The power grid has morphed in size tenfold during the past 50 years. While solar flares, cyber-attacks, and an EMP are perhaps the most extensive and frightening threats to the electrical system, the fragile infrastructure could just as easily fail in large portions, due to weather-related events. The power grid is basically a ticking time bomb which will spawn civil unrest, lack of food, clean water, and a multitude of fires if it does go down. Weather-related events were the primary cause of power outages from 2007 to 2012, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure report card. Power grid reliability issues are emerging as the greatest threat to the electrical system.
If the power grid fails, even for just a single week, do you have the food supply and fuel supply necessary to survive? An emergency food kits and dehydrated food in a bugout bag in your vehicle will also come in very handy if you slide off the road or get stranded at work.
Freezing temperatures across the United States during the winter of 2013-14 placed an extraordinary burden on the power grid – and in some places have served as a reminder of its vulnerabilities. It became so cold that cargo ships are getting caught in a frozen Detroit River, forcing them to rely on icebreakers. In the South, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) issued an Energy Emergency Alert 2 on Monday as the state’s main power grid barely avoided overwhelming outages. The level two alert is the final step in the process before rotating power outages are implemented.
Weather-related issues caused the loss of two big power plants that totaled an approximate 3,700 megawatt power decrease. ERCOT was urging citizens to conserve power. ERCOT’s Dan Woodfin told the media that the loss of just one more large power plant could have “pushed the grid over the edge.”
During the near-power outage in Texas, the state was forced to import roughly 800 megawatts of power from the nation’s eastern power grid and another 180 megawatts from Mexico. One megawatt of power offers enough energy to supply 200 homes during a peak usage period and 500 during non-peak hours. The arctic chill likely prompted many homeowners and businesses to run their heating units far longer and harder than is standard for this time of year – increasing usage during hours.
The Tennessee Valley Authority also reported increased electricity consumption when freezing temperatures in the single digits blanketed the South. The utility commission issued both a “Conservative Operations Alert” and a “Power Supply Alert.” The department also suspended all routine maintenance activities to reduce the risk of a power interruption.
The 1993 Superstorm was a massive cyclonic storm that began over the Gulf of Mexico on March 12. The destructive mass is also referred to as the Great Blizzard of ’93. During its peak, the storm stretched from Canada to Central America. The primary impact of the blizzard fell upon the eastern half of the United States and Cuba.
As the storm blew across the country hurricane-force winds destroyed homes, businesses, and knock out power between Cuba and Louisiana. Storm surges in northwest Florida caused massive flooding and tornados – killing dozens of residents unprepared for the wicked and unseasonable storm. Towns as far south as Birmingham, Alabama were blanketed in at least one foot of snow.
Cold temperature records were set all along the East and South United States. Those without an alternative source of power shivered and had no means of preparing food or flushing commodes. As with all of the deadliest storms and blackouts in America, emergency services were stretched to their very limits and hospitals struggled to keep generators filled and life-saving treatments continuing for patients.
The 1993 Superstorm was responsible for knocking out power to more than 10 million customers – 40 percent of the country. More than 300 people died as a result of the blizzard-hurricane-tornado front that moved swiftly through America. The outlook was far more grim for some folks in the South who did not pay attention to the warnings because temperatures appeared fairly normal for early March. Doubting that freezing temperatures would truly befall them, store shelves remained full until snow and ice began to fall from the sky – and then it was too risky to go onto the roads and most stores were out of power anyway. Since the forecast had largely been generated by new computer programs at the U.S. National Weather Service and the numbers were off the charts odd, many news stations in the South were reluctant to even issue alerts for fear of looking foolish.
Severe weather has caused more than 675 blackouts between 2003 and 2012, costing the US approximately $18 billion to $33 billion per year, according to a report by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and the United States Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.
The electrical system in New Jersey also faced severe strain during the winter of 2013. A regional power grid operator from the state reported that the system, which serves the eastern and southern portions of America, was overloaded and PJM Interconnection asked consumers to conserve electricity. PJM is a Pennsylvania-based organization which manages the wholesale of power to the region.
The regional grid serves approximately 61 million people in 13 different states. Areas included in the service region include Ohio, New Jersey, Kentucky, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Michigan, West Virginia, Tennessee, Washington, DC. Virginian, and Maryland. According to PJM, the polar vortex weather front caused natural gas and other types of power plants to unexpectedly shut down. A polar vortex is the circulation of upper-level, strong winds which normally flow around the North Pole in a counterclockwise path. Sometimes the polar low pressure system can become “distorted” and range much further south than is typical.
When Superstorm Sandy rocked the New Jersey coast in 2012, millions of largely unprepared people were without power for weeks. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) statistics, there have been 645 hurricanes between the months of September and November since 1851. In comparison, only 321 hurricanes formed from June through August during the same time period.
The United States power grid has more blackouts than any other country in the developed world, according to new data that spotlights the country’s aging and unreliable electric system. The data by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) shows that Americans face more power grid failures lasting at least an hour than residents of other developed nations. And it’s getting worse.
Going back three decades, the United States grid loses power 285 percent more often than it did in 1984, when record keeping began. The power outages cost businesses in the United States as much as $150 billion per year, according to the Department of Energy.