|No Electricity - No Trains|
What about the power outage in 2003, which affected more than 50 million people, caused by a power surge in the Midwest? Or in 2007, which left the Queens area of New York in the dark for as long as nine days? OR in 2008, when a failed switch in Miami left 4 million people without power?U.S. energy experts say that a failure such as in India is unlikely to happen in the US. They cite the fact that our electric grids are segmented into three parts, with safeguards to prevent an outage in one system from tripping in another. Great, but one third of the USA is still a pretty good size! And, 75% of the power outages in the U.S. are caused by weather. But as we saw with the Derecho event earlier this summer, extreme power events are on the rise – and there is more human infrastructure which is at risk as we build and expand. The experts also say that the US generates more than enough electricity to meet demand and always have power in reserve. While that may be true, there remain very crucial issues of updating the grid from analog to digital, installing smart metering which could self-monitor, self-heal, and minimize the repercussion of an individual incident.
A greater danger is lurking in cyberspace. Apparently, the vulnerabilities of the existing electric grid control systems are available online, and groups such as ‘Anonymous’ have already demonstrated their ability to hack into the network. Many of the grids and controls were built well before the concept of ‘cybersecurity.’ Energy regulators appealed to the Senate just last week to consider the security risk this poses and to increase information sharing.
Is this the right solution? I am reminded that the best solution addresses the root of the problem, doesn’t create more problems, and doesn’t create a dependency on the intervention mechanism (usually more paperwork or bureaucracy.) In India, the solution was that many of the businesses, healthcare and even homes have back-up diesel fuel generators, since blackouts are relatively uncommon. That is a large bandaid, but not a solution. A big part of the problem seems to be the large dependencies created by current power plants and grids. This requires lots of controls to prevent the spread of power outages.
|Smart Towns - localized energy management|
I wonder if there might not be a more elegant solution by decentralizing power into smaller areas. This would contain power outages and reduce the scale of security threats. The management of the grid would be more responsive to local conditions, and the fiscal management more linked to the users. There is already a trending toward this concept from the private sector, with Greensburg, Kansas and towns Germany who are buying back their energy infrastructure (see Ecobuildtrends Power (ful) lessons from Greensburg). Japan is developing Smart Towns. The concept of a distributed grid has been around for a long time, but often got pushback based on the type of power generation. After all, not everyone wants a coal-fired power plant in their back yard. But with developing technology in biofuel from waste products, power generation from algae growth, cogeneration, combined heat and power plants, the time might be right to reconsider this equation.
Let’s keep the power-outage world of “Revolution’ TV show a Hollywood imaginary world.