Power To the People

As a huge fan of FlowingData, NPR and electricity, I'm super excited about this interactive map that gives you a clear view of the structure of the U.S. power grid. Clicking through, you'll see how areas of the country currently are (and aren't) connected to one another, what's in the works to improve the system, and why that matters (a lot) when you start talking about alternative energy sources. Good stuff.

In this picture, you can see the yellow lines that really seem to do a good job of efficiently linking up the whole country. Those power lines haven't been built yet. In the interactive part, you can take those off, revealing a clearer view of our current transmission infrastructure that looks more like a series of occasionally connected river systems than a grid.



  1. i think the thing i found most interesting about this map is how little power generation capability there seems to be in california despite how many people live there.

  2. It’s only the yellow lines that “haven’t been built yet”.
    The legend cleary shows all the green lines as “Existing”.

  3. Maybe it should be obvious, but why is a fully-interconnected grid better? It’s not obvious to me. I thought that transmitting power over long distances creates power loss and inefficiencies.

  4. Sandor,

    Whoops. Yeah, I got that wrong last night while I was writing this up. My bad. Thanks for the note.

  5. Axl,

    The real problem happens when you start trying to bring in variable alternative sources, like wind and solar. If it’s real windy in Texas, and they’re producing more wind power than they need at the moment, what’s left over just goes to waste. If Texas is better connected less-windy regions of the country, that wind power can be used. A supergrid like this is an important part of making large-scale renewable energy efficient and viable. Compared to the benefit of reducing fossil fuel energy, line loss isn’t that big of a deal.

  6. We need a modern energy grid badly, not just for alternative energy but for protection from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). A nuclear weapon detonated high above the US would send a pulse that would burn out most of the power grid as well as many devices with computer chips in them. One nuke could turn us into a third world nation in an instant. Repairing the grid would take years and the death toll would be in the millions. There are over a dozen countries with the ability to launch an attack today and North Korea and Iran both should have the nukes and missile technology to do it in several years.

    The sun also occasionally has extremely powerful solar flares that can do this on a global scale. In the 19th century, there was such an event that allowed telegraph operators to transmit without using electricity.

  7. Looking at that map, I agree with #1 (rob), and I’m in another state where the population is high, but the grid seems insufficient; Florida.
    One of the problems I see with such a national grid is that, for the laissez faire enthusiast amongst us, it would more than likely take a federal program. It would interfere with private enterprise. It might mean government intervention. And that’s bad. Right?
    Something like that.

  8. orwellian, we will have far greater problems than dealing with the electrical grid if nukes are detonated here. i will guarantee that if korea or iran or any country sends a nuke our way, they will not be aiming to knock out our electronics. they will land on the ground and kill.

  9. Note that Texas has its own separate network that only incidentally ties into the national one. Gives another meaning to the term “Republic of Texas”…

  10. Yes Uniquack, That was the first thing I noticed. As a Texan, I can assure you that are many here who are quite serious about session from the Union. I find it ironic, they tend to be the same types who “LOVE Ah-mur-ri-cuh!”

  11. axl is right about energy loss from long distance transmission, and an emp would not wipe out transmission lines which are already capable of carrying very high current, it wipes out electronics which are designed for low current, like printed circuits, and the reason the grid is small in high population densities is because you don’t need to carry power away from these areas, they create their energy locally. The best system would combines wind, solar, hydro-electric and geothermal, with the additional energy on demand met by nuclear power.

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