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Electicity, the Unsung Backbone of the Internet SuperHighway

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 11:46 AM on May 6, 2009

I was looking at maps of the U.S. Grid system on the NPR Web site.   This got me thinking about how our whole Internet structure and all our gadgets are dependent on a utility that has been around for over 100 years and some of its structures are more then 50 years old.  Many people are worried about the Internet being interrupted by cyber attacks, but the weakest point in my eyes is the electrical base that it depends on. I worked at a Midwest electric company for more then five years so I am aware of how easy it is to disrupt the electrical service to an area. Without electricity, the only connection you have to the Internet is through cell phones. Even those need to be charged at some point in time.   Like the Internet itself the electric grid is so interconnected that trouble in one area of the country can effect service hundreds of miles away.

As our applications and connections are increasing in the cloud we are becoming even more dependent on our electric grid to communicate and to remain connected.  The load on the electric system is expected to increase by 40% in the next few decades. At the same time the the electric grid is getting older and is more apt to breakdown. However electric companies have very little incentive to upgrade, first it cast money, second it requires in most cases permission from various public service commissions, and third the results may not show up for five to ten years.  This leaves the electric company often with angry stockholders, who see their stock values  go down and angry customers who see their electric rates go up.  It is difficult to convince people that it is worth spending money on something that will not show results until many years in the down the road.  Especially in a world where people expect instant gratification. I do not know the answers to these questions, but I do know that the problems has to be dealt with, because its only going to get worse, ignoring it will not make it go away.