The Last Word | February 03, 2013
>>> february first, 2009 . super bowl xli , or as i probably saw it, super bowl xiii , we all agree it looks cooler than arabic numerals . it is the culmination of what the nfl had named the "believe in now" season, we were in the middle of a terrible recession, president obama had just been chosen. so here is an ad ge ran during the 2009 super bowl xxxxiii. if i only had a brain.
>> smart grid technology from ge will make the way we distribute electricity more efficient simply by technology.
>> cute, right? ge is a part owner of nbc universal . but when we say smart grid , when we say if our grid only had a brain we are comparing it to what we have now. a very dumb grid. and we say it not because the grid did poorly on the iq test , but because in the iphone world, it is the huge brick cell phone, it is big, and when power outages happen they affect vast areas. it is not dynamic, the dumb grid can't reroute. with electronics it becomes increasingly over burdened. ge was not alone here, the smart grid , president obama wanted it more than just about anything else. he saw it as hoover dam , the tennessee valley authority . president obama had dream fs for a digital smart grid , rerouting power around them. he basically wanted to merge the grid with the internet so we could adjust our grids with the iphone when we were out of the house, program our appliances to save us money, and help sell electric cars . back to our utilities. but the president's advisers told him it was not possible. and for a number of reasons, utility companies own a lot of the grid. it would take decades to convert from analog to digital, and distribute miles and miles of volt wires. one of the things, you don't need a human to read it. the president did get some big improvements in energy investments and sensors to help detect and repair problems before the lights go out. as well as some grid modernizations. we did not get the brain, and during last night's super bowl , super bowl xli , we didn't get the commercials for the smart grid , we got this. 34 minutes of darkness in the most watched television event in u.s. history . it was not all bad. when the lights went out, twitter lit up. a whole lot of snark, the audience sports net tweeted, many without power in new orleans, please help, every donation counts. one tweeted in hind sight maybe installing the clapper was a bad idea. this tweet, i'm going to speak into a mug because my bain is not very good. and the parody account, super dome lighting crew tweeted what people don't talk about is how the lights were on for the entire first half. never get that credit. we don't know yet the exact cause of last night, power outage or if it could have been stopped by a smart grid , maybe it could not have. but blackouts in general and big ones in particular are more common. there were 349 power outages between 2005 and 2009 . that is double, double the amount of blackouts in the five years prior. it is crazy. it is crazy that our technology continues to get better. our country continues to get richer. we are richer today than we were in 2009 . but our capability to power our country, including our stadiums during the super bowl continues to get worse. and we become resigned to it. there were no ads about infrastructure during last night's super bowl . nobody thought the government was close to doing something big, such an d would be a semi-reasonable investment. washington does not just need a brain, like the lion, it needs a bit of courage. joining me now, paul bledsoe who also served as communicationings director under president clinton , paul , good to have you here.
>> my pleasure.
>> so tell me, what do we need to get to the smart grid ? what are the big things we need here and there?
>> part of it is a vision for more decentralized power . chances are when you turn on the power at your house you get power from a power plant that is huge that powers everybody around you. so everybody relies on one power source and one set of lines. and that is why we have these huge cascading outages. now as you said we don't know what caused these problems, but what we know is extreme weather is getting worse because of climate change. and we'll have more and more outages unless we create a more reliable system. and creating a smarter grid. not the perfect one, but a smarter one can help do that.
>> and explain to me a little bit. this idea of smart grid , right, sounds great, but also a bit vague. so you talked about, we all get our power from big power plant , a 700 megawatt plant. so what happens with the smart grid ?
>> think about the current system like a bike wheel . you have a huge power source at the hub, and the spokes and transmission hubs, everybody is around the line and get the power that way. think of the power grid as a map, a whole complex of smaller power systems that are interrelated and yet can be isolated if there is a problem in one. it is a much more sophisticated system, it is much more reliable. turns out there are many other things you can do with it. for example, it allows for much more generation of renewal energy in the united states . and by the way, we're the ones who created all of this. our engineers, our experts came up with almost every one of these technologies. you know where they're being implemented? europe and asia.
>> well, at least we'll get to export some of it. very quickly, can the private sector do it on their own?
>> no, they can't, they need help with the initial investment from washington, we have to understand that every state regulates power in their own way. we have 50 little fiefdoms of regulatory commissions. it is a patchwork and doesn't make sense and really hurts our ability to make investments. i think some of the states will take the lead in updating the technologies. states like california and massachusetts already are beginning to do this.
>> paul bledsoe, thank you for joining us tonight.
>> my pleasure.