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Girding the Net – Bonita Springs Florida Weekly

Gird the Grid

I know it's election time and that's the only thing everyone wants to talk about, but there are other things happening and some of them will impact many of us at some point.

One of those things is our failing power grid.

Are you wondering what on earth a power grid is?

It's the electrical grid that connects the entire United States and Canada and is essential to our daily lives. We don't see it, but we need it to keep the lights on.

Utilities created these joint ventures many years ago to share peak loads and emergency power. Today, the interconnections are overseen by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit organization created to regulate the grid after the first major blackout in 1965.

Since then, there have been many more blackouts, and they continue to this day. Our overloaded power grid is failing in California, Texas, and parts of Virginia and Georgia. Florida has not experienced the problem. Not yet.

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What's up?

Electricity demand is increasing exponentially, driven by artificial intelligence, which requires huge amounts of power. Exploding AI technology with its large new data nodes is draining the grid dry.

According to Goldman Sachs, demand for data centers is expected to increase by 160 percent by 2030 due to artificial intelligence. Chip designer Rene Haas says: “By the end of the decade, AI centers could consume up to 25 percent of all U.S. electricity; today it's less than 4 percent.”

The problem is exacerbated by green energy. Intermittent energy sources like solar and wind must be backed up by traditional sources like coal and natural gas, and that is anathema to environmentalists around the world.

The rising demand is not solely due to AI. Another important factor is air conditioning being cranked up to combat the extreme heat sweeping the continent.

The bottom line is that we need to feed more electricity into the grid. Where should it come from? Nuclear power plants are being considered. But everyone agrees that natural gas, the cleanest of all fossil fuels, is the better choice.

Petrochemical guru Peter Huntsman does not hide his own interests: “Natural gas will power America's AI future. Period.” Sumant Sinha of ReNew adds: “The reality is that we can keep adding more renewables until we drop, but it won't be enough.”

More power will help, but what about modernizing the grid itself? That's happening too. Replacing old conductors with high-performance wires is an obvious solution, and TS Conductor offers a cable that weighs less and carries more power than conventional wires.

More exotic are devices that divert power from overloaded lines to less used lines. Another approach is to use sensors to predict weather conditions that speed up or slow down transmission.

What's the problem? Ground Zero is the data center alley in northern Virginia, through which 70 percent of the world's internet traffic passes. According to Dominion Energy, electricity demand there will quadruple in the next 15 years. Not far behind is the Atlanta area with its fast-growing AI center.

Here's another idea, and it's a real head-turner. A recent headline reads: “AI can solve its own energy problem.” And why not? With its better brain than humans, artificial intelligence can identify where the hot spots are – data centers, office complexes, commercial clusters. Then it can give advice on how to manage them, how to curb waste, how to save electricity. It's a fascinating idea. Let the problem find its own solution.

There is a lot to look forward to in the future.

And it could be a welcome change from the obsession with politics.

Dave Trecker is a chemist and retired Pfizer executive living in Florida.

Anna Harden

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