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The Grid: Electrical Infrastructure for a New Era

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  2,855 ratings  ·  389 reviews
America’s electrical grid, an engineering triumph of the twentieth century, is turning out to be a poor fit for the present. It’s not just that the grid has grown old and is now in dire need of basic repair. Today, as we invest great hope in new energy sources--solar, wind, and other alternatives--the grid is what stands most firmly in the way of a brighter energy future. ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 26th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA (first published July 12th 2016)
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Glenn Not sure -- but, having just finished this, I understand why she changed the title. In "Infrastructure" in the old title tends to make one think of th…moreNot sure -- but, having just finished this, I understand why she changed the title. In "Infrastructure" in the old title tends to make one think of the classic Big Utility - run electrical grid. Gretchen Bakke is suggesting solutions which go well beyond the classical Big Utility model -- even beyond more modern concepts like "micro" and "nano grids."(less)

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Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book, unfortunately, is a perfect example of a magazine article's worth of concept, analysis, and insight stretched too thinly to book length. The Bloomsbury editors -- who clearly have zero background in electricity, as a business or discipline -- failed Bakke, and failed her readers. Such a disappointment. ...more
Clif Hostetler
Dec 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-events
This book provides a thorough explanation of both the history and the details of how the electrical power grid works. The book then proceeds to discuss prospects for its future. Anyone who is an advocate for the "greening" of the electrical power should read this book to be informed about the complexities involved in the introduction of renewable and alternative sources of power into a grid that has evolved over the years based on a concept of regulated utilities with a large central source of p ...more
Mary Beth
Apr 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I can't believe how much I enjoyed this book... I am not in any way an energy person, but this book caught my eye -- maybe for just that reason -- and I am delighted to have read it. I learned something new on almost every page. The history of the development of the electric grid in the United States fascinated me. And the inherent unplanned results of that unique history being played out today is eye-opening to be sure. Other reviewers have called this b ...more
Ian Scuffling
I really thought The Grid: Electrical Infrastructure for a New Era was going to be a heck of a lot more interesting and informative than it was. Another reviewer here rightly suggests that this is a book-length magazine article—Bakke circles the drain on many of her points, repeating opinions and insights ad nauseam, diluting their weight and readerly interest. This is an odd point to make about a <300 page book about something as complex and tangled as "the grid."

Bakke is successful in many way
Jason Anthony
Sep 27, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book represents a great idea (the need to explain how our electricity system and the grid work) in desperate need of a greater editor. The topic might not be "sexy" but that doesn't mean the writing has to be robotic and repetitive. This book was a real slog to get through and I have to admit that, despite being an academic used to dry scholarly writing, I couldn't finish this. ...more
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For the first time in my life, I actually think I understand how electricity works, how it is generated, why it does what it does and how it gets to you and me from where it starts. I don't think I could clearly explain it to you but Gretchen Bakke certainly clearly explained it to me. In addition to talking about the grid as it exists today, she also gives a clear history of how we got here and a really fascinating idea of where we might be going. In fact, the major story here is where we reall ...more
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, hoopla
The grumpus23 (23-word commentary)
I work in the electric industry and this book still offered plenty of insight regarding the past, present, and future of our grid.
Oct 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
A rambling and repetitive look at the power grid written by an unqualified author. Painful to read at times. Do not let the "PhD" on the cover fool you, the Gretchen Bakke does not understand basic electrical theory, technology, nor economics for that matter (I looked it up, her proudly displayed PhD is in anthropology). The publisher could have at least found an editor with a technical background to correct some the mistakes.

Honestly, The Grid reads like a Trump speech: "Our power grid is bad.
Fraser Kinnear
Dec 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very interesting history lesson of how we got our current (terribly antiquated) grid, as well as the monopoly/monopsony powers the utilities running the grid have wielded. Especially interesting to me was the impact of PURPA, legislation passed in the 70s that flew under the radar but forced utilities to buy back power produced by smaller players, which allowed for today's solar-panel-on-the-home business model.

Some of the problems that we face in our grid today are also super interesting: all
Very interesting overview of the grid and its many ailments, as well as a meditation on our relationship with electricity. I'm surprised I knew as little about the grid as I did going into this, considering it's the infrastructure that allows for modern life to be what it is. ...more
Kelly Kuwabara
Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book certainly lived up to its promise - it was at least as good a history, exposition, and analysis of our electrical grid as I expected; an in fact was both more thorough and more creative than I had anticipated. The thoroughness may have been at the heart of my biggest struggle with the book; for the first two-thirds, it was a real slog for me. Although I'm science-friendly, and often enjoy science written for non-scientists, with this book I had difficulty retaining some of th ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2018
2.5 stars
An important look into many nuances surrounding the electrical infrastructure in the US. This book covers topics as diverse as the history of our infrastructure, clean energy, what utility providers actually do, technologies that are helping to localize the grid, and more.

However, I can't take a book seriously when the author cannot present basic facts about electricity correctly. This book is in serious need of an electrical engineer to act as editor. The author states that electrons
Peter Tillman
Jan 15, 2017 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Peter by: WSJ review
Pretentious twaddle, as far as I got. Best to look at the better one-star reviews here and at Amazon, before starting this book -- which I was looking forward to reading. Looks hopeless; abandoned. Life is too short....
Jan 28, 2017 rated it liked it
The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future by Gretchen Bakke

“The Grid” is an insightful yet verbose book on America’s grid technology; it’s history together with the laws, people and logic that brought it into existence. Author Gretchen Bakke holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and is currently a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada brings us this seldom told story of the evolution of an essential infrastructure. This interesting 364-page book i
Kshitiz Goliya
Oct 13, 2020 rated it liked it
I am writing this review a day after a blackout happened in India's financial capital, Mumbai, due to grid failure. There are very few books out there which talk about electricity grid, an omnipresent but complex infrastructure without which life in a city (and increasingly villages) will be unimaginable. The book begins by attempting to explain the basic concepts of electricity and the grid in very simple manner. Electric current doesn't behave like other commodities such as oil, coal etc, and ...more
Dec 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
Entirely too wordy - where was the editor? On the other hand, I now know far more about our electric systems. One core idea is that creating a watt should be valued the same as a negative watt (a watt not consumed). Another is that we desperately need distributed energy storage - oil and gas are fantastic for moving energy around (they're energy dense) and they store energy. In contrast when your solar panels generate a watt that watt has to be consumed right then as there isn't s place to store ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I thought this book was excellent, really insightful, well researched and somehow also funny. As someone who works in energy it has changed my perspective on why the grid is what it is and what needs to happen to help it help us get off fossil fuels in our increasingly electronically connected society. Recommended!
Wiktor Macura
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Actually an interesting subject but sorely in need of heavy editing. Towards the end there are obvious typographical errors in the text which make the last half a slog to get through.
Jan 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Ended up skimming most of the second half of the book. Lots of interesting concepts but felt like the book could've very easily been 1/2 as long and gotten the same points across. ...more
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thoughtful, well-written exploration of the opportunities and very real technical, economic, and political challenges for renewable energy and a new way of thinking about electricity.
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good book, providing an overview of America’s electric generation & transportation grids and which explains various policy changes to adapt the grids to future challenges. The author, Gretchen Bakke, lays out the history of America’s electrical infrastructure. She explains the trend from an initial focus on private industrial and municipal efforts through to the heyday of the public utility monopolies. She then gives an understandable but complicated explanation of the current environment, a c ...more
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book being a 2016 Bill Gates pick set high expectations. The Wall Street Journal called it "a lucid and thought-provoking book". I disagree.

My first negative impression starts on the outside of the book. The PhD title of the author, Gretchen Bakke, is prominently featured on the cover. On closer inspection, this turns out to be in cultural anthropology. Featuring your PhD title in this way implies a certain understanding of the topic at hand. This turns out to be false. She keeps mixing up
Mike Yarger
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good book about America's electrical infrastructure. It talks about all aspects of America's electrical grid including its history, power companies, the laws that shaped it and the economics that drive it. The books anecdotes are its best parts. There are detailed timelines of blackouts, histories of interesting energy projects, and interviews with people who have left the grid. There is also a good chapter on the search for better storage technology.

For me, the most interesting point that the
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I generally found this book easy to read and a good introduction to the grid for someone who has never bothered to really learn about it (like me). There were parts of it I found fascinating: the early history of electricity, the descriptions of what went wrong in some outages, and some of the ways that electricity can be stored -- like pumped reservoirs and salt caverns of compressed air.

I wouldn't have minded a more technical depth. There were points where I think a little more detail for peop
Paige McLoughlin
It is okay it covers problems with our current electrical grid and the need to update it for the transfer to renewables. I mean the biggest problem is the duck curve in my view. Basically, that peak solar output that electrical generation will depend upon peaks at noon, and the heaviest electrical use is between 5pm and 9pm when the sun is setting or down. That means we need to overcome the "storage problem" I will drop a video on promising tech fixes. My heart loves tech fixes (I love the optim ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: energy
As a child I read a picture book Current Runs Over the Wires by Pyotr Neporozhny, Minister of Energy of the Soviet Union between 1962 and 1985: where electricity comes from and what it is good for. This is supposed to be an American book for adults on the same topic. However, it is far too long, repetitive, and has mistakes (nuclear fuel is based on uranium oxide, not uranium hexafluoride). We live in interesting times as far as the electric grid is concerned (would anyone have guessed 20 years ...more
Nick Fuqua
May 26, 2019 rated it liked it
A good book about the fraying grid and future-possible grid in America. It isn’t necessarily earth shattering, but is eye opening. 3 stars because I think it is in need of an update or second edition now, is a bit repetitive, and I think the book is a little too harsh on nuclear. While I think a fully decentralized grid and virtual power plants would be great, I can’t help but feel it is unlikely to happen with current energy policy in America. However, it doesn’t hurt to dream!
Bridget Callahan
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a helpful overview for me, as someone in the solar industry, to think about utility company motivations and the historical context for them. It also helped contextualize lots of the buzz words in the industry into the bigger picture. It was a grind to get through at times and could have been condensed, but would recommend overall especially for peers in related industries (renewables, energy, EV, etc).
Interesting and informative. But I wanted to like it better than I did. It wasn't as detailed as I was looking for, especially about the future. And it could have been more detailed in the historical elements as well. It was strongest in the retelling of specific events such as the Blackouts. So more of a hint of the book that could have been - but don't think I've ever seen another book aimed quite at this topic. ...more
John Valett
May 08, 2021 rated it liked it
Interesting stuff in there, but a lot already feels outdated even though it was released a mere 5 years ago. The author was pretty technical, and identified a myriad of problems but only a few minor solutions.
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