Environment: The Power Shortage

In the 88 years since Thomas Alva Edison inaugurated the nation's first steam-electric power station in lower Manhattan, the U.S. has become extraordinarily dependent on electricity. Americans now take for granted the busy computers that click in offices, the lights that blaze all night in poultry farms, the sensitive machines that monitor patients in hospitals. The average U.S. household contains 16 electrical appliances. But the day may come when people casually flip a switch or lift a receiver—and nothing will happen.

In simplest terms, the enormous demand for energy is catching up with supply. With $100 billion already invested in plants, equipment...

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