Giving the Grid Some Backbone; March 2009; Scientific American Earth 3.0; by Matthew L. Wald; 6 Page(s)
A stiff wind blows year-round in North Dakota. In Arizona the sun beats down virtually every day. The U.S. has vast quantities of renewable electricity sources waiting to be tapped in these regions, but what it does not have there are power lines¿big power lines that can carry the bountiful energy to distant cities and industries where it is needed.
The same is true beyond the windswept high plains and the sun-baked Mojave Desert: renewable supply and electricity demand are seldom in the same place, and too often the transmission lines needed to connect them are missing. The disparity exists even in New England, where hundreds of miles of high-tension wires supported by thousands of steel towers run neatly through dense areas of settlement. When Gordon Van Wiele, chief executive of ISO New England¿in charge of transmission in the six-state region¿unfurls a map of the land there, large ovals show the location of the best wind sites: Vermont near the Quebec border and eastern Maine spilling over into New Brunswick. But sure enough, no transmission lines transect them.