Are You Ready Series: Rolling Blackouts
The U.S. power grid, as it exists today, is dying a slow and miserable death. Experts in the private and public sector are also concerned about the weakness of the grid and suggest we are one major catastrophic event away from a complete meltdown in America.
The largest blackout that occurred in U.S. history was on August 14, 2003, leaving over 50 million people without power in the Northeast, Midwest and parts of Canada. The blackout’s primary cause was a software bug in the alarm system at a control room of the FirstEnergy Corporation in Ohio. Operators were unaware of the need to re-distribute power after overloaded transmission lines hit unpruned foliage. What would have been a manageable local blackout cascaded into widespread distress on the electric grid.
In 2012, the San Diego Gas & Electric Company shut down, affecting power in Southern California and Arizona. The blackout affected 1.4 million homes and 5 to 6 million people. Flights out of San Diego International Airport were suspended. There were people trapped in elevators, cell phones and land lines went dead making it impossible to call for help. Moreover, gas stations were shut down.
Most recently, the Polar Vortex is threatening rolling blackouts as well due to the heightened demand from utility companies. Operators of the electric grid have urged consumers to conserve power to help overcome a potentially devastating combination of record demand and unexpected supply disruptions, both caused by the extreme cold enveloping much of the country. If voluntary conservation is not followed, then rolling blackouts will occur.
This outdated and aged infrastructure has been in need of a major update for decades; however, instead of investing in a new, more efficient power grid that utilizes renewable power sources (such as solar and wind), regulators instead chose to patch it up to make it work for the time being. This “duct taped” approach is no match for the constant power stream needed to keep population dense areas functioning or for the extreme weather we have experienced over the last decade.