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Monday, July 9, 2012

Solutions to the recent power outages

       With the recent power outages in Howard County and surrounding communities because of falling trees taking out above ground power lines it maybe time to look at some alternatives to above ground power transmission.  Our present system of power transmission has continued to primarily use the above ground power lines that have been with us since the beginning of our use of electricity over one hundred years ago.  Burying our transmission lines as is the case in Columbia maybe a short term solution.  They addition costs of burying the lines varies from energy companies indicating that  it is 10 times as expensive and other experts indicating about 4-5 times as using overhead lines. In Europe Holland and Germany have made it a priority to put transmission lines underground. This has greatly increased the reliability of their electric grid. When you look at how technology has changed our world today you might begin to wonder why we haven't developed more efficient modern ways of transmitting power.
     We have seen in the past 20 years the move away from line phone lines to wireless cell phones.  Could wireless power transmission ever be feasible in the future?  Transmitting power wirelessly is not the same as transmitting a phone signal.  Even with this reality the efforts to develop the technology to transmit power wirelessly is moving ahead.  Intel has been working on developing in home systems that would do away with indoor plugs and power cords.  Tesla coils have been shown to be able to transmit power without wires. Someday your home appliances could be powered wirelessly and turned on and off remotely.  Some of this is now available through cable providers like Verizon.  Japanese students have shown that electric cars of the future might be recharged through the road on which the cars travel.

     While transmission of power wirelessly or burying power lines maybe improvements to our present power grid the long term solution that might be more realistic is to have our energy needs be created in each home and business. Some think that the costs of solar panels will make generating power this way will be cost competitive by 2017.   Thinking more out of the box is Japan's effort to have your car power your house. 

   Finally the move to a "smart grid" would be a way to use greater renewable energy resources such as wind and water and to have greater ability to redirect power in times of power outages. One of the uses of the stimulus money was to move toward a smarter grid.  This might be one area that both political parties should be working to prevent the types of outages we have seen this past week.

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