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FEATURE ARTICLE

Reengineering the Electric Grid

Deregulation places new demands on one of the world's largest engineered structures—and presents new opportunities for educated consumers

Thomas Overbye

Figure 3. High-voltage lines carry powerClick to Enlarge Image

Imagine a market in which a vital commodity is nonstorable—it must be produced as needed—while consumers expect to immediately draw exactly as much as they need at any time. Then imagine a massively interconnected delivery system in which a failure in a single location can propagate through the network with lightning speed. You have imagined North America's electrical grid. This complex industry is now in the throes of a transition from regulated utility to free market. The transition has not only widespread economic implications but also many engineering ones, including the question of how such a system can be kept reliable.


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