infrastructure is a system we have built that allows us to move
items from one place to another. Take roads for example. The U.S.
has an excellent transportation infrastructure. You can drive all
the way across the country on paved roads. These roads have gas
stations along them that allow you to keep your car powered. Most
of these roads are in good condition. Your car doesn't bump around
and break apart.
Energy is dependent
on many different systems along its journey from its source to its
end product. To use energy, we must first locate a source and then
move it to where it can do something for us. We will look at the
infrastructures that each of our four uses depend on. Look for the
overlap the areas where the same infrastructure is relied on for
more than one use.
Aging Electrical Grid | Heating's
Manufacturing's Infrastructure | Transportation's
Problems within the Infrastructure |
A New Infrastructure for Newer Fuels
is used by everyone across the U.S. Electricity travels from a power
station to the power distribution . The grid is a network of
electrical towers, transformers, substations, and electrical lines
that link the utility companies up to buildings. There are several
grids that cover the U.S. Some grids are quite large, while others
cover smaller areas. Some people aren't hooked up an electrical
grid. People who are "off the grid" have many different reasons
for doing so. Sometimes they can't afford the cost of running electrical
lines out to their homes. Sometimes they enjoy the solitude of not
using electrical appliances. Others produce their own energy using
solar, wind, or hydroelectric power.
a typical electricity user. We'll look at electricity produced from
wind as it travels from a wind farm in California to an alarm clock
in San Francisco.
of windmills are set up in a windy valley north of San Francisco.
The winds here generate enough electricity to power the whole city
of San Francisco. It just happens to be a very windy day and the
wind turbines are spinning. As the blades spin and turn the ,
the turbine runs a , which produces electricity. This electricity
is sent out over the grid through a series of electrical lines and
towers. Eventually it makes its way to a substation where the high
voltage power is changed into a low voltage that can be used in
houses. Finally, the electricity finds its way to the outlet of
an alarm clock.
A very real problem for the U.S. is the aging of the electrical
power grid. Every year, Americans continue to use more and more
electricity. This means that utility companies need to produce more
electricity for us. But we haven't built more power lines to handle
the increased load. Not only that, but the lines we do have can
barely handle the electricity we force them to transmit right now.
The electrical grid spans the entire continental United States (Hawaii
and Alaska each have their own separate grids). But the grid wasn't
designed to work as one unit, moving electricity back and forth
across the country. Think of the grid as regional; electricity can
move from one region to another. California can buy power from Oregon
and Washington, but probably not Maine. By the time the electricity
moved through all the transmission lines, it would have used quite
a bit of itself up just traveling across the country.
and brownouts are another problem with the aging electrical grid.
A blackout occurs when an entire region loses power completely.
A brownout is a partial loss of power. When the grid collapses in
one small area, cities and even states can lose power. California
dealt with this problem by having mandatory blackouts. No one was
without electricity for more than one hour. Still, businesses lost
millions of dollars during those one hour blackouts. And several
computer-related industries decided to move to other states where
electricity was available consistantly.
you know how energy is used for heating, think about how we are
able to get the heat we need. Let's start with energy to heat our
homes. Our destination is the furnace of an apartment building in
Iowa and an oven in the Quad Cities. Both appliances run on natural
gas. How do we get the natural gas from the ground to the furnace
A drill in
the northern Texas panhandle produces natural gas. That gas is piped
across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and then into Iowa. In Iowa it
is stored by energy distributors who sell it to local utility companies
in Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan. A utility company in Iowa purchases
some natural gas for its customers. In Iowa, a cold front has caused
the temperature to dip to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The manager of
the apartment turns on the furnace and natural gas moves through
pipelines to the furnace in the apartment basement. The heat kicks
on. Meanwhile in Illinois, a very hungry seventh grader decides
to make a grilled cheese sandwich. He slaps some cheese between
two buttered pieces of bread and sets a frying pan on the stove.
He turns the knob on the stove and natural gas flows through pipes
to his oven and is ignited by a flame. His sandwich's cheese is
already starting to melt.
would a large manufacturer of iron construction beams get the energy
it needs? Let's follow coal from the ground to an ironwork in Indiana.
a company of miners begin work. They go underground and start digging
coal out of the ground. It moves along conveyer belts until it reaches
the surface. Then it moves into railcars and is shipped out. By
rail, the coal travels to an Indiana ironworks. Coal is added to
a huge furnace that is used to heat iron until it is molten (liquid
metal). The metal is then poured into steel beam forms until it
cools down and can be sent to construction sites around the country.
of cars and trucks are on the road everyday. Let's follow petroleum
from the ancient seabed floor to a car tank in the mountains of
an oil field is producing petroleum oil. The oil is piped over the
desert to the Persian Gulf. From the gulf, it is loaded into oil
tankers and travels through the Indian Ocean over to the Atlantic
Ocean. The ship makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico and is sent
to a refinery in Louisiana. The refinery produces gasoline from
the petroleum and puts the gasoline in trailer trucks and sends
it to a gas company storage facility in Texas. The Texas company
creates the gas blends that are required by different states, including
the detergent additives its company is known for. The gasoline is
then put on a semi and hauled up the mountains to Denver, Colorado.
In Denver, the gas is put into an underground storage tank at a
gas station. Shortly, a SUV that gets 18 miles per gallon fills
up with 25 gallons and drives off.
do you think?
How many gas stations are in your community? Do you have to
travel far to get gasoline?
within the Infrastructure
is expensive to develop. Think about the highways and roads around
us. Billions and billions of dollars were spent on those. What if
all of the roads started to break down at once? That would be a
huge mess. Oil and gas pipelines have other problems. In 2001, a
man in Alaska was arrested for shooting a bullet into a oil pipeline.
(The pipelines run above ground in Alaska.) He caused an oil spill
in the surrounding environment. Natural gas pipelines have their
own problems. Unless people take the time to check with utility
companies before they dig, gas pipelines can be ruptured by construction
workers or a careless shovel. The consequences are dangerous.
New Infrastructure for Newer Fuels
Raw materials, like natural gas, petroleum oil, and coal, have to
be sent through an infrastructure of roads, pipes, or gas lines.
Then, if electricity is involved, the power distribution grid sends
electricity from the power companies to the buildings where it is
needed. As we develop new energy supplies, our infrastructure has
to change to accommodate them. What do you think we need to do with
the energy infrastructure?
New fuel sources have their own infrastructure problems. For
example, fuel cells require hydrogen. There are no "hydrogen stations."
This is an issue because fuel cells are on their way to a car near
you. Read about how fuel
cells might change the future of transportation (at least for
cars and trucks).
Dye, Lee. "More Fuel, Less Pollution: Efficient New
Cells Seen in the Future." ABC News Online. www.abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/DyeHard/dyehard010927.html. September