Wednesday, August 21, 2013

When the lights go out in the city...

Something doesn't seem quite right...
We recently passed a hallmark in the world of disaster, the 10 year anniversary of the largest blackout in United States History, the day parts of 8 states including some of Canada went dark affecting 50 million people thanks to the dangerous combination of power lines and overgrown tree branches. While not a natural disaster in the traditional sense, its impacts were very similar in economic losses and personal hardship, especially if you've been in New York City during a humid August.

While tough to comprehend, the largest US blackout doesn't hold a candle to the 620 Million people who were left without power in India in July 2012. However, whether it's 50 or 500 million who go without, its loss can be a big deal as it impacts everyone more or less in the same way. While having the lights go out isn't the end of the world, it's something that power companies take seriously and hope to avoid at all costs.

As part of renewed interest in the subject there have been numerous articles citing the problems with our grid and the fact that it's a target for terrorist attacks. However, in the midst of all the doom and gloom the NYTimes ran an article on an exercise to take place that will test the vulnerabilities of our grid in an effort to anticipate and mitigate as many issues as possible. Put on by NERC, The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the exercise has the alphabet soup of the energy world interested and hopes to come away with new perspectives on the biggest challenge that their industry faces--more info can be seen here.

So What Are the Options
In reading through the available articles there seems to be a push for upgrading the US grid to a Nationwide smart grid; after all, if GE can do it for the appliances in our home why can't it be done for our nation's power? The benefits of this expensive upgrade seem to be a step in the right direction with better control over routing, enhanced sensing equipment, and the biggest seller in my opinion, easier integration of renewable power. While upgrades of this nature don't happen overnight and aren't cheap, what can be done in the meantime?

Homeland Security Newswire published an article about new technology that converts natural gas to electricity and could be a commercialized solution to the need for greater distribution and less reliance on our aging power grid infrastructure. While it's still too early to go out and buy this new technology, if you're bored with your traditional generators, hold on tight because "the promise is this: generate your own electricity with a system nearly impervious to hurricanes, thunderstorms, cyberattacks, derechos, and similar dangers, while simultaneously helping the environment." For more information on this go to

Regardless of the cause, blackouts are little thought about events that have the potential to impact large numbers of you put your kits together, make sure that you're ready if the lights go out.

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