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OPINION

Worldwide Grid Will Do What Today's Smaller Grids Can't

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(Dreamstime)

Paul F. deLespinasse By Tuesday, 07 May 2024 01:49 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Around the world, engineers and entrepreneurs are building larger and larger electrical grids. They are taking advantage of opportunities for profitable investment provided by improved technology.

Some of these grids connect different parts of large countries, like China. Others, including many in Europe, are connecting electrical systems in smaller countries to each other.

These projects all make economic sense in themselves or they would not be happening. The value of electricity is different in different locations and at different times. Larger grids allow moving electricity from where it is currently worth less to where it is worth more.

But at some point, because a changing quantity can become a changing quality, today's projects will give the world a wonderful additional dividend. Let me explain the quantity-quality relationship with the aid of a simple physical analogy.

Put water in a freezer to bring its temperature down, changing the quantity of heat in it. For awhile the water will remain a liquid, with no change in its quality.

When the quantity of heat has fallen enough, however, the water's quality will change, inviting a new name: ice! Raising the temperature of the water enough, on the other hand, causes a different change of quality, turning it into steam.

What the world is seeing right now is just a changing quantity, an increasing number of HVDC cables allowing transmission of electricity over longer distances.

When the number of additional connections (a quantity) has increased to the point that all parts of the world have become connected to everywhere else we will get the windfall, a qualitatively different system: a worldwide grid that can do what is presently impossible, even with today's larger grids.

In the present system, for example, solar energy is the cheapest source of electricity, but it cannot be generated at night and only a little can be generated during winter. Since electricity production must always exactly equal what is being used, backups are needed for nighttime — batteries or perhaps generators running on natural gas.

Even batteries won't do it for mid-winter when solar energy is at a low point. They are just too expensive. But if we want to eliminate burning fossil fuels to produce electricity, what are we to do?

Smaller grids, even the larger ones now being built, hold no answer. But the worldwide grid will take care of both the nighttime and wintertime problems, to say nothing of bad local weather that can happen any time.

With the worldwide grid, people will no longer be limited to using electricity produced locally. They will be able to draw on power produced anywhere in the world where conditions are favorable. Winter in part of the world is summer in another part, and the sun is always shining somewhere.

And producers of solar energy will no longer be limited to selling their electricity locally, where it may not all be needed at the moment, and having to "curtail" production to keep local supply and demand in balance. The additional sales will make their PV panels even more valuable..

The worldwide grid will therefore allow us to stop burning coal, gas or oil to make electricity.

Elements connected into networks become more valuable the more other elements are also connected. This is obviously true with telephones and computers, and it will also be true with electrical grids in the age of solar energy.

Changing quantities that turn into changing qualities are not always desirable. As the average temperature on our planet increases (a change in quantity of heat) we risk hitting a point where it produces a major change in quality of life, thanks to more violent storms, rising seas, intolerable heat waves and devastated crops.

A worldwide electrical grid will help us avert or minimize this climate disaster.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966 and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981. His most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon and other states. Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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PaulFdeLespinasse
Larger grids allow moving electricity from where it is currently worth less to where it is worth more. But at some point, because a changing quantity can become a changing quality, today's projects will give the world a wonderful additional dividend.
solar power
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2024-49-07
Tuesday, 07 May 2024 01:49 PM
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