America s electrical grid, an engineering triumph of the twentieth century, is turning out to be a poor fit for the present. It s not just that the grid has grown old and is now in dire need of basic repair. Today, as we invest great hope in new energy sources--solar, wind, and other alternatives--the grid is what stands most firmly in the way of a brighter energy future.Read more...
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America s electrical grid, an engineering triumph of the twentieth century, is turning out to be a poor fit for the present. It s not just that the grid has grown old and is now in dire need of basic repair. Today, as we invest great hope in new energy sources--solar, wind, and other alternatives--the grid is what stands most firmly in the way of a brighter energy future. If we hope to realize this future, we need to re-imagine the grid according to twenty-first-century values. It s a project which forces visionaries to work with bureaucrats, legislators with storm-flattened communities, moneymen with hippies, and the left with the right. And though it might not yet be obvious, this revolution is already well under way.
Cultural anthropologist Gretchen Bakke unveils the many facets of America's energy infrastructure, its most dynamic moments and its most stable ones, and its essential role in personal and national life. The grid, she argues, is an essentially American artifact, one which developed with us: a product of bold expansion, the occasional foolhardy vision, some genius technologies, and constant improvisation. Most of all, her focus is on how Americans are changing the grid right now, sometimes with gumption and big dreams and sometimes with legislation or the brandishing of guns.
The Grid tells--entertainingly, perceptively--the story of what has been called the largest machine in the world: its fascinating history, its problematic present, and its potential role in a brighter, cleaner future."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-23
- Reviewer: Staff
The omnipresent but seldom-noticed apparatus of electricity supply is in conspicuous upheaval, according to this interesting but scattershot history of America’s grid from Bakke, an assistant professor of anthropology at McGill University. She recounts the evolution of the grid from thousands of small-scale generators into giant utilities and explores the phenomena that she contends are now nibbling that model to death: environmental regulations, deregulated electricity markets, burgeoning wind and solar sectors, rooftop photovoltaics (PV), microgrids, and squirrels gnawing on transmission lines. Her lucid, accessible discussion is clear-eyed about the pitfalls of these developments, and she adopts a supportive, populist tone in discussing them as ways for folks to take control from centralized electricity monopolies. Unfortunately, small mistakes (rooftop PV is not “producing three times more electricity in California than are central station solar plants”—quite the opposite) and large misinterpretations (“big, expensive power plants... aren’t needed much, if at all, anymore,” she writes, though they still generate almost all U.S. electricity) undermine confidence in her judgments. Her tour of faddish green-energy doctrine—Amory Lovins is frequently invoked—makes a argument for the cultural inevitability of change, but the practical case for reinventing the current centralized grid, that triumph of collective provisioning, feels weak and ill-supported. Agent: Susan Rabiner, Susan Rabiner Literary. (July)