When the Grid Goes Down It Will Likely Stay Down For an Extended Period.

Electrical Grid Failure

Hyperbole is an exaggeration or an overstatement, in other words a headline grabber when surfing the Internet. Imaginations run wild and people come up with all sorts of doomsday scenarios, because the world is a dangerous place.

In some cases after reading this type of headline and skimming the first paragraph or two, you realize the author may be playing on your fears.

You however, suspect some things, and others are on the fringes of your imagination. You think possible but not likely, when it comes to certain situations. Fear sells in today’s world because everyone has fears, and you can connect with others that have the same fears by surfing the Internet. You can connect with thousands, tens of thousands of people, in a matter of seconds that have the same fears. If everyone has the same fear then there must be something to it, right?

What Exactly Is a Power Grid?

An electrical grid is an interconnected network designed to deliver electricity from suppliers to consumers. The grid consists of a series of generating stations, which produce electrical power from sources many miles away, hundreds if not thousands of miles away in some cases. Then there are high-voltage lines that transmit power from the distant sources to demand centers, and then distribution lines run from distribution centers to transmit the power to individual customers.

This is a simplified description of an electrical grid and in essence, there is no such thing as the grid. It is a network, of power sources, demand centers and distribution centers and it is not located in one place. The high power transmitting lines from the sources can cross international boundaries as well.

The Continental U.S. power transmission grid consists of about 300,000 km of lines operated by approximately 500 companies (FEMA).

The so-called grid is not in one place and is not controlled by any one entity, so in some cases, any grid failures would be localized and so the grid does not actually fail as a whole, but all three grids can fail in a series.

It will be a series of failures, that may take several hours, several days or possibly longer and in some parts of the country you may have a warning it will fail.

It is not a singular national power grid. There are actually three power grids operating in the 48 contiguous states. The first one is the Eastern Interconnected System for states east of the Rocky Mountains. The second one is the Western Interconnected System, from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountain States. The third one is the Texas Interconnected System. The systems as a rule operate independently of each other (U.S. Department of Energy).

If one grid fails this does not mean the others necessarily will, but there is the domino effect, because one of the three grids would try to meet the greater demand, because of the failure of one. This may result in a failure of the grid(s) attempting to meet the demand.

The entire system is administered under mandatory procedures set up by the electric power industry’s new electricity reliability organization (the North American Electric Reliability Corporation). The corporation has oversight provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. Department of Energy).

The system is now called an interlinked system, which includes over 3,200 electric distribution utilities with 10,000 plus generating units and there are tens of thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines that supply power to millions of customers.

There is uncertainty in Federal regulatory procedures that address who may be responsible for paying for new transmission lines. This is one of the bigger problems with the power grid. There is uncertainty about the private sector’s ability to raise money to build them. In other words, every town, city and community has to pitch in and help pay for upgrades, and new lines and it seems that every city and town has better things to do with their money, because most are financially strapped. The power grid is old, and it has not been maintained properly because there are constant squabbles over who pays the bill for it all. Once politicians get involved, things tend to go off the rails.

In March of 2014 a study, not released was cited by the Wall Street Journal. The source of the study was the federal government, and is believed to be in response to a sniper attack, a coordinated sniper attack at a power station in California. Some experts believe the attack was a “probe” of the system to find vulnerabilities and see what the response would be.

The study says that a blackout is likely to last a year or longer. The unreleased study goes on to say that coordinated attacks on the three grids as described earlier would disrupt power to nine of the nation’s 55,000 electrical substations. This according to the study would cause a nationwide blackout (Fox News Insider, 2014).

Obviously, any number of things could shut down the entire nation. How likely are they to happen however? What is likely however is a series of attacks, and thus failures that will ripple through all three of the grids causing an entire shutdown eventually?

As stated earlier if you realized something has happened to the grid in Texas, for example, and you live on the East Coast you would realize your grid could or would fail ultimately.

Nuclear detonation whether it is atmospheric or surface would create an EMP that would cause a major disruption or even destruction of the electrical grid. Hackers could shut down one grid, and this would cause a strain on the others that may lead to all three failing.

It is not hyperbole to state that if all three grids fail that the lights would be out for an extended period, years perhaps. The grid for all practical purposes is not protected, regulated properly nor is it maintained properly. All this along with hackers, rouge nations, and terrorists all add up to a grid failure of all three at some point in your life, a failure that could last for years.

Fox News Insider. (2014). Retrieved 2014, from http://foxnewsinsider.com/2014/03/13/rpt-small-scale-attack-us-power-grid-could-cause-nationwide-blackout

U.S. Department of Energy. (n.d.). Retrieved 2014, from http://www.eia.gov/energy_in_brief/article/power_grid.cfm