FULTON — The United States consumes 25 percent more energy every year than it did when Maggie Koerth-Baker was born. If the trend continues, annual energy use in the country will increase another 28 percent by 2030.
That’s the context the 30-year-old Fulton resident uses to open her new book, “Before the Lights Go Out.” The book, which will be released on April 10, looks broadly at United States energy infrastructure, and why experts believe the system will have to be changed in the future.
Koerth-Baker, the science editor for the website BoingBoing.net, said she conceived of the book in 2008, after realizing there was a disconnect between what was going on in the industry and what the public knew about the electrical infrastructure they rely upon to make their morning coffee.
The point was driven home by conversations with her husband, an energy analyst assigned with making buildings as energy efficient as possible for the least cost.
“There’s a lot of confusion in the public about how things work and how all these little projects are adding up to something,” Koerth-Baker said.
The realization led Koerth-Baker to conduct several hundred interviews with some of the country’s top energy practitioners and to collect thousands of pages of research.
The resulting book looks more at the way the country delivers electricity than it does the renewable energy and climate change. While those are important subjects, Koerth-Baker said she focused on the so-called grid because she found it to be an alarmingly perilous patchwork of infrastructure.
“The most surprising thing to me was just how fragile our grid is,” she said. “There’s this constant balance between supply and demand, and I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes to make the system work.”
Experts that Koerth-Baker cites in the book say the system will face inevitable changes in the years ahead. The question she poses is whether those changes will be dictated by market or climate forces, or taken on proactively by forward-thinking innovators.
“This is absolutely necessary stuff that needs to happen,”
she said. “It’s just not going to be easy.”
Koerth-Baker is under no illusions that solutions will come quickly, however. Practically speak, the changes could take decades to work through the country’s legal framework and disjointed policies that vary state-by-state.
But there are a host of “perfectly possible” solutions she says are on the table and can be acted on now, including improving energy storage, creating a more diverse collection of energy sources and building conservation habits.
“There are so many different things that have to happen all at once,” she said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to find a silver bullet solution.”
Learn more about Maggie Koerth-Baker’s new book,
“Before the Lights Go Out,” at maggiekb.com/books.
— Drew Kerr
Linden Hills leaders considering small area plan
LINDEN HILLLS – The Linden Hills Neighborhood Council has given preliminary approval to spend as much as $60,000 in Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds to help study a Small Area Plan.
The expense gained preliminary authorization from the neighborhood group in March, but a neighborhood meeting, series of focus groups or a survey of residents needs to be completed before the money can be spent. The money would help pay for a consultant.
Patrick Smith, LHiNC’s co-president, said the group was leaning towards the neighborhood-wide meeting “because it is more practical and productive.” The options will be discussed at a LHiNC meeting on April 10, he said.
Officials are pursuing the Small Area Plan in the wake of a heated debate over a proposed five-story building at 43rd and Upton avenues and amid concerns that residential buildings are being too frequently torn down. Neighborhood officials have said that they want to complete the Small Area Plan by the end of the year. The plan would augment the city’s comprehensive plan and lay out a 15- to 20-year vision for the area.
— Drew Kerr