US electrical grid on the edge of failure

Monday, August 26, 2013
By Paul Martin

Network analysis suggests geography makes grid inherently unstable.

Jeff Tollefson
Nature.com
25 August 2013

Facebook can lose a few users and remain a perfectly stable network, but where the national grid is concerned simple geography dictates that it is always just a few transmission lines from collapse.

That is according to a mathematical study of spatial networks by physicists in Israel and the United States. Study co-author Shlomo Havlin of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, says that the research builds on earlier work by incorporating a more explicit analysis of how the spatial nature of physical networks affects their fundamental stability. The upshot, published today in Nature Physics, is that spatial networks are necessarily dependent on any number of critical nodes whose failure can lead to abrupt — and unpredictable — collapse1.

The electric grid, which operates as a series of networks that are defined by geography, is a prime example, says Havlin. “Whenever you have such dependencies in the system, failure in one place leads to failure in another place, which cascades into collapse.”

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