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Clean energy challenges: the power grid and renewable energy infrastructure

The electrical power grid is an interconnected network of national, state and regional infrastructure for generating, transmitting, distributing and delivering electricity from suppliers to customers.Photo from from

In recent years, we have all become familiar with power outages, which questions the reliability of the existing electricity grid. Blackouts are experienced in different regions, affecting residents, businesses, and daily life. Due to the storm on Tuesday, October 14, 2009, with heavy winds and rain, more than 35,000 customers were without power in the Bay Area.

Along with concerns to the function of the current aged electricity network - with the growing demand of government, businesses, industries, manufacturing and residents for renewable energy sources - power grids need to be upgraded to include a diverse portfolio of power generation systems, as well as distribute and supply power from different geographical areas in the U.S.

Renewable energy generation includes hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind, wave and biomass resources.

Power companies like Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), have been gradually increasing their portfolios of clean energy sources, i.e., renewable energy sources, to benefit customers. PG&E states that renewable resources continue to play a critical role in their commitment to provide the customers with reliable, clean, environmentally preferred energy.

The economic stimulus bill passed in February 2009 allocated $11 billion to upgrade the current nation’s outdated and unprepared power infrastructure.

Maps are available to view the current electric grid, power plants, the future network, the patterns of alternative power sources (per state), and the types of future energy generation plants (such as solar and wind).

Through high-voltage lines, power is transmitted to regional substations, where distribution for commercial, industrial and residential use occurs. Technology is a critical component to successful power grid operations. Software is used to track usage, save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability and transparency.

There are regional network patterns to clean energy generation and they, obviously, make sense: solar plants are predominant in sunny locations; wind turbines are usually located along the coasts.

A major update to the power grid addresses moving power generated by solar or wind farms into the electric infrastructure.

Clean energy production poses different challenges than the fossil, gas or coal generated electricity. Oil, gas or coal generated power is localized in regional plants and is constantly produced. While the power grid needs steady and reliable sources, solar and wind power are dependent on weather conditions: sunny days and wind, respectively. Therefore power storage mechanisms are essential and need to be incorporated into the upgraded grid.

When looking into the future, a reliable electricity service is a huge challenge, in particular in light of the increased demand for more renewable sources of energy.

Read more about the power grid: Smart-Grid solutions and sustainable software


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