Tag: failure risk

16
Jun

The Biggest Risk to the American Power Grid

It was a warm October morning.

I was headed out for my daily caffeine fix, and as I drove I sensed something weird with the sky.

There was a strange, giant grey cloud on the horizon. At first I thought it was a thunderhead.

Then it hit me – that wasn’t a cloud.

 It was a huge plume of smoke to the north.

Wildfire!

I live in Northern California, where sadly we now get wildfires every year… especially in the fall, when the dreaded “Diablo” winds blow.

Thanks to the Diablo winds from the previous night, what had started as a small fire had now exploded in size, and was heading our way.

So I packed up some clothes and my laptop just in case.

The next morning my cell phone started screeching that it was time to evacuate… NOW.

I drove to a friend’s place outside the evacuation zone. The next few days were nerve wracking, as the winds did indeed turn hellacious and threatened area cities and towns.

Four days after being evacuated we were cleared to return home.

But when I got there I found we had no electricity or gas, as PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric, our power company) had pulled the plug on it.

Power shut-offs like this are the new normal for much of California during fire season (roughly May through October), as it’s easily the most effective way for PG&E to reduce the odds of wildfires caused by high winds.

Intermittent power shut-offs might also become the new normal for much of the rest of the US.

We’re now experiencing deadlier wildfires in California and the Western US… stronger hurricanes in Florida, the Eastern Seaboard, and the Gulf states…  more destructive tornadoes in the Midwest…

The point is, we all take “on-demand” power for granted.

From our gas stoves… to the lights in our homes … to our air conditioning and heating systems… and every other modern convenience…

No one worries much about whether “juice” will be available the moment we need it.

But America’s power grids face some very serious threats.

Everything from wildfires, floods and hurricanes, to the political instability of energy producing countries, and the manipulation of energy supplies (as evidenced by the 2019 OPEC spat between Russia and Saudi Arabia).

Then there’s terrorists and foreign hackers.

This last threat is particularly worrying.