From Bea Wray in South Carolina

I used to travel quickly over the Wando Bridge to get kids to school or go to the grocery store. That changed recently. The 526 Wando Bridge was shut down for about a week to west-bound traffic as emergency repairs were done. Port container traffic was diverted onto Highway 17 through Mount Pleasant. The entire town seemed clogged. I looked at the drivers around me. No one seemed happy.

Here’s what I realized: I took the Wando Bridge for granted. When the bridge wasn’t easy for me I was frustrated. Now, as I learn about the electric industry for Energy Consumers of the Carolinas readers, I see that electric service is like the Wando Bridge. Everything is fine as long as it doesn’t stop my alarm clock from going off, keep me from morning coffee, or disrupt my kids’ schedules.

I am accustomed to my electric service being easy for me. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for getting emergency repairs done. Infrastructure matters, not just on roads but in the electric system, too. As I have been learning about the electric industry I see that there are infrastructure needs on the grid, too.

Some electric system issues, such as hurricanes, are major, and we are getting into that season. How big are the needs? Well, Hurricane Irma affected every county in Florida and had 80 percent of customer accounts without power in Miami-Dade alone. (A good recent article about electric grid infrastructure is in a publication called UtilityDive.)  

Some are individual actions, like knowing how to conserve energy when the system is running flat out. That is when a lot of people all doing a little can make a big difference.

Just a side note, I have seen an extreme individual action to keep the lights on, though not in the Carolinas. My brother-in-law started an elementary school in Belgrade Serbia, and he actually had to go chip ice off the rooftop generator to keep the electricity going. I added that to a list of “things I am happy I don’t have to do today.” Or ever, I hope.

There are billions of dollars being invested in our grid against cyber attack, natural disasters, to make it smarter and make it more of a two-way system between suppliers and customers. Yes, sort of like a bridge that carries traffic. The Wando Bridge should be resolved mid-June according to the SC Department of Transportation. There will be other roads to fix, though. It is an ongoing process. Same with our electric grid. We need to “harden the system” (an electric term I learned).

We have it pretty good, really. We need to keep it that way. I have come to expect that access to reliable electric power requires little more from me than flipping a switch. That’s something I now appreciate a lot more. How about you? I’ll be looking more at the way we can all learn about the electric system’s future in my next columns.