Wild weather + smarter grids = safer storms.
It’s been one wild summer, between the floods, earthquakes and hurricanes. Communities along America’s east coast are still recovering from August’s visit from Irene. The storm caused billions of dollars in damage, forced millions of people to evacuate, and left many without power. If you were affected you’re probably not thrilled to be reminded that a warmer planet may mean more of the same. Most scientists agree that climate change will bring about bigger, more frequent and more intense storms.
The good news is that there is a way to minimize the impact of storms like Irene while also improving the efficiency of our nation’s electricity grid. Called “smart grids,” a type of electrical grid that predicts and intelligently responds to the actions of all electric power users connected to it, this would provide better-automated controls and monitoring capabilities. It could also be a key component in minimizing power outages during major storms, saving communities from dealing with a disrupted water supply, loss of service for emergency calls, power disruption to medical equipment, and loss of air conditioning during brutal summer months.
So what do smart grids mean for you? Smart grids provide consumers with an advanced metering infrastructure, meaning a real-time reading of just how much electricity is being used by your appliances, equipment and gadgets. Having access to this information, combined with simple lifestyle changes, is estimated to reduce energy usage by at least 15%! Behind the scenes, smart grids will be equipped to instantly respond to electricity demand across the grid and will be able to keep more precise and accurate tabs on electrical usage. So when a big storm or weather event comes along, power companies will know instantly where to send repair crews. Also, since smart grid technology will allow power to be re-routed, fewer households and businesses would experience an outage in the first place.
Smart grid projects are in the planning stages across the nation and the new technology is posed to provide some major benefits to our economy, to individuals, and to our communities. More efficient energy systems combined with a modernized grid will allow power companies to keep up with our growing demand for electricity while creating a system capable of accommodating new energy sources like wind and solar power.
Reduced storm impact and better energy efficiency sound good to you? Learn more about the smart grid:
SmartGrid.gov is a resource for information about the Smart Grid and government-sponsored Smart Grid projects. There’s info here to help consumers and stakeholders understand the basics of a Smart Grid and the range of Smart Grid technologies, practices and benefits.
EarthShare member charity EESI (Environmental and Energy Study Institute) has long championed the benefits of smart grid development; visit them to learn more via their briefing, Smart Grid: How Does It Work and Why Do We Need It?
EarthShare member charity Rocky Mountain Institute is on a mission to eliminate fossil fuel use in the electric system by 2050. In order to achieve this goal, an updated, more efficient system is essential. Learn more about their Next-Generation Utility (NGU) initiative and the NGU model here.
The Chaos of Cleanup: dispersants revealed.
Remember all those chemical dispersants BP used to “clean up” the millions of gallons of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico last year? These chemicals went by the names Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527 and were dumped directly into the Gulf waters in massive quantities -- at least 1.84 million gallons, in fact.
From the beginning, many environmental groups were concerned about the safety of the chemical compounds found in these dispersants. And, in fact, one month after the spill began the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave BP a 72-hour window to switch to a less toxic option. BP disagreed and continued to use Corexit.
As more and more Corexit was being dumped into the Gulf waters, questions about its safety and composition increased. There was widespread public concern among Gulf Coast communities about the potential long term impacts. That’s when EarthShare member Earthjustice stepped in. The team at Earthjustice filed a Freedom of Information Act request to acquire information about the compounds in the dispersant being used in the Gulf. When this didn’t work, Earthjustice sued the EPA on behalf of the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation. The EPA responded by disclosing the secret ingredients of the two Corexit dispersants.
Nearly a year later, the EPA released a more complete list of 57 chemical ingredients found in the 14 dispersants available (listed on the National Contingency Product Plan Schedule) for combating oil spills.
With this information made public at last, Earthjustice has now published a review of the potential impacts from exposure to all 57 chemicals known to be in the dispersants. Included in the list are five chemicals associated with cancer, eight suspected or known to be toxic to aquatic organisms, and five suspected to be toxic to fish.
In the end, there is still very little known about the chemicals making up the approved dispersants and the potential impacts of using millions of gallons of these chemicals in the aftermath of an oil spill. But we do know that disclosure is one important step in establishing better safety criteria for dispersant usage.
Read Earthjustice’s The Chaos Of Clean-Up here for more info about research and findings on the chemical ingredients in dispersants.