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World's largest machine--the electric grid--is old and outdated

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The U.S. electric grid is so old and outdated it can't handle the influx of wind power and other intermittent renewable resources. Integrating such sources requires adapting a system that is finely tuned to balance the amount of electricity being used with the amount of electricity being generated with fickle winds.

But there is an even more pressing problem, according to this article in the New York Times: the grid isn't big enough. The wind tends to blow strongest in places, such as North and South Dakota, that are far from where people live and use electricity. And no one wants to spend the millions of dollars it would take to put in a new transmission line (not to mention the legal headache of getting all those rights of way).

So-called smart metering, advanced transmission lines and other high-tech solutions are available but are lacking the political support to be implemented. The federal government may oversee the operation of the grid but it doesn't expand it. And so far neither do the states, utilities or even wind farm operators.

Credit: © Dave Willman / istockphoto.com

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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