Why the American Power Grid Is Still at Risk

Date: Sept. 1, 2016

“13 Years After Northeast Blackout, U.S. Power Grid Remains Vulnerable,” an article by Karen Weigert in the August 17th Wall Street Journal, spells out some sobering reasons why the American power grid is still susceptible to catastrophic failure.

How can that be? Let’s consider some of the reasons that Weigert mentions.

  • Power facilities are under-protected and susceptible to direct physical attack from terrorists and other parties who are committed to sabotaging them. She reminds us that in 2006, snipers attacked a power substation in San Jose, CA, damaging 17 transformers and causing $15 million in damage.
  • The grid is also susceptible to cyberattacks. Weigert notes that one such attack happened in Ukraine just last year, causing 225,000 people to lose power. Although safeguards are in place, we should not assume that U.S. power facilities are adequately protected.
  • Similarly, U.S. power facilities remain at risk of failure due to hurricanes, floods and other natural calamities.
  • High at-peak demand for electricity during heat waves can still exceed utilities’ ability to provide uninterrupted electricity.
  • Our national power grid is comprised of 55,000 substations that are vulnerable to physical attack, cyberattacks, or failure due to natural causes. Weigert writes that if only nine of them fail, the result could be a nationwide power failure.
  • Although some areas are hurrying to provide backup from batteries and other sources, they are not yet ready to jump in and provide electricity if a widespread failure should occur.

Sobering Thoughts

Weigert points out that governmental plans to improve American infrastructure and assure an uninterrupted flow of electricity to all citizens are in development, but by no means moving ahead without impediments.

The result? Our power grid is vulnerable, and likely to remain so at least in the short term. Microgrids are hot, and being developed and made operational in more areas of the country. But will they be ready in time to prevent another widespread power blackout?

It all makes for very sobering food for thought.

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