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PHOTO CAPTION: Toyota Prius converted to plug-in will have range of 20 or so miles in electric-only mode

Clean Energy Will Depend on a New, 'Smart' Grid

The biggest technology hurdle utilities and carmakers face right now is the ability to exchange information seamlessly, because there is no common language.

Published: 27-Oct-2008

Wind turbines and solar panels have become the icons of renewable energy. But renewable energy is only as effective as the infrastructure that moves it around: the electrical grid.

Cool devices to harness pollution-free energy won't do much to lessen the country's fossil-fuel dependence unless aging and unsophisticated infrastructure is vastly updated to transmit it.

Even at today's levels, renewable energy is straining an electrical grid already showing signs of fragility, as evidenced by the 2003 blackout that turned out the lights from Connecticut to Michigan. In Texas, which has more installed wind-power capacity than any other state, wind turbines sometimes are ordered shut off because the state's electrical lines can't handle the surge of fresh juice. In California, energy from strong solar rays are stranded far from thirsty markets because of a shortage of transmission lines.

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