The Grid: A Journey Through The Heart Of Our Electrified World

Physical Copy:

By: Phillip Schewe

Rating: C+

Continuing the dive into solar energy. I bought 7 books on the subject. I have met with several contractors, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs nationwide. I am curious about the subject. At this point I am knowledgeable enough to identify people that know a little and who the experts are. The goal is to know enough to provide useful input in creating a self-sufficient business model and to be able to identify true experts. Mission accomplished. On future subjects, 3 hand-picked books will get me to that point.

This book is a storyteller’s history of the grid. There are interesting stories littered through the creation and reiteration of the grid. Conceptually, it is interesting to draw parallels to other platforms and innovation.


Chapter 1: The Gridness of the Grid

The story of the grid begins with Thomas Edison. The year is 1880. He has already invented and patented several electrical devices such as the phonograph. Next, he will do something even more incredible: invent the system into which all those other devices would fit. 

For us the grid has been around for more than a century, but for Edison it was new. He had to bring it into existence. Indeed, at first it existed only in his head, and on greasy blueprints, and in the form of some wires slung behind his laboratory. 

Edison was about to do what Ben Franklin could not do. He was about to put lightning into a bottle and sell it. Electricity would be available as if it were water pouring from a tap. Because of him electricity was about to burst forth in the city.

Chapter 2: Grid Genesis

Edison had built a mile-wide grid using direct current. Then Westinghouse pioneered the simple alternating-current grid, which because of its high-voltage oomph, could stretch for tens of miles.

Tesla’s contribution was not to enlarge the grid in its physical extent but to enhance its value through better use of electric motors. 

On the day they threw the switch on at Niagara Falls, one of the first grids, it was Tesla’s polyphase wiring they were using.

Plentiful electricity was then delivered to Buffalo, turning upstate New York into the greatest high-tech corridor of its day. The 1890s Silicon Valley.

Chapter 3: Most Electrified City

Insull stood at Edison’s side at the birth of the grid on Pearl Street. He then went onto fashion his own grid in Chicago, a million times bigger than Pearl Street.

Chapter 4: Imperial Grid

In the 1930s, in some parts of the world the government – city or national – owned the power grid. In the United States, the grid was owned by private companies.

What was consistent though was the role the utility owners played in setting electrical trends and city planning. This vital role led to the growth of giant utility companies with tens of thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands of stockholders.

The utility companies became leaders shaping the growth of our world.

Chapter 5: Worst Day in Grid History

November 9th, 1965 at 5:28 PM the entire grid in Northeast North America came to a halt. 30 million people were left without electricity for 13 hours.

Chapter 6: Thirty Million Powerless

Turning the power back on in several large cities was not as simple as turning on a light switch. Countless equipment failed or locked up and had to be serviced or replaced. It took a herculean effort to restore the power completely.

The stock market responded when the exchange opened that morning the values were down for many providers:

  • Consolidated Edison: Down ⅜
  • Niagara Mohawk: Down ¾
  • Pennsylvania Power & Light: Down ⅛ 

Meanwhile, the makers of heavy duty power equipment did better. These values were up:

  • General Electric: Up 15/8
  • Westinghouse: Up 5/8

Chapter 7: Overhauling the Grid

Overhauling the grid is a monumental undertaking. Until the mid 90s much of the US utility grid hadn’t been updated since 1945.

What is difficult is keeping the costs to the customers low.

How do you do that while also keeping uninterrupted service, innovating equipment and delivery, keeping up with repairs, and competing with other price sensitive competitors?

The scope of that problem is so broad and the impact is more than almost anything else.

Chapter 8: Energizing the Grid

Developing new sources of energy in wind, solar, and nuclear.

These sources aren’t new to us. But much of the population still has a view of them from the 1940s or 1960s. The truth is that these sources have come a long way since then. They have come even further in the last 10 years.

We are years away from safe, cost effective, and cleaner solutions.

Not yet though.

Next Action:

Finish my review of my last solar book then map out actions to identify collaborators for each piece of the business model

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