Keeping the lights on

Many Americans never contemplated their dependence upon electricity until the lights went out during the blackout that blanketed the US Northeast and Upper Midwest in darkness Aug. 14-15.The event demonstrated how our dependence upon the electric transmission grid involves subtle details frequently taken for granted: cars require gasoline from pumps powered by electricity, and cell phones depend on towers powered by electricity.The worst blackout in US history could spur interest in distributed power generation, which is any small-scale power generation technology that provides electricity at a site closer to customers than central-station generation. Fuel cells are examples of technology...

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