Power to the People
Last week's massive power blackout in the north-east and midwest regions of the US is a reminder that the electrical grid is the central nervous system that coordinates a densely populated urban existence. So how likely is it that the electricity will go off, not just for a brief moment but for extended periods of time? Unfortunately, the power grid is increasingly vulnerable to disruption because of energy shortages and terrorism.
The problem with the existing grid in the US and elsewhere is that each part of the system is so dependent on the rest of the system working that when a single malfunction occurs anywhere, it can result in power loss everywhere. To prevent a repetition of this kind of blackout requires the creation of a decentralised, distributed electricity grid powered by millions of hydrogen fuel cells.
There is an important lesson here to be learned from the development of the decentralised worldwide web. The Pentagon created the precursor to the internet in the late 1960s. The Department of Defense (DOD) was concerned about power blackouts and the potential vulnerability to attack or other forms of disruption of centrally controlled communication operations. They were looking for a new kind of decentralised communications medium, in which all parties could produce information and send it to one another in a way that would continue to function even if part of the system was disrupted or destroyed.
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