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Tampa Electric (1) offers animated illustrations that show how electricity is created and distributed. The first lets the user see the main components of a power plant, while the second outlines what is involved in transmission from the power plant to the destination. A less flashy but more detailed description of the electricity generation process is provided by the Energy Information Administration (2). This site goes more into different generation methods, such as coal, nuclear, and solar power. A few Energy Information Sheets and other resources are also available. Fuel cells are commonly discussed in terms of alternative fuel vehicles, but they might find their way into the power grid before they become standard in cars. This possibility is explored in an eight-page article (3) that highlights examples of hydrogen-powered energy systems. A similar topic is addressed in a February 2003 article in Popular Science (4). However, instead of dealing with large-scale fuel cell power plants, the article introduces fuel cells that can produce enough energy for a single family. Equipping every home with such a cell could make transmission lines obsolete, but the fact that this is currently infeasible is acknowledged. A research paper from Washington State University (5) identifies a number of risks to the power grid that could be exploited by terrorists. The authors propose specific research areas on which to focus in order to mitigate these risks, mainly dealing with communications and grid control. Related to this paper is an April 2003 article describing security measures that are being implemented to strengthen the computer systems used to operate generators and other grid components (6). The additional measures were necessary because of known weaknesses that made the systems vulnerable to intrusions. Since coal is one of the cheapest and widely available natural resources, Los Alamos National Laboratory is researching ways to make coal burning generators cleaner. The Clean Coal Technology project began several years ago, and this is one of several reports discussing a particular aspect of the project (7). The Integrated Energy and Communications System Architecture (8) is an initiative to combine the development of the power grid with advanced distributed computing technologies. The goal is to create a more efficient grid with capabilities of self-healing and intelligent management. An overview of the initiative is given on its Web site, as well as a more detailed white paper.
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Scout Publication
Date of Scout Publication 2003-07-18
Archived Scout Publication URL

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