Home' Technology Review : March April 2009 Contents LETTERS
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW MARCH/APRIL
ON THE GRID
David Talbot's article on the power grid
("Lifeline for Renewable Power," January/
February 2009) tells of the discontinuity
between the present utility
system and any future sys-
tem that might depend on
renewable sources of energy.
The problem is that utilities
are built to serve people
where they live, while sun
and wind are most plentiful
where they don't.
May I offer an idea? In
the 19th century, the United
States managed to construct
a vast and reliable rail system
when the government granted huge conces-
sions in real estate to railroad companies,
which then proceeded to develop the miles
of land on either side of the tracks they built.
Today, the government owns vast tracts of
inhospitable land, so why not do something
similar to get energy grids out into those
empty, windy, sunny regions? Give conces-
sions to utilities to build nuclear plants, on
the provision that they build large grids to
collect power from the renewable sources
that obtain there. The virtue of this idea is
that it will be up to private markets to raise
the funds and up to private companies to
construct the hardware---usually a pretty
e cient way to go.
Charles A. Berg
Former chief engineer
United States Federal Power Commission
David Talbot's wide-ranging review of
improvements needed for a better power
grid was flawed by its failure to recognize
the role of nuclear power, which is e ec-
tively dismissed as nonrenewable. Obvi-
ously, we can't require each and every power
source to be indefinitely
renewable---just clean, safe,
cost-e ective, and sustain-
able for a reasonable time.
Safety concerns about
nuclear power plants are
often overstated, and waste
issues are solvable with a
combination of repository
design, maintenance, and
replacement planning. TR
can play a role in educat-
ing nontechnical people
about these issues, rather than assuming
that nuclear power has no role to play in
energy independence or atmospheric-
carbon control. By making this assump-
tion, the article nibbles around the edges of
the energy problem instead of contributing
to a complete solution.
Cathy Zoi's notebook on clean energy
("Rebuilding the Power Grid," January/
February 2009) is unscientific. The
economy is not "collapsing"; it is contract-
ing. The bursting of a credit bubble caused
this, not an "addiction to fossil fuels." Gen-
erating 100 percent of our electricity from
carbon-free sources within 10 years is not
an "achievable goal"; it is a scientifically
and economically unsupportable fantasy.
We surely have many real challenges to face
that could be overcome with technology.
Publishing hysterical political propaganda
is not helpful. I have been faithfully read-
ing TR since I graduated from MIT in 1976.
I applauded when John Benditt rescued
and rebuilt the magazine, which had fallen
into the hands of left-wing ideologues. I
hate to see the magazine's editorial policy
Editor David Rotman responds:
Mr. Frezza is welcome to his opinion on
whether the economy is collapsing or
merely contracting, and whether gener-
ating carbon-free electricity is actually
achievable. But I must point out that Tech-
nology Review's editorial policy is now, as
it was when John Benditt redesigned the
magazine in the spring of 1998, to present
clear and precise explanations of promising
technologies, and to present di ering opin-
ions on the future of these technologies.
I want to thank Mark Williams for his mov-
ing tribute to my husband, Algis "Ajay"
Budrys ("The Alien Novelist," November/
December 2008). It was so encompassing
of his entire life and brought tears to my
eyes as I read it. I hadn't realized that Ajay's
interview with Technology Review was so
close to the end and am impressed with
how true to him it was. It made me feel as if
I were listening to him again as he recalled
stories of his youth that I had heard over
the 54 years we were together.
The caption on page 60 of TR's oral history
of space tourism (" 'Very Stunning, Very
Space, and Very Cool,' " January/February
2009) reads, "Charles Simonyi experiences
zero gravity aboard a Russian aircraft."
No airplane flies in zero gravity. People
become weightless because the airplane
flies a path that does not support them;
when they are weightless they are really
in free fall, accelerating toward Earth as a
result of gravity!
James F. Jackson
Correction: On pages 34--35 of the January/
February 2009 issue, we misattributed
credit for photographs of the Am386 and
Motorola 68000 chips. They were photo-
graphed by William Blair.
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