the real goal of smart grids? Are you concerned about privacy and control? Is electricity a public good? Should energy be nationalized? Are we doomed?