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Are Smart Grids Really Stupid?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 27, 2009

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.

Reader Comments

Frank Leslie

October 28, 2009 6:49 PM

Look for the Cleveland Great Lakes Science Museum Turbine on the Lake Erie shore.


October 31, 2009 3:50 AM

Bruce -

Do not confuse smart grid technology deployment with the push to deploy major new interstate transmission projects. These are two separate, albeit related issues. Smart grid technology is an information technology overlay on the existing transmission and distribution system that improves the efficiency of both, and enables integrated deployment of demand response, energy efficiency, energy storage, and renewables (both grid scale and distributed) in ways that more easily capture the synergies between them. If anything, smart grid deployment minimizes the need for new transmission capacity by making more efficient use of the capacity that already exists and enabling distributed resources to be more easily and seamlessly integrated into the overall energy resource picture.

John Farrell

November 2, 2009 6:54 PM


Thanks for your clarification. We just put out a press release about Obama's comments when he released his (actual) smart grid grants last week. He keeps conflating transmission superhighway with smart grid, when the two are totally different:

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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