Before the Lights Go Out – Alternative Energy and America’s Grid

Fossil fuels, photovoltaics, clean coal, wind turbines, hydroelectic dams, nuclear reactors, hydraulic fracturing. For all the discussions of energy independence, sustainable energy, renewable fuels, one word is often painfully absent: grid. America’s electrical grid has evolved from Edison electric generators and a few, uninsulated, wires in New York and Wisconsin to a massive, and massively inefficient, network of power lines, control stations, and generators that crisscross the country in three power blocks. This mycelial behemoth serves one function–to keep the electrons flowing. In Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us, Maggie Koerth-Baker strips the wires of the United State’s electrical grid bare, revealing how it works, how it doesn’t work, and what we can do to make it work better, increasing efficiency, decreasing atmospheric carbon dioxide production, and securing America’s energy infrastructure.

Before the Lights Go Out begins with a bold and inspired move by Koerth-Baker. By choosing to focus on the development of our energy infrastructure and the challenges inherent in the current model, she bypasses the common stumbling block of “energy crisis” arguments in the United States–the unwillingness of some groups to accept the uncontroversial recognition of anthropogenic climate change. Improving the efficiency of the grid, incorporating alternative energy sources into our infrastructure, reducing waste which cost energy producers and consumer real capital, these are not goals that require an a priori understanding of climate change to make sound economic, social, and political sense. Koerth-Baker deftly skirts around the quagmire of one of our most baffling political debates and dives straight into solutions.

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