Are Smart Grids Really Stupid?

There’s a wonderful story on windpower and smart grids by John Carey just out as the Obama Administration begins to finance the creation of a smart grid system in the US. I applaud President Obama’s efforts at moving the US off carbon energy and our dependency on overseas energy sources. However, spending tens of billions to upgrade our electrical grid to move wind-generated energy from the Midwest and Texas to cities may be misguided.

Joel Tower, the dean of Parsons School of Design reminded me over dinner that most cities in the US are on the coasts. The wind blows pretty steady and with force most of the time over the ocean. Put the windmills offshore, and you can power cities from green energy that is nearby.

That reduces the need for smart grids that transmit wind-generated electricity over hundreds and thousands of miles (yes, Chicago is the big exception). Of course there are big issues to resolve—cost, birds, aesthetics, recreation.

There was a time when the sight of a windmill in a city such as New Amsterdam or Sag Harbor was a sign of modernity. Today, when you fly into Toronto or Copenhagen, the same vision of windmills means the same thing—modernity. We might want to try that vision once again in America. And perhaps save billions as well.

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