Natural Disasters Threaten Power Grid

After reading Ted Koppel’s book, Lights Out, and related articles about how vulnerable the power grids in the U.S. are to terrorist attacks, it is clear to me that we should not lose sight of the fact that natural disasters have the potential to do major damage.

See: Extreme weather increasingly threatening U.S. power grid

Power outages related to weather take out between $18 billion to $33 billion from the nation’s economy. Analysis of industry data found that these storms are a growing threat to, and the leading cause of outages in, the U.S. electric grid. The past decade saw power outages related to bad weather increase, which means that power companies must find a way address this problem.

Unfortunately, if you want to see the full text of the journal article cited, you have to pay for it.

3 thoughts on “Natural Disasters Threaten Power Grid

  1. I agree with the points made by Dr. Phelan re: the disasters we have seen thus far. However, nothing gets to our citizens more quickly than being without power. That light switch, hair dryer and coffee pot are critically important and, as we know, few people have thought of what they will do without the conveniences that require electrical power.

    However, there is a potential for damage to the power grids that go beyond what we have experienced in natural disasters such as Katrina and Sandy. The nuclear threat is always out there but let’s not forget the electronic pulses from solar flares as we look at the big picture.

    I was blessed to tour the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder and speak with William Murtagh about solar flares and the tremendous impact they can have on our power grids. Do a search on ‘Solar Flares and the Power Grid’ – very sobering to read what weather scientists have to say.

    For example, “Concern grows over possibility of a massive power surge” by Evan Halper, states:
    Whether caused by solar flares or terrorists, a major electromagnetic pulse could fry the electric grid and cause massive disruption, an increasing number of observers say.

    Quoting: “At a recent conference in Washington, William Murtagh of the federal Space Weather Prediction Center described the dangers of a massive solar storm that is, as the Lloyd’s of London report on the issue says, “almost inevitable.”

    Such storms take place roughly every 150 years. The last one was 155 years ago.

    During the “Carrington event” of 1859, named after the English astronomer who observed it, a huge solar storm ejected a mass of particles and electromagnetic energy intense enough to induce a surge that knocked out the switching system of the New York Central Railroad below 125th Street and caused the control tower to catch fire. News reports told of telegraph wires going berserk.

    But electricity was hardly the backbone of society in pre-Civil War America. Scientists fear such an occurrence now could cause chaos.

    A preview of the potential damage came in 1989, when the Hydro-Quebec power grid in Canada collapsed in less than two minutes from a solar storm. Six million people were without power for nine hours.

    A bigger event could knock out multiple transformers — so many, perhaps, that backup systems would be overwhelmed. Replacing them could take months.”

    I personally believe Ted Koppel’s book should be taken more seriously. This is another example of how unprepared we are.

  2. Here’s my post to the Homeland Security News Wire article.
    Before anyone gets upset about electric power availability, check the reliability figures of electric power providers. In the U.S. most are well above 95%. When disaster strikes and takes out power generation, transmission or distribution infrastructure, power companies depend on a mutual aid system to provide the required personnel to make repairs. Crews from as far away as Detroit respond to New York and New England, for example. Investor-owned utilities need to build their budgets to upgrade the delivery systems, and not depend on FEMA funds. Construction of robust infrastructure needs to take place prior to the next disaster, not after it. People who live in vulnerable areas need to prepare for power outages. Their own efforts will take the pain out of an extended outage, which is very rare. Critics often talk about the U.S. Power Grid. There is no such thing. There are several grids across the country. When one is damaged, it may not affect any of the others. Power grids are regional, not national.

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