US Power Grid Faces New Threats

August 12, 2013, by Ken Jorgustin

us-power-grid-faces-threats
Image Source: AP

The recent Associated Press article, “10 years after blackout, US grid faces new threats”, while emphasizing new money spent per mile of transmission line by electrical utilities, and some improvements made since a notorious 2003 blackout across eight states and parts of Canada, the fact is that the US grid remains vulnerable to failures for a number of reasons…


 
A tree branch in Ohio touched a power line and set off major power outages that cascaded across parts of the country during 2003. The industry has apparently addressed some of the issues that caused this failure, while at the same time it points out one of the obvious vulnerabilities of thousands of miles of power lines strung across this nation.

While the industry now has a nearly real-time view of the system, and is apparently better equipped to stop problems from growing as it did during that August day of 2003, part of the solution may itself have exposed yet a new vulnerability, one of cyber threat. A hacker who potentially gains access to these networks could wreak great havoc and potentially bring the nation to its knees without electricity.

“Some regulators and policymakers are increasingly worried about cyberattacks that could target systems that manage power plants or grids.”

“Aging coal and nuclear plants are shutting down in the face of higher maintenance costs, pollution restrictions…”

-AP

More power plants are evidently adapting to natural gas. While this is portrayed as a good thing, at the same time this creates new vulnerabilities of potential shortages during winter months when heating demand is high and natural gas pipelines are not sufficient to supply both the heating customers (first dibs) and power plants (get the leftovers) during times of stress in parts of the country.

Joe Welch, CEO of ITC Holdings Corp., the largest independent transmission company in the U.S. said “The grid that exists today wasn’t designed for what everybody wants to do with it,”

We are living with an aging system, and to an extent we’ve been lucky in that a relatively flat and stagnant economy has kept some of the potential electricity demand in check.

Like many aging systems, there comes a time when lots of money, repair and replacement is required to offset the compound curve of more and more breakdowns.

While the industry touts its improvements, lets not forget its vulnerabilities.
Lets not forget our 100% reliance on this system for our modern world to exist.

Lets also not forget the Carrington Event of 1859.