The Future of the U.S. Electric Grid

The Future of the U.S. Electric Grid

In a perfect future, all of our transportation needs could be easily supplied by electricity – and in this perfect future, all of that electricity would be supplied without producing any greenhouse gasses. That means no more gas, no more coal, no more natural gas. All of our power made by geothermal, solar energy, hydroelectric dams, and wind turbines. In this perfect future, our transportation needs would leave no more impact on the Earth’s ecosystem. Looking at just the US what would be the steps needed to take place to make sure that we can supply all that power to all of the people in the US. All of the assumptions made in this article will be done using today’s standard for power output and power requirements for the world of transportation, so this will not include experimental technology or making guesses on efficiency increases in the future.

To start off the US power grid would need a pretty big overhaul. Our current system for generating and moving power around is getting pretty dated. In addition, even though we are pretty well off in a global comparison we aren’t even close to being able to produce all the power needed and be able to get that power to consumers reliably. On average a single solar panel can produce 15 watts per square foot, per hour. So let’s do some math, The US requires 4,000 terawatts per year for its power grid or 4,000,000,000,000,000 watts. That comes out to 10,900,000,000,000 watts per day, 10.9 terawatts. So there would need to be a solar farm 730, billion square feet in size, or roughly 138 million square miles. Roughly the size of the entire state of New Mexico with some over spill. A solar farm that size would cost $1.36 trillion, without including the cost of the land needed for the solar farm. But obviously, the power grid won’t only be supplied by solar but would have a mix of hydroelectric, wind, solar, and geothermal. I’m not going to go into the calculations for each one but you can get the picture. Installing and creating power generation for the whole US would cost quite a bit and require a large amount of space depending on what would be most efficient. Because you won’t get the same advantages from solar in Montana or main that you would get in Arizona and New Mexico.

Once the generation system is up and running, our next steps on the agenda are: revamping of the grid itself and updating all the power lines and converters and stations need to move the power around is next on the list. An estimated cost to replace and update the US power grid could be upwards of $5 trillion dollars. With the current value being around $1.5 trillion dollars and depreciating ever year. If the power grid were to be replaced it would create a massive influx of jobs in the US and boost the economy. But still a very large cost to US taxpayers. But the maintenance cost of the power grid and could reach into the trillions of dollars itself to just keep what we have going over the next few decades.

But there is another big change that is coming that will require a lot more power for the US. That is electric cars, continuing in the perfect world scenario if all the cars in the US were made electric overnight that would increase demand for power by a lot. So let’s say the 270 million cars in the US were changed to Tesla’s overnight. Let’s assume that each one of the cars travels the average 13,000 miles per year.  A Tesla averages around 4 miles per kilowatt-hour. That comes out to 3,250-kilowatt hours per year traveling the average yearly mileage. That would mean that if the entire US car fleet were Tesla’s that would mean that everyone’s travels would amount to 878,000,000,000 kilowatt hours or 878 terawatt hours! That’s more than twice the total US power consumption as it stands today, just for personal car travel. And that isn’t even counting trucking, trains, etc. that also provide transportation to the US citizens.

Granted this is all my own calculations and other sources say that it may only double the amount of power need on the power grid. This is also assuming that every car is electric where it is more likely that electric will have a slow a steady rate of increasing usage and may not even reach every car for another 50 years. That’s a pretty scary thought if you really think about it. For the US to truly become green when it comes to transportation that means that it would need to have some massive changes to the US power grid. Granted that is all going off of today’s standards, and green energy production and electric cars are getting better every day. For all we know, electric cars could become so efficient in the future that this isn’t an issue. Nonetheless, we’ll have to update our infrastructure to cope to this changing landscape. It is not at all unreasonable to think that one day we could get to this perfectly eco-friendly world. But with all the talk of outlawing combustion cars, like many countries in Europe are doing, there is an overlooked factor of how will we make all this power that is needed to move all of these cars. But like I said technology is getting better every day and it may not be as far off as we may think.


Sources:

Rhodes, Joshua D. “The Outdated US Electric Grid Is Going to Cost $5 Trillion to Replace.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 16 Mar. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/replacing-us-electrical-grid-cost-2017-3.

Matasci, Sara. “2017 Average Cost of Solar Panels in the U.S. | EnergySage.” EnergySage Solar News Feed, 23 July 2017, news.energysage.com/how-much-does-the-average-solar-panel-installation-cost-in-the-u-s/.

Matasci, Sara. “2017 Average Cost of Solar Panels in the U.S. | EnergySage.” EnergySage Solar News Feed, 23 July 2017, news.energysage.com/how-much-does-the-average-solar-panel-installation-cost-in-the-u-s/.

Halper, Evan. “Power Struggle: Green Energy versus a Grid That’s Not Ready.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 2 Dec. 2013, articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/02/nation/la-na-grid-renewables-20131203.

 



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