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The Heat is On: Blistering Temperatures Put U.S. Energy Infrastructure to the Test


New York, N.Y., Aug 21, 2006 - The Summer of 2006 is quickly staking its claim as one of the hottest on record in the U.S. From Maine to Southern California, the mercury touched triple digits at times. And with soaring record temperatures came soaring record demands for electricity overloading power grids in New York, California, Missouri and Illinois.

The good news so far this summer. We have not experienced a repeat of the 2003 blackout 2003 blackout which caused between $4 to $10 billion in damage in the Northeast, Midwest and Canada.

The bad news: Weaknesses are again being exposed in the nation’s energy infrastructure. Thousands lost power and sweltered in the heat as utilities could not match record demands. And power companies say if the heat wave continues, they will be forced to pull the plug on certain key areas in order to keep the entire grid system from failing. – leaving many once again asking:

1. Is there an adequate power supply and transmission lines in the U.S. to meet the growing demand for electricity that has climbed much faster than experts predicted?

2. Are there ways to generate power without further diminishing natural resources or increasing pollution and emissions?

3. How does the energy grid work and how reliable is the equipment to get the power where and when it is needed most?

Complex System In Need of Investment

In the U.S., utilities and power generation stations are interconnected in a complex system commonly referred to as the U.S. power grid. The system enables electricity to be transmitted from state-to-state in order to meet the demands of more densely populated areas and, in the case of emergency, transfer power to an area where equipment has either shut down or been damaged.

There is no single U.S. Power Grid. Actually, the power grid in the U.S. consists of three interconnected grids that distribute electricity from more than 6,000 power generating units energized with coal, oil, gas, falling water, wind or nuclear fission. The electricity is directed by more than 100 control centers and moved around the country to homes and business on almost a half-million miles of bulk transmission lines.

The grids, the Western Grid, The Eastern Grid and the Texas Grid; however, have limited interconnection to each other, making it difficult to transfer electricity during peak demands times, such as this summers heat waves.

The grids also face a broader problem of transmission congestion and bottlenecks that have resulted in decades of lack in investment upgrades to meet the growing demand for electricity. Over the past decade, electric demand grew by roughly 30 percent while growth in transmission capacity was half that amount.

A second problem is the amount of available back-up power needed to fulfill demand spikes. Most experts agree that a 15% surplus in the minimum amount of reserve power needed to assure reliability. Today, reserve margins hover just slightly above that mark, mainly due to the fact that the there has not been a great deal of new power plant construction in the U.S.

Solutions For Today and Tomorrow

While everyone from legislators to pundits has an opinion on how to solve the problem, only one thing is certain: There is no one easy answer to our nation’s complex energy issues. Siemens innovations are addressing the problems from all corners:

Reliability: Siemens is helping accelerate the modernization of our nation’s three power grids especially in those energy corridors where congestion is highest and demand is most acute. That includes making the grids “intelligent” and “self-healing” so energy gets to where it’s most needed and corrects itself quickly. Given the vast size and complexity of the grid the operation of the system requires improved communication and control systems. This is to provide system operators with timely information needed to properly operate the system and respond to system events to mitigate outages and blackouts and to automate routine functions to improve efficiency. (link to SPT&D Innovations)

Efficiency: Siemens is helping renewing the infrastructure with modern designs in order to generate more power from existing equipment and infrastructure – and doing it in an environmentally friendly way that emissions and water use are either reduced or remain the same. (Link to PG California Case History)

Once that power is generated, Siemens also is developing technology that will enable electricity to be transferred over longer distances with minimal power loss. So in areas like Long Island, New York, where power demand per capita is one the highest in the nation, more power can make it to homes without having to build new power plants. (Link to Neptune information or HVAC site)

Alternative Energy Sources: Even with improved efficiency from existing plants and improving the reliability of transmission, the U.S. still is in need of new generation at the source. In the state of Texas alone, Siemens is installing wind turbines capable of providing power to more than 180,000 homes.

Siemens also is investing in technology that will dramatically reduce emissions from power generated using coal, enabling the U.S. to leverage its vast supply of coal and reduce our dependency on foreign natural gas and oil imports. (link to PG home page)


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