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Natural Gas to the Rescue as Northeast’s Electric Grid Ages

Tuesday, 06 Nov 2012 07:58 AM

By Peter Moses

One of the great lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy is that the electric grid system is broken and private industries, power companies and federal, state and local authorities are looking at an already existing and reliable system as an alternative — natural gas.

“The North American energy grid is aging, increasingly fragile, buffeted by deregulation and market forces, stressed by relentlessly increasing demand, operating at near capacity with decreasing staffs and reliant on electronic components,” Paula Scalingi, an expert on infrastructure protection, told Forbes.

The extant electric grid was never designed with the wild patterns the country has been locked into the past few years. Hurricane-force winds, surging seas that inundate coastal communities and electric plants, aging power lines and poles breaking after standing for decades all point to a creaking system on the brink of collapse.

Editor's Note: 'It’s Curtains for the US' — Hear Unapologetic Warning from Prophetic Economist.

The added burden of new technologies depending on electricity has created new demands never dreamed of years ago when these plants and delivery systems were first designed. A study by the Brattle Group claimed the electric utility industry needs to invest $1.5 trillion to $2.0 trillion in infrastructure upgrades by 2030, according to Forbes.

That looming cost has forced a new look at natural gas. The gas pipeline network has worked so dependably over the years most Americans never even think about it. Even during Sandy, while millions thirst for electric power, those with natural gas could still use stoves and hot water heaters without interruption. The gas grid can transport natural gas almost anywhere in the lower 48 states with an impressive 90 percent efficiency and the gas grid almost never goes down.

It serves more than 75 million customers with a history of close to 100 percent reliability. Another advantage is cleaner energy. Making electricity from natural gas is cleaner than making it from coal or oil and it is also more efficient.

General Electric recently introduced a new line of natural gas-powered generators, The New York Times reported. The product line, FlexEfficiency, gives operators the option of using different energy sources as the grid allows, including a 750-megawatt combined-cycle plant that can vary its output by 100 megawatts in one minute.

GE has $1.2 billion advance orders, including one from the Japanese utility Chubu Electric Power, which was one of the nuclear energy providers that were forced to shut down after the March 11, 2011 tsunami. These new generators will undoubtedly replace some GE-designed nuclear reactors, according to The Times.

Editor's Note: 'It’s Curtains for the US' — Hear Unapologetic Warning from Prophetic Economist.

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