wind power.jpgTwo more updates on our discussion of the need to turn to an Intelligrid, to save costs:

1) In favorable news, energy-efficient technologies have gotten a boost in California from the state regulator, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). It approved $2 billion for a three-year conservation plan that includes rebates and other incentives. Our colleague Paul Rogers reported on the background for this. Red Herring’s confirms the passage. More info at

The program will also eliminate the need to build three large power plants in the next three years, and will reduce pollution by an estimated 3.4 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2008, which is equivalent to taking about 650,000 cars off the road, he said.

“The combined result of all these programs is that California will be the most aggressive nation-state in the world in reducing energy usage and reducing the harmful emissions linked to global climate change,” said PUC Commissioner Susan Kennedy.

2) Also, see the extended entry below for comment from reader Wayne Miller about the back-and-forth we had earlier (see comments to this entry) about how much power is lost during long-haul transmission. Wayne thinks it’s a lot lower than we made it out to be. He also offers a critique of the Intelligrid.


Electric transmission grid losses in the U.S. grids are well under 5 per cent of generation. That’s not my opinion, that’s verifiable fact. Contact any grid operator (such as CAISO) to confirm it.

The pictorial in the Lovins article shows “transmission plus distribution” losses at 9 per cent, which is certainly in the ballpark. Distribution losses are typically around 5 per cent, transmission a little less. Except that it should be 9 per cent of the power injected into the grid, or in the pictorial’s terms 2.7 per cent of the original fuel energy input. (The motor losses suffer the same defect, and I imagine all the downstream losses do too, making the total losses substantially overstated. Publishing something in Scientific American does not make it so, and Mr. Lovins has a long history of distorting facts to fit his viewpoint.) In any case, I don’t see anything that indicates transmission losses on the order of 50 per cent.

Our nation’s electric power grids (there are 3) definitely need attention.
Too few lines are being built, largely because of uncertainty about return on investment, constantly changing market rules, and siting problems. The protection and control components are being upgraded far too slowly.
Security from natural disaster and sabotage or terrorism are given insufficient attention. But at the same time, the grids are extremely efficient and reliable, especially given the complexity of the systems. A vast majority of us have electricity available more than 99.95 per cent of the time, year after year. That’s better than my internet access, and the internet is being touted as the model for the Intelligrid.

When you replace all the transmission lines with carbon nanotube wire (at what cost?), you will not touch the energy conversion losses, or the transformation and distribution losses, or the motor losses, or the mechanical losses. When you hook up millions of solar panels (at what cost?) you will not stop lightning from striking or parts from failing–in fact there will be millions more parts to fail. Distributed generation (including microturbines) has failed to materialize because of economics, not policy or conspiracy. As one of my business professors repeatedly told his classes, “There is no magic.”

I am a registered Professional Engineer and have been involved in power system planning, design, and operation for over 35 years.

Wayne E Miller, P. E.

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