In recent years, both European countries and the US have come a long way in making homes capable of running on clean energy. More and more renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, nuclear or geothermal are used to obtain electricity, which drastically reduces supply costs, in addition, of course, to allowing us to be more independent.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially regarding the existing power grid, which is still very vulnerable and outdated. In fact, Bill Gates has just made a call to modernize it: he advocates building more high-voltage transmission lines so that power can be transported over long distances.
The current power grid is a problem. In addition to being old and outdated, it is fragmented because it is not a single network but actually a complicated mosaic of systems with different levels of connection to each other. And what is more worrying: extreme weather events resulting from climate change have shown us that these can often fail. Extreme cold or torrential rains have repeatedly pushed power grids to their limits, leaving millions of people without power.
Also, in the future we will need a bigger grid, because the demand will increase in the next few years as we electrify more things, like cars. Estimates suggest that electricity demand could double by 2050 until we reach net zero.
we have to improve it. For this reason, for Bill Gates, we have to bring our network into the 21st century and the solution is clear: we need to update it and build more high-voltage transmission lines. According to him, if we do this, “we will make sure that people always have energy when they need it.” According to the Microsoft founder, network enhancement technologies such as dynamic line classifications, power flow controls, and topology optimization could increase the capacity of the existing system.
An example is the Breakthrough Energy Ventures project, part of the climate initiative that the businessman has been carrying out together with others such as Jeff Bezos and which is based on investing in new technologies such as advanced conductors and superconductors and cables that use the latest generation materials to obtain more power from smaller lines. The problem is that these technologies do not replace actual systemic improvements and construction pipelines in places where they do not already exist.
Why has the time come to change? Basically, because the way we transport electricity is not designed to meet modern energy needs. Only the location of power plants already gives us clues to this problem. Since the inception of the power grid, power companies have placed most power plants near cities. That is, railways and pipelines are used to send fossil fuels from where they are extracted to power plants where they are burned to generate electricity.
According to Gates, that model no longer works with solar and wind power, because many of the best places to generate electricity are far from urban centers. “You can’t send sunlight in a wagon, so to maximize the potential of clean energy, we’ll need much longer lines to move that energy from where it’s produced to where it’s needed,” he explains.
An outdated network. Also, our network infrastructure is old. Keep in mind that most transmission and distribution lines today were built between the 1950s and 1970s, and only have a 50-year life expectancy. And the extreme weather in recent years serves as a warning that that network is totally vulnerable to weather and weather conditions.
And, beyond its age, there is another big problem: the network is fragmented. Most people talk about the “electrical grid” as if it were a single network, but in reality it is a complicated mosaic of systems with different levels of connection.
Bill Gates projects. As we have reported in other Xataka articles, the businessman has been fighting climate change for years. The foundation that he shares with his wife, Melinda Ann French, has led many projects that promote sustainability. Blue Frontier, for example, is one of his most recent startups and uses a saline solution that cools and dehumidifies homes. A solution to refresh homes without the need to use other methods that are harmful to the environment. According to him, this technology in air conditioners would generate an 85% reduction in his contribution to global warming.
Another of his startups that follows the same path is Verdox, dedicated to capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air. Using a type of plastic, they have managed to selectively extract CO₂ from a mixture of gases when charged with electricity. Once trapped, a change in voltage releases the CO₂, something that could reduce the energy used in direct air capture by 70% or more.
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