Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Real Power Grids

More serendipitous cartography.

The other day I was asked a question at the library reference desk:

"What are the power grids in the United States?"

The first thing I thought of was one of my favorite boardgames, Power Grid (see earlier post on the Power Grid game):

Of course, what she wanted to learn was how the national power grid is arranged for distribution of electricity. With only a little bit of searching, I found these maps on the Department of Energy website. Interestingly there is no "national power grid" in the United States. The continental United States is divided into three main power grids:

This one reminds me of the game map above:

Electricity is generated as it is used. There is very little ability to store electricity. Because of this instantaneous nature, the electric power system must constantly be adjusted to ensure that the generation of power matches the consumption of power. On continental U.S. power grids, roughly 150 Control Area Operators serve this function by using computerized control centers to dispatch generators as needed.
Folks that are interested in finding ways to enhance electrical power generation in this country, without additional greenhouse gasses, are looking for alternatives. Coincidentally, an old friend of mine told me that he has completed a Master's Degree in Alternative Energy. He is primarily interested in wind power. We've had interesting discussions on generation and distribution of wind power. One of the problems is that many of the best locations for wind power generation are far from the most populated areas:

The Aleutian Islands of Alaska have the greatest potential, but also possibly insurmountable roadblocks to distribution to the rest of the national grids (let alone the rest of Alaska). Some of the best areas for generation near population centers are along Lake Michigan and Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, many of the people living there, and many in the Tourist Industry, are opposed to development of wind farms in these areas. NIMBY

I just noticed that the latest issue of Wired magazine has a cover story on
7 Ways to Fix the Grid "Demand for electricity is expected to increase by as much as 40 percent in the next two decades—more than twice the population growth rate." The article offers proposals on ways to make distribution of energy in the United States more efficient, and includes this and other mappish graphics:

Finally, since I mentioned greenhouse gasses earlier, I'll throw in this recent post from The Map Scroll titled, "Australia is the Canary in the Global Warming Coal Mine." Interesting reading.

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At Friday, April 17, 2009 , Blogger Dug said...

Cartographically speaking the color scheme on that wind power map really blows chunks! It is an interesting map despite that flaw.


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