On The Grid
David Talbot’s article on the power grid (“Lifeline for Renewable Power,” January/February 2009) tells of the discontinuity between the present utility system and any future system that might depend on renewable sources of energy. The problem is that utilities are built to serve people where they live, while sun and wind are most plentiful where they don’t.
May I offer an idea? In the 19th century, the United States managed to construct a vast and reliable rail system when the government granted huge concessions in real estate to railroad companies, which then proceeded to develop the miles of land on either side of the tracks they built. Today, the government owns vast tracts of inhospitable land, so why not do something similar to get energy grids out into those empty, windy, sunny regions? Give concessions to utilities to build nuclear plants, on the provision that they build large grids to collect power from the renewable sources that obtain there. The virtue of this idea is that it will be up to private markets to raise the funds and up to private companies to construct the hardware–usually a pretty efficient way to go.
Charles A. Berg
Former chief engineer
United States Federal Power Commission
David Talbot’s wide-ranging review of improvements needed for a better power grid was flawed by its failure to recognize the role of nuclear power, which is effectively dismissed as nonrenewable. Obviously, we can’t require each and every power source to be indefinitely renewable–just clean, safe, cost-effective, and sustainable for a reasonable time. Safety concerns about nuclear power plants are often overstated, and waste issues are solvable with a combination of repository design, maintenance, and replacement planning. TR can play a role in educating nontechnical people about these issues, rather than assuming that nuclear power has no role to play in energy independence or atmospheric-carbon control. By making this assumption, the article nibbles around the edges of the energy problem instead of contributing to a complete solution.
Cathy Zoi’s notebook on clean energy (“Rebuilding the Power Grid,” January/February 2009) is unscientific. The economy is not “collapsing”; it is contracting. The bursting of a credit bubble caused this, not an “addiction to fossil fuels.” Generating 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years is not an “achievable goal”; it is a scientifically and economically unsupportable fantasy. We surely have many real challenges to face that could be overcome with technology. Publishing hysterical political propaganda is not helpful. I have been faithfully reading TR since I graduated from MIT in 1976. I applauded when John Benditt rescued and rebuilt the magazine, which had fallen into the hands of left-wing ideologues. I hate to see the magazine’s editorial policy backslide.
Editor David Rotman responds:
Mr. Frezza is welcome to his opinion on whether the economy is collapsing or merely contracting, and whether generating carbon-free electricity is actually achievable. But I must point out that Technology Review’s editorial policy is now, as it was when John Benditt redesigned the magazine in the spring of 1998, to present clear and precise explanations of promising technologies, and to present differing opinions on the future of these technologies.
I want to thank Mark Williams for his moving tribute to my husband, Algis “Ajay” Budrys (“The Alien Novelist,” November/December 2008). It was so encompassing of his entire life and brought tears to my eyes as I read it. I hadn’t realized that Ajay’s interview with Technology Review was so close to the end and am impressed with how true to him it was. It made me feel as if I were listening to him again as he recalled stories of his youth that I had heard over the 54 years we were together.
The caption on page 60 of TR’s oral history of space tourism (“’Very Stunning, Very Space, and Very Cool,’” January/February 2009) reads, “Charles Simonyi experiences zero gravity aboard a Russian aircraft.” No airplane flies in zero gravity. People become weightless because the airplane flies a path that does not support them; when they are weightless they are really in free fall, accelerating toward Earth as a result of gravity!
James F. Jackson
Correction: On pages 34-35 of the January/February 2009 issue, we misattributed credit for photographs of the Am386 and Motorola 68000 chips. They were photographed by William Blair.
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