The grid The fraying wires between Americans and our energy future

Gretchen Anna Bakke

Book - 2016

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New York, NY : Bloomsbury USA, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2016.
Main Author
Gretchen Anna Bakke (author)
Physical Description
xxx, 352 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The Way of the Wind
  • Chapter 2. How the Grid Got Its Wires
  • Chapter 3. The Consolidation of Power
  • Chapter 4. The Cardigan Path
  • Chapter 5. Things Fall Apart
  • Chapter 6. Two Birds, One Stone
  • Chapter 7. A Tale of Two Storms
  • Chapter 8. In Search of the Holy Grail
  • Chapter 9. American Zeitgeist
  • Afterword: Contemplating Death in the Afternoon
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Bakke goes beyond technology in her depiction of America's electrical grid as dilapidated and desperate for innovation to include politics, culture, nature, business, and law. She explains that energy monopolies made the first multiuser grids, then persuaded regulators to create noncompetitive service areas based on ever-falling energy prices, ever-rising demand and power plant efficiency, and sweetheart construction loans. This system faltered as pollution increased and oil embargoes went into effect. During the Carter administration, laws were enacted that required utilities to buy competitively priced power from whoever made it, providing, Bakke observes, a toehold for efficiency, innovation, and entrepreneurship. But later deregulation allowed exploitative trading that, along with failure to update the grid, led to market collapse. Energy trading still discourages capital investment in the grid. Bakke advocates for large grids saturated with microprocessors that respond to all variables, a software solution that may be inevitable, though entrenched interests, privacy concerns, and costs currently block the way. Hopefully, Bakke's startling exposé revealing how electricity sloshes around the country across a precarious grid will be a wake-up call.--Carr, Dane Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The omnipresent but seldom-noticed apparatus of electricity supply is in conspicuous upheaval, according to this interesting but scattershot history of America's grid from Bakke, an assistant professor of anthropology at McGill University. She recounts the evolution of the grid from thousands of small-scale generators into giant utilities and explores the phenomena that she contends are now nibbling that model to death: environmental regulations, deregulated electricity markets, burgeoning wind and solar sectors, rooftop photovoltaics (PV), microgrids, and squirrels gnawing on transmission lines. Her lucid, accessible discussion is clear-eyed about the pitfalls of these developments, and she adopts a supportive, populist tone in discussing them as ways for folks to take control from centralized electricity monopolies. Unfortunately, small mistakes (rooftop PV is not "producing three times more electricity in California than are central station solar plants"-quite the opposite) and large misinterpretations ("big, expensive power plants... aren't needed much, if at all, anymore," she writes, though they still generate almost all U.S. electricity) undermine confidence in her judgments. Her tour of faddish green-energy doctrine-Amory Lovins is frequently invoked-makes a argument for the cultural inevitability of change, but the practical case for reinventing the current centralized grid, that triumph of collective provisioning, feels weak and ill-supported. Agent: Susan Rabiner, Susan Rabiner Literary. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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