The Switch

Photo: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Photo: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The nation’s electric grid – a half century-old patchwork system that moves electricity from plants to consumers – is central to our daily lives. BURN’s hour-long special examines the state of America’s aging and often over-burdened electric power grid – the people who keep it running, innovators constantly thinking of ways to make it smarter, and what happens when the grid lets us down.

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Energy poverty: where there’s no grid at all

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In the US, the electrical grid is everywhere. As for everyone else: a fifth of the world doesn’t have electricity. Many Americans opt to live off the grid. Elsewhere, it’s rarely a choice.

June 28, 2013 more »

The Hoboken power emergency – Part 2

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It’s been almost 9 months since Hurricane Sandy blew out all of Hoboken, New Jersey’s power. It took a week and a half to pump the water out of the city, and repairs to public and private property, and to the grid system, are going to be very expensive.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer spoke with BURN host Alex Chadwick about her city’s plans to get ready when – not if – the next storm comes to Hoboken.

June 27, 2013 more »

Duke Energy leader Jim Rogers on smart grids & brownouts

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Jim Rogers leads the largest electric power company in the country, Duke Energy. They serve about about 22 million people in the Southeast and Midwest. The award-winning CEO talks with host Alex Chadwick about the challenged of powering the nation, what makes the grid great, and the future of efficiency & smart grid innovation.

June 26, 2013 more »

Paul Stockton: Keeping the grid safe

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Paul Stockton was the government’s point man for protecting the nation’s electrical grid from terrorist attacks. He served for four years as President Obama’s Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs. Stockton was the responsible for “defense critical infrastructure protection.”

He talks with host Alex Chadwick about the threat of terrorism against the grid. They also discuss the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy and how best to protect the grid during the next super storm.

June 26, 2013 more »

Army’s micro-grid for combat zones

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The US Army is preparing to deploy smart micro-grids for combat outposts – basic military camps for about 100 soldiers. The new COPs cut fuel demand by at least half, which means fewer caravans, and fewer casualties.

June 25, 2013 more »

Between bizarre & unimaginable: Life off the grid

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Michelle Nijhuis has lived off the electrical grid with her husband Jack Perrin in the tiny town of Paonia, Colorado for fifteen years in a house built with straw bales, plastered with mud and powered by the sun. It’s a way of life, Nijhuis says, many consider “somewhere between bizarre and unimaginable.”

June 24, 2013 more »

Electrifying rural America

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Running a family-owned farm is one of this country’s more difficult livelihoods. Before electrical power, it was even harder. In the early 1930s, only 11% of the country’s farms had power. Fifty years later, nearly all of them had electricity.

Here are oral histories of people who experienced the life-changing transformation, much of it coming courtesy of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA).

June 21, 2013 more »

How the grid works: an explainer

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Do you REALLY understand how an electrical grid works? Producer Josh Kurz explain today’s power grid, some of its biggest problems, and how smart grid technology could help.

June 20, 2013 more »

Tim Gallant, electrical lineman

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They are the electric grid army. When the lights go out, legions of power linemen are deployed across our cities and towns. They climb poles and rework wires when the lights go out, just to bring back the light. Science reporter Ari Daniel Shapiro has this portrait of lineman Tim Gallant, who’s been working for the National Grid energy company for more than 3 decades.

June 19, 2013 more »

VIDEO: How the national grid works

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Producer Josh Kurz explain today’s power grid, some of its biggest problems, and how smart grid technology could help.

June 18, 2013 more »

The Hoboken power emergency – Part 1

Photo credit to Morgan McNeish

When Hurricane Sandy landed last fall, Hoboken, New Jersey got slammed. The Hudson River flooded, knocking out all of the city’s power. Hobken went completely dark. Host Alex Chadwick heads to Hoboken – the former marshland just across the water from New York’s West Village – and talks to people who were there the night Sandy took out this small city.

June 18, 2013 more »

The Switch: America’s electrical grid

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BURN’s new hour-long special “The Switch” is about our aging electric power grid: a half century-old patchwork system – stretched to capacity – that transmits and distributes electricity from plants to consumers. Host Alex Chadwick and BURN’s producers and reporters explore how the grid works, and what happens when it breaks under storms and floods. We talk to the people who help fix it, a family that’s left the whole thing behind, and the innovators working to make our national grid safer and smarter.

June 17, 2013 more »

The Electrical House That Jack Built

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The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. published “The Electrical House That Jack Built” – a 1916 pamphlet showing how electrical appliances were transforming life in the home. Written in verse to parody the well-known nursery rhyme and illustrated with drawings resembling children’s books of the period, it celebrates the convenience, comfort and health enjoyed by users of electrical appliances.

June 17, 2013 more »

The electricity grid: A history

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In the early days of electricity, energy systems were small and localized. In 1882, New York’s Pearl Street Station became the first of these complete systems, connecting a 100-volt generator that burned coal to power a few hundred lamps in the neighborhood. Soon, many similar self-contained, isolated systems were built across the country.

November 10, 2011 more »

Power Grid Technology

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The electricity industry has three main components: the power plants, the transmission lines, and the distribution to you through utilities. Mostly, three different entities operate these components. A power company owns a plant, some non-profit transmission company is responsible for the transmission, and a utility distributes the electricity to users.

August 5, 2011 more »