Ross: With unlimited clean electricity on the horizon, how will we protect it?

Dec 12, 2022, 7:37 AM | Updated: 9:17 am
Workers make the Super Conducting magnets at an ITER facility which is part of a mega construction effort taking place in Southern France where countries are collaborating to create a miniature 'sun on earth' on August 7, 2019 in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, France. The USA, Russia, South Korea, China, Japan, the European Union and India are all collaborating on the project as equal partners. The project, called the ITER project or The Path, aims to harness the benefits of fusion power, using the process of two heavier atoms of Hydrogen fused together to produce literally unlimited quantities of energy from a relatively non-polluting source. This is unique since it will house the coldest place in the universe and also within a few metres it will house the reactor that mimics the Sun, creating temperatures of about 150 million degrees Celsius. At a cost of 20 billion Euros the ITER project is the most expensive scientific project on Earth and is expected to start operating by 2025. (Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)

Tomorrow the Department of Energy is scheduled to make it official – a government lab was able to create a significant amount of energy using a controlled fusion reaction.

Labs have initiated controlled fusion reactions before, but only after putting more energy into the experiment than they got out of it.

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This latest experiment, however, was able to produce a net gain for the first time.

If you’re over 40, don’t expect a fusion power plant in your lifetime…but if this turns out to be practical, your grandchildren would see a world where unlimited electricity can be generated without radioactive waste and without carbon emissions.

A big deal – provided – we solve the other problem threatening our supply of electricity. Sabotage!

Even the cleanest, most efficient fusion power can’t get to your home if the substations are getting shot up – as happened last week in North Carolina, and before that in South Carolina, Oregon, and right here in Washington.

I don’t know whether they’re Russian sympathizers trying to give Americans a taste of life in Ukraine, or plain old Luddites — but they are reminding us that our electricity delivery system is as exposed as it gets.

It also reminds us yet again of the fundamental problem with electricity. It cannot be efficiently stored in bulk.

You can store a month’s worth of water or a year’s worth of food, but even with a really expensive home backup system, the amount of electricity you can store is measured in hours.

And I think that if we’re going to sink billions into fusion power, national security demands that we also figure out how to be less dependent on that exposed power grid.

Electric utilities are doing what they can – they’re trimming trees, they conduct crisis exercises. And God bless them for that.

But I think we would all feel a lot better knowing that if the cybercriminals attack, or the saboteurs open fire, or one of our winter storms gets out of hand, regardless of what happens to the grid, we can walk into the pantry, press a red button, and the lights come back on as if nothing happened.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: With unlimited clean electricity on the horizon, how will we protect it?