Last Week Tonight tackles the aging US power grid

Originally published at: Last Week Tonight tackles the aging US power grid | Boing Boing


It’s not aging, it’s vintage.



I wonder how much of our funding priorities are just based on who has the best marketing. We’re never allowed to forget about the existence of the military because we have Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day and Independence Day and Flag Day and parades and action movies and a national anthem glorifying armed conflicts that has somehow become mandatory for every public event. So the Department of Defense gets all the money they want.

Meanwhile, the physical infrastructure our society depends on is often invisible by design, attracting public notice only when it breaks down. Out of sight, out of mind, out of most budget planning.

Maybe we need more parades to celebrate line workers and aqueduct technicians.


That display of the failed insulator support hook that caused the big California fire was illuminating. I can easily imagine the corporate/bureaucratic rationale for not replacing wear items that cost money yet provide no visible improvement in service.
“Your neighborhood won’t burn to the ground” is the return on investment.


Here is something else to keep you up at night.

In a bit if synchronicity, I found out in WWII they used balloons with long wires to float over to Germany and short out their power lines. It is unknown just how effective it was, as the Germans didn’t report on such instances. But Sweden and other countries were like, “Can you please stop shorting out our lines with your balloons?”

And then just the other day, I saw a news article about a drone being found with long copper wires which could have shorted out the power grid. This is ripe for terrorists or assholes looking for the the lulz to do some serious damage.


What might that look like? Hmmmm…


Over the past 4 years my city has replaced water pipes, buried electric cables and replaced aging gas lines in our neighborhood. Now the roads are too messed up for parades. (They are working on that. )

(Not used in decades but still there.)


Not to mention just how fragile the electric grid has always been to destructive action. Even back in the 1980s there was a piece written by some political wonk whose name I failing to grep talking about how all it would take would be someone with a high powered rifle and an attitude to take out the majority of the big, years-to-replace transformers used by the long-haul grid. Checking around, unless the government has secretly ordered a vast quantity of replacements that are sitting in storage somewhere, this is still the case. I expect, should the ammosexuals get the civil War II they’re lusting after, those transformers will be the first casualties.



The last parade I remember over infrastructure was probably 20 years ago.


I recall back in the day there was a story about some jackass (or selection of jackasses) who thought the insulators on power lines made for excellent target practice. No other motive, just “fun to shoot at”.


And as a network engineer who has worked in a number of NOCs, “Squirrel Chew” was shorthand for “some asshole shot the fiber.” Maybe they were shooting at the squirrels.


Great segment as always by Oliver, but one thing that was left out of this (at least not discussed in a direct manner) is how many of our “public utilities” are for profit publicly traded companies.
As noted in the piece, PG&E. I mean, let’s face it, their primary concern is going to be for their shareholders. Personally, I think the real answer is to literally have PUBLIC utilities, but that will likely never happen. In lieu of that, they need to be regulated far more aggressively than they are now so we don’t have failures in our grid.
Next, I believe that the investment in renewables should be phased in such a way that starts with an investment where people actually live.
If the utilities worked along side municipalities and property owners for say large scale solar arrays on large buildings (malls, office parks, etc) and parking structures, we could produce a ton of electricity during the day above and beyond that which is necessary for the properties on which the panels are installed.
Parallel to that should be electrical storage for after hours.


Every time some soldier runs out onto the field before an NFL game, the military has paid the NFL lots and lots of money.
And it turns out the military doesn’t even really know how much, because they don’t really need to account for any of it.


Unfortunately, we have new technology to deal with now…

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