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U.S. Grid Gets Less Reliable: Page 2

Why the Grid’s Reliability Matters to Simple Pump

The Simple Pump can be economically justified in a number of different ways, for use in a variety of applications, in some of the poorest countries, to some of the most affluent.

For example, the Simple Pump is the lowest-cost and highest-reliability approach to the delivery of water to the poorest rural populations in the world, most notably in Africa and Haiti. On the other hand, its reliability and narrow yet strong profile enables it to fit alongside submersible pumps in most wells. More and more well owners in the U.S. and Canada are installing it to ensure continued access to water in the case of power failures.

It is this last trend the prompted us to ask: Is this application in “rich” nations really as compelling as other Simple Pump applications? Yes, unfortunately. There are a number of additional factors that will likely drag down reliability for at least the next decade.

Root Cause of the Declining U.S. and Canadian Grid

The preponderance of factors driving reduced reliability stem from the deregulation of the grid that started in the late 1970s. Explaining just a bit about that deregulation makes it much easier to understand the forces at work now.

The bulk power industry was partially deregulated in the wave that deregulated the U.S. airline, telecommunications, banking, health care and natural gas industries.

New Federal law forced utilities to purchase electricity from any qualified producer. To qualify, the power generator had to use alternative technologies like wind or solar, or meet an efficiency standard so lax that natural gas qualified. The intention was as with other industries: Cut prices for the little guy by enabling competition amongst providers.

This was a huge change from the status quo -- which is covered next.

The 1960s Were the Good Old Days

One article noted that our current grid dates from the time before man walked on the moon, and years before cell phones were invented.

In those days, electric utilities generated power for, and were regulated within, local areas. Each utility handled everything in the supply chain of electricity production and distribution. Each utility’s transmission system was set up to do just that -- serve their local customers. Transmission lines tied systems together only to cover problems arising during emergencies.

Utilities were regulated as monopolies, and, by in large, invested to achieve a quality standard, passing the required costs to customers, with regulators' approval. The critical difference between that regulated time and every period since was that, just like all other costs of local utilities, the upkeep costs for transmission lines were funded. Obviously necessary for operation, they were kept in good repair.

As important, the lines were not routinely stressed by power pulled through a local utility’s grid to serve remote customers. The wear imposed by power flow was mostly incurred, and paid for, within each utility’s local area.


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