A century ago, when the foundation of today's power distribution system was laid, electric appliances were just beginning to enter homes. Over time, the nation's power use has skyrocketed, and so has the population. Demand is now rising at 1 percent a year, pushing more electricity through lines that were never intended to handle such high loads. "We sometimes joke that if Alexander Graham Bell woke up tomorrow and saw my phone, he'd be astounded," says David Manning, executive director of the New York State Smart Grid Consortium. "If Thomas Edison woke up tomorrow and saw the grid, he could not only recognize it, he could probably fix it."