New distribution schemes have followed apace, linking the world into flexible grids that can deliver electricity across thousands of miles. These grids, as well as computer-controlled routing and switching systems, are intended to reduce the possibility of the kinds of blackouts that struck the densely populated northeastern United States at wide intervals in the latter part of the 20th century and early in the 21st.
Instrumental in a whole host of improvements has been the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), established by public- and investor-owned energy producers in the wake of the 1965 blackout and now including member organizations from some 40 countries. EPRI investigates and fosters ways to enhance power production, distribution, and reliability, as well as the energy efficiency of devices at the power consuming end of the equation. Reliability has become more significant than ever. In an increasingly digital, networked world, power outages as short as 1/60th of a second can wreak havoc on a wide variety of microprocessor-based devices, from computer servers running the Internet to life support equipment. EPRI's goal for the future is to improve the current level of reliability of the electrical supply from 99.99 percent (equivalent to an average of one hour of power outage a year) to a standard known as the 9-nines, or 99.9999999 percent reliability.
As the demand for the benefits of electrification continues to grow around the globe, resourcefulness remains a prime virtue. In some places the large-scale power grids that served the 20th century so well are being supplemented by decentralized systems in which energy consumers—households and businesses—produce at least some of their own power, employing such renewable resources as solar and wind power. Where they are available, schemes such as net metering, in which customers actually sell back to utility companies extra power they have generated, are gaining in popularity. Between 1980 and 1995, 10 states passed legislation establishing net metering procedures and another 26 states have done so since 1995. Citizens of the 21st-century world, certainly no less hungry for electrification than their predecessors, eagerly await the next steps.