Power of Ecosystems / Ecosystems of Power

Having recently endured a power outage during one of the coldest days of the year in a country that begins above the 45th parallel, we are bluntly reminded of the power of (electrical) power. There continues to be increased, and just, pressure to modernize our aging electrical network from "the grid," as it is known, into a smart grid or a super grid. How synchronous then that we read with great interest on Alexis Madrigal's site about how the US Department of Energy has now designated the century-old electrical power grid an "ecosystem."

Here the ecosystem refers to the hardware itself, as a sprawling tentacular pulsating machine. Or as they write in the Smart Grid brochure:

Our century-old power grid is the largest interconnected machine on Earth, so massively complex and inextricably linked to human involvement and endeavor that it has alternately (and appropriately) been called an ecosystem. It consists of more than 9,200 electric generating units with more than 1,000,000 megawatts of generating capacity connected to more than 300,000 miles of transmission lines. ... Today’s electricity system is 99.97 percent reliable, yet still allows for power outages and interruptions that cost Americans at least $150 billion each year — about $500 for every man, woman and child.

But somehow we prefer to think of the grid not necessarily as an ecosystem so much as demarcating one. That the networked powerlines and associated towers and tunnels mark a territory. And that territory, deemed undesirable for human development, instead inscribes an interconnected ecosystem habitat highway. The only true wild remaining in US runs parallel and under this network.

Adam Ryder and Brian Rosa's On the Grid, currently at the Stairwell Gallery in Providence, RI, seems to capture this version of the ecosystem better. Their photographs follow the high-tensioned electrical lines in Rhode Island, starting near Ocean State Park Power facility in Burrillville. The network, typical in many ways, is full of rusty trucks, loading docks, horses, birds, bugs, and other marginilized urbanisms and nature. As development pushes from either side of these electrical corridors, animals and insects flock to this zone as it becomes a reliable no-man's land of occupation, and kind of everyday demilitarized zone between competing developments.

Or as they write:

The path of the power lines functions as a rural to urban transect, cutting through farmland and commercial parks, cul-de-sacs and strip malls, used car lots and interstate highways.

And further still on the kind of landscapes that emerge around power lines:

... the realm of power lines seems to exist not only outside of regulation, but also outside of the normative properties of the native landscape. Whereas an area half of a mile away from a high tension line may be densely wooded, the space occupied by the wires will be clear-cut, devoid of trees and exhibiting, at most, low shrubbery and grass. The uniformity of this narrow swath as it cuts through the landscape reveals as much about its own spatial utility as it does of the landscape it bifurcates across the state (and beyond).

On the Grid runs from Jan 10 - ? at the Stiarwell Gallery in Providence, RI.

And a related radio segment is here.

Add new comment

BLOG ARCHIVE

2009

December 2009

November 2009

October 2009

September 2009

August 2009

July 2009

June 2009

May 2009

April 2009

March 2009

February 2009

January 2009