Thursday, August 14, 2008

Grid: Lights Out: Five Years On, Is Another Big Blackout Likely?

As David Bowie, electrical engineer and financier*, said in TVC15:


From the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog:

Five years ago today, much of the northeastern U.S. and Canada was plunged into darkness thanks to a chain-reaction rolling blackout. It affected millions of people and inflicted billions of dollars in corporate losses, though no Spike Lee movies yet.

But everything’s fine now, right? Not really. The blackout had a host of causes, from creaky transmission networks to a silo mindset among many power companies. Those haven’t really been addressed, despite a few halting efforts to make electricity grids smarter.

And the biggest culprit behind any brownout or blackout is the lack of spare generation capacity in the system. On that front, the U.S. really hasn’t made much progress. Demand for electricity is expected to keep growing, but concerns about global warming and emissions of greenhouse gases – along with soaring costs for new power plants–have electric companies frozen like deer in the headlights.

Coal-fired power plants are an environmental nightmare, and new legislation will probably make them even more expensive than rising capital costs already have. Natural gas prices have soared. Nuclear plants haven’t been built for three decades, would take years to come on line, and are getting terribly expensive. Clean energy like wind power is going gangbusters, but is still small, and its very unpredictability doesn’t exactly help soothe jittery electricity grids....MORE

*In 1997 Mr. Bowie sold the cash flow from his pre-1990 back-catalogue to Prudential et al via the Pullman Group for $55 million. Here's Fortune in 2003:

Wall Street's Green Genie

David Bowie cashed in at the perfect time. But what's the real story with his bonds now?

...Bowie and his deal were considered cutting-edge at the time (isn't he always?), but in retrospect the Diamond Dog is looking positively clairvoyant! (Bowie declined to speak to Street Life for this article, which is too bad because I had some fantastic ideas for costumes and such....) Think about it. Bowie sells the rights to his catalog in January 1997, before most of humankind had ever heard the little phrase "file sharing." (I call it file stealing.) How smart or lucky was that?...
Here's one of the songs that was included in the deal: