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The grid has not changed much since the days of Thomas Edison, George Crabtree, senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, told PBS’s The Good Stuff in the video below. While other industries have made dramatic advances in the last century, he said, the electrical grid has remained largely the same.

“Imagine that we brought back Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, and we showed him our cell phones … He’d be baffled,” Crabtree said. “Now, bring back Thomas Edison and show him the grid as we have it now and he would instantly recognize every feature of that grid,” he said. “He’d say ‘Oh, I understand that grid. I know how it works … In fact, I could run the grid for you if you’d like.'”

But all that is about to change, Crabtree predicted. “It may be 5 to 10 to 15 years off, but I think it will come,” he said.

And, experts agree. A report from the U.S. Department of Energy last year called the grid “old, obsolete and vulnerable” and said it’s in need of a $15 billion overhaul.

“It’s inefficient, it’s wasteful and it could just be better,” explained The Good Stuff’s host Craig Benzine.

Crabtree is helping spearhead the push for a smarter grid through his work at the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research—a research partnership of various academic and industrial labs and commercial manufacturers with the goal of developing the next generation of battery technology.

We’ve revolutionized energy storage before with the lithium-ion battery, Benzine explained. But if we are to make renewables competitive with fossil fuels, we need a battery that’s about five times less expensive and five times more energy dense than lithium-ion batteries, Crabtree explained. “That’s a huge jump,” he said.

But progress is well under way. Check it out:

For a better understanding of how our current power grid works, watch this video from The Good Stuff:


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