Letter from the Editor

bridges vol. 27, October 2010 / Letter from the Editor

By Caroline Adenberger

Dear Reader,

During this year’s GridWeek conference in Washington, DC, I picked up a line that I think nicely summarizes today’s electric grid situation:

  If Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, were to come back today, he would not recognize the modern day communication system with digital-based Internet and wireless networks with their cell phones, Web 2.0, YouTube, and Twitter. On the other hand, if Thomas Edison, one of the electric grid’s earliest architects, were to return, he would readily recognize our electrical transmission and distribution scheme, because many of the grid’s components are fundamentally the same as they were in his day.

Some 120 years after Edison had fired up the world’s first electric utility, Pearl Street, in Manhattan, industrialized countries as well as emerging economies are thinking hard about how to revitalize their electricity networks. The motives behind this action are manifold: aging or non-existent infrastructure, renewable energy policies driven by climate concerns, or socio-economic and security considerations. The Smart Grid seems to offer the solution to all those challenges, seemingly a kind of silver bullet. However, given that the current electrical grid has been described as the most complex machine ever built, and named the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century by the National Academy of Engineering, one can easily imagine that transforming the current grid into a smart grid is quite a complex task.

In his article, Peter Fox-Penner, former Brattle Group chairman and seasoned expert in the electric utility business, addresses the challenges facing American energy utilities and suggests to the industry a new – smart grid-enabled – business model of energy services that would actually make them sustainable by selling less.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} In the footsteps of Thomas Edison, the Department of Energy’s GridWise Architecture Council (GWAC) is also working on providing strategic direction toward a smart grid for the utility and equipment-supplier industries. One of the 13 members of GWAC is Kenneth Wacks, who kindly agreed to share his expertise with us and introduced in his article the US vision for a smart electric grid.

Achieving greater energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions are also leading concerns in Christine Lins’ article on the European Renewable Energy Council’s (EREC) Re-thinking 2050 report. Lins is the secretary general of EREC, the umbrella organization of the major European renewable energy industry, trade, and research organizations. According to the report, a 100 percent renewable energy supply for Europe by 2050 is not a matter of available technologies but of political will. One showcase from Austria demonstrates that change is possible when all stakeholders work together: In Upper Austria, one of the nine federal states of Austria, the state government has adopted the target of reaching 100 percent space heating and electricity from renewable energy by 2030. In-state biomass will play a key role in achieving this target, in combination with significantly strengthened energy efficiency programs. The article contributed by the Upper Austrian Energy Agency describes how a mixture of “sticks, carrots, and tambourines” has been in place since 1994 to ensure the achievement of its ambitious goal. 

In their commentaries, regular bridges columnist Roger Pielke, Jr. and guest contributor Alexander Ochs from the World Watch Institute take a closer look at US climate policy – or the lack thereof – and how this affects global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Last but not least, as with every issue, bridges features several portraits of successful Austrian scientists and scholars working in the United States in its News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad section; it also supplies useful information in Re$earch Re$ources on where to find funding for transatlantic joint research projects; and our regular columnist Norm Neureiter and bridges’ Brussels correspondent Christian Eisner provide you with their latest insights into the world of S&T policies in Europe and other places throughout the world.

I wish you a pleasant (and energy-efficient) reading experience.

Caroline Adenberger