Scientists Had Warned of Weak Power Grid

Drift3r

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Jun 3, 2003
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Scientists Had Warned of Weak Power Grid

By DAFNA LINZER and JIM KRANE, Associated Press Writers

NEW YORK - Scientists and engineers with the National Research Council warned the White House and Congress about the vulnerability of the power grid as recently as November, saying nationwide weaknesses needed to be repaired ? and fast.

Little has been done, despite a chorus of experts who've pushed since well before Sept. 11 to fix a grid that's riddled with threadbare links and plagued by chronic shortages.

"The power grid has not gotten much more than important conversations since Sept. 11," said Paul Gilbert, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, which worked on the report for the National Research Council.

The report, "Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism," was issued in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, but it noted that the systems were "subject to increased stress even without the threat of terrorism."

The report urged the protection of key elements of the power grid and the creation of an updated system that would limit vulnerabilities to the flow of electricity.

"Technology should be developed for an intelligent, adaptive power grid," that would be able "to rapidly respond with graceful system failure and rapid power recovery," the report recommended. The report's authors shared their findings and recommendations with the White House and congressional committees last November, Gilbert said.

A day after the largest blackout in U.S. history darkened lives across the most populous swath of North America, power experts said the system's sorry shape appears to have been a surprise only to the unwitting consumers who relied on it.

"We're trying to build a 21st century electric marketplace on top of a 20th century electric grid," said Ellen Vancko, a spokeswoman for the North American Electric Reliability Council. "No significant additions have been made to the grid in 20 years of bulk electric transmission, yet we've had significant increases in the amount of generation."

Many predicted that the tall, wire-bearing towers and substations that ferry power into the crowded cities of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada would fail sooner or later, after decades of neglect.

"It's something that's been coming I think for the past 35 years," said Mel Olken, editor-in-chief of IEEE Power & Energy Magazine, which is published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

"We just kept stretching our systems further and further" as consumers and businesses upgraded homes and offices to cope with power-craving air conditioners and computers.

By contrast, the region's transmission grid languishes in the era of black-and-white TV, outpaced by the demands of modernized generating plants shoving power into it at one end, or the new appliances sucking electricity out the other end.

New York Assemblyman Paul Tonko, an engineer and chairman of his chamber's Energy Committee, said there hasn't been major spending to improve transmission lines by the state since the 1970s and no major work by utilities since the 1960s.

President Bush said Friday the power outages across the Northeast and Midwest are a "wake-up call" to the antiquated state of the nation's electrical grid.

"The grid needs to be modernized, the delivery systems need to be modernized," Bush said. "We've got an antiquated system."

Gilbert, who worked on the National Research Council report, said current budget scheduling, however, made it unlikely that any funding could be allocated before the 2005 budget for resolving the grid's weakness.

Experts said long-awaited upgrades have been flummoxed by property holders, environment lobbyists and politicians who require a crisis to push them to act.

The hurdles run from Wall Street's reluctance to invest in transmission capacity due to a lack of clear ground rules to the headaches involved in building new high-wire power lines across the most crowded parts of the region.

"Nobody wants it in their backyard," said David K. Owens, executive vice president for the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, D.C., a lobby group for private power companies. "There are parts of our nation where it's very difficult to build transmission because there's no place to put it."

In a typical example of the conundrums, utilities were loath to build new capacity in Connecticut's Fairfield County, because of high property costs even though the area holds a quarter of the state's residents and accounts for half the state's demand, said Joel Rinebold, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University.

"Any single backyard can completely stall the deal," said John Athas, an expert in eastern energy markets with Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

To get the upgrades rolling, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been grappling for two years to harmonize standards and equipment across the patchwork of dozens of local power utilities ? some private companies, others state-owned ? with different operating rules, Athas said.

While investors withhold their funds until the complex process ends, Athas said utilities have stalled their own upgrades because rate caps prevent them from charging more to recoup investments.

The result has only compounded the neglect.

In May, the nonprofit group that operates New York State's high-voltage electric transmission system reported that nine out of 10 electricity capacity-boosting projects across the state haven't cleared the hurdles required to build them. The only one finished, an undersea cable between Connecticut and Long Island, sat idled by political wrangling until Friday ? when it was turned on by order of the U.S. Department of Energy, said Carol Murphy, spokeswoman for the New York Independent System Operator.

The Center for the Advancement of Energy Markets predicted a major blackout last year in a report that said the "laws of probability suggest that we are due for a reminder of how old our infrastructure is."

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology warned last summer, "The real energy crisis may be happening on the nation's aging power grid. Getting electricity from here to there over high-power transmission lines is becoming more unpredictable and difficult."

The school's Technology Review magazine quoted David Cook, general counsel for the North American Electric Reliability Council, who warned the Department of Energy: "The question is not whether, but when, the next major failure of the grid will occur."

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=514&e=4&u=/ap/20030815/ap_on_re_us/blackout_delicate_grids
 

Tab

Lifer
Sep 15, 2002
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I wouldnt want to be one of those warned of the power outages... I wonder how many lawsuits their will be over this.
 

dexvx

Diamond Member
Feb 2, 2000
3,899
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Its funny how all the backdrop facts start to emerge only after a diaster.

The American media is sure efficient
 

sandorski

No Lifer
Oct 10, 1999
69,423
4,807
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Originally posted by: dexvx
Its funny how all the backdrop facts start to emerge only after a diaster.

The American media is sure efficient
Well, technically, those who could have done something were notified. This is more of a leadership(Power Co execs, Governors/politicians, other agencies) caught with their pants down. Certain things should not need public pressure to get done, people are elected to office or appointed to agencies to deal with these kinds of things.

That said, 20/20s a bitch. Hopefully things get fixed(aka this won't happen again) and lessons get learned.
 

freegeeks

Diamond Member
May 7, 2001
5,460
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it pretty much sums up what some expert dude said yesterday on CNN

"the USA is a superpower with a third world power grid"
 

Crazymofo

Platinum Member
May 14, 2003
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Originally posted by: freegeeks
it pretty much sums up what some expert dude said yesterday on CNN

"the USA is a superpower with a third world power grid"
And thats because the people making money and decisions dont want to spend the money they are making...
 

DealMonkey

Lifer
Nov 25, 2001
13,136
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Kinda like 9/11, I guess we have to wait for catasrophic failure before we get off our fat asses and do anything about it
 

da loser

Platinum Member
Oct 9, 1999
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Originally posted by: dexvx
Its funny how all the backdrop facts start to emerge only after a diaster.

The American media is sure efficient
the job of the media should not be advocacy. they should just report on the latest facts.

this problem is the cause of everyone, citizens, interest groups, politicians as the article stated.

"Experts said long-awaited upgrades have been flummoxed by property holders, environment lobbyists and politicians who require a crisis to push them to act."

all i have to say is citizens really do have the power. they're the property holders, lobbyists, and people who vote. it's up to them to inform themselves of the current situation and stop depending on mass media or politicians to tell them what's up.

the nimby mentality has come to roost yet again, and people got what they deserved. politicians are elected by people who tell them what they want to hear. i don't see anyone in the northeast telling the power companies to build a transmission line or nuclear power plant in their neighborhood.

and i just wanted to plug yet another reason why scientists should run the world :D
 

sMiLeYz

Platinum Member
Feb 3, 2003
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Originally posted by: dahunan
Bush is too religious to listen to scientists.
He listens to scientists... only scientists he wants to hear and after listening to corporate representatives and fellow evangelists.
 

BarneyFife

Diamond Member
Aug 12, 2001
3,875
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What an exciting 24+ hours here in Michigan without power. It's obvious that homeland security was not prepared for this. The first 16 hours it was basically, "We don't know what happened, we are trying to turn on power". The 2nd thing that bothered me was that my phones went dead. The final nail in the coffin was the water pressure was extremely low or non-exsistent the farther north you lived from Detroit. So the power goes out and the phone lines and water pumps go down during a sunny day. Pathetic. This country isn't prepared for anything except those stupid color bars they go on about every day. It's time to fire that big headed Ridge guy who can't fit into the biggest baseball cap.
 

charrison

Lifer
Oct 13, 1999
17,033
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Originally posted by: BarneyFife
What an exciting 24+ hours here in Michigan without power. It's obvious that homeland security was not prepared for this. The first 16 hours it was basically, "We don't know what happened, we are trying to turn on power". The 2nd thing that bothered me was that my phones went dead. The final nail in the coffin was the water pressure was extremely low or non-exsistent the farther north you lived from Detroit. So the power goes out and the phone lines and water pumps go down during a sunny day. Pathetic. This country isn't prepared for anything except those stupid color bars they go on about every day. It's time to fire that big headed Ridge guy who can't fit into the biggest baseball cap.
Yes we are very dependant on our energy. Maybe it time to spend some good money upgrading our grids....
 

BaliBabyDoc

Lifer
Jan 20, 2001
10,737
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Some would say a better solution is to invest in decentralized power production, conservation, energy efficiency, etc. The net effect is reduced consumption, regional/local/household energy redundancy, and a sustainable energy economy.
 

outriding

Platinum Member
Feb 20, 2002
2,678
1,499
136
Originally posted by: BarneyFife
What an exciting 24+ hours here in Michigan without power. It's obvious that homeland security was not prepared for this. The first 16 hours it was basically, "We don't know what happened, we are trying to turn on power". The 2nd thing that bothered me was that my phones went dead. The final nail in the coffin was the water pressure was extremely low or non-exsistent the farther north you lived from Detroit. So the power goes out and the phone lines and water pumps go down during a sunny day. Pathetic. This country isn't prepared for anything except those stupid color bars they go on about every day. It's time to fire that big headed Ridge guy who can't fit into the biggest baseball cap.
barney...

what city are you in ?

i am in troy.


if this was a terrorists attack ( which is a very real possiblity ) we really had our act together.

good job homeland security
 

charrison

Lifer
Oct 13, 1999
17,033
1
81
Originally posted by: BaliBabyDoc
Some would say a better solution is to invest in decentralized power production, conservation, energy efficiency, etc. The net effect is reduced consumption, regional/local/household energy redundancy, and a sustainable energy economy.
I would be interesting in how it would be possible to decentralize a city like new york with a very high population density....
 

BarneyFife

Diamond Member
Aug 12, 2001
3,875
0
76
Originally posted by: outriding
Originally posted by: BarneyFife
What an exciting 24+ hours here in Michigan without power. It's obvious that homeland security was not prepared for this. The first 16 hours it was basically, "We don't know what happened, we are trying to turn on power". The 2nd thing that bothered me was that my phones went dead. The final nail in the coffin was the water pressure was extremely low or non-exsistent the farther north you lived from Detroit. So the power goes out and the phone lines and water pumps go down during a sunny day. Pathetic. This country isn't prepared for anything except those stupid color bars they go on about every day. It's time to fire that big headed Ridge guy who can't fit into the biggest baseball cap.
barney...

what city are you in ?

i am in troy.


if this was a terrorists attack ( which is a very real possiblity ) we really had our act together.

good job homeland security
I was in Royal Oak. I was literally stunned that the water pumps don't have generators in case of a power outtage. Oh well, live and learn I guess.

 

sandorski

No Lifer
Oct 10, 1999
69,423
4,807
126
Originally posted by: charrison
Originally posted by: BaliBabyDoc
Some would say a better solution is to invest in decentralized power production, conservation, energy efficiency, etc. The net effect is reduced consumption, regional/local/household energy redundancy, and a sustainable energy economy.
I would be interesting in how it would be possible to decentralize a city like new york with a very high population density....
Solar and wind. Wouldn't always provide all energy needed, but it would decrease dependence on power plants.
 

BaliBabyDoc

Lifer
Jan 20, 2001
10,737
0
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Admittedly, the city's density precludes total independence . . . there's reason the Bay City's dead take up permanent residence in Colma. But decreased consumption is ALWAYS a good first step. Wind and solar are good alternatives. At the very least they can be part of a redundancy system to maintain basic services (along with fossil fuel generators). All new construction should meet rigorous standards of passive/active energy efficiency.

NYC is not the center of the universe . . . the majority of land mass which lost power did so b/c the system is designed to supply power to energy sinkholes like NYC. Many areas that lost power could provide themselves with substantial energy by household (passive/active solar, wind, biomass) or local (active solar, wind, biomass) means. Which means a transmission problem in NYC doesn't disrupt the power in southwestern OH.
 

charrison

Lifer
Oct 13, 1999
17,033
1
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Originally posted by: sandorski
Originally posted by: charrison
Originally posted by: BaliBabyDoc
Some would say a better solution is to invest in decentralized power production, conservation, energy efficiency, etc. The net effect is reduced consumption, regional/local/household energy redundancy, and a sustainable energy economy.
I would be interesting in how it would be possible to decentralize a city like new york with a very high population density....
Solar and wind. Wouldn't always provide all energy needed, but it would decrease dependence on power plants.
The roof space of a house in the burbs might make it off the grid. The roof of an apartment building solar would barely do anything.

Solar cells with 20% efficiency would require 17^2 meters to create 3kw. Solar is still in the future, wind is getting closer to today(would still require a grid).

Conservation and buildings producing their own power dont do anything to solve the real problem that exists. The grid needs to be modernized.
 

charrison

Lifer
Oct 13, 1999
17,033
1
81
Originally posted by: BaliBabyDoc
Admittedly, the city's density precludes total independence . . . there's reason the Bay City's dead take up permanent residence in Colma. But decreased consumption is ALWAYS a good first step. Wind and solar are good alternatives. At the very least they can be part of a redundancy system to maintain basic services (along with fossil fuel generators). All new construction should meet rigorous standards of passive/active energy efficiency.

NYC is not the center of the universe . . . the majority of land mass which lost power did so b/c the system is designed to supply power to energy sinkholes like NYC. Many areas that lost power could provide themselves with substantial energy by household (passive/active solar, wind, biomass) or local (active solar, wind, biomass) means. Which means a transmission problem in NYC doesn't disrupt the power in southwestern OH.
Had the grid not completely failed, there would not have been a major power outage. An improved grid and a better backup plan is not a bad idea.
 

BaliBabyDoc

Lifer
Jan 20, 2001
10,737
0
0
Conservation and buildings producing their own power dont do anything to solve the real problem that exists. The grid needs to be modernized.
It depends . . . if the grid failed b/c of excess utilization . . . then conservation and buildings producing their own power (assuming it isn't shared) would solve the problem. The waste in transmission is on par with the combustion engine (I think) . . . it seems dodo to waste precious time and resources to prop up this system.

Had the grid not completely failed, there would not have been a major power outage. An improved grid and a better backup plan is not a bad idea.
My understanding is the grid did NOT completely fail. For instance, nuclear plants shutdown automatically as a safety procedure when there's a disturbance in the system. An improved grid and better backup plan are decent ideas. Conservation, improved efficiency, and decentralization are better ideas. We can certainly do them all but some remedies . . . are more economical in the short- and long term.
 

charrison

Lifer
Oct 13, 1999
17,033
1
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Originally posted by: BaliBabyDoc
Conservation and buildings producing their own power dont do anything to solve the real problem that exists. The grid needs to be modernized.
It depends . . . if the grid failed b/c of excess utilization . . . then conservation and buildings producing their own power (assuming it isn't shared) would solve the problem. The waste in transmission is on par with the combustion engine (I think) . . . it seems dodo to waste precious time and resources to prop up this system.

Had the grid not completely failed, there would not have been a major power outage. An improved grid and a better backup plan is not a bad idea.
My understanding is the grid did NOT completely fail. For instance, nuclear plants shutdown automatically as a safety procedure when there's a disturbance in the system. An improved grid and better backup plan are decent ideas. Conservation, improved efficiency, and decentralization are better ideas. We can certainly do them all but some remedies . . . are more economical in the short- and long term.
Upgrading the grid would decrease waste in transmission. I wont disagree that compact flouresent bulbs and programable thermostats is the short term solution.
 

Drift3r

Guest
Jun 3, 2003
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I'd say we could do well with both ideas. Modernizing to some degree and promoting solar/wind power for home owners via tax breaks, etc... A balanced approach is what is needed.
 

BaliBabyDoc

Lifer
Jan 20, 2001
10,737
0
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I'd say we could do well with both ideas. Modernizing to some degree and promoting solar/wind power for home owners via tax breaks, etc... A balanced approach is what is needed.
I'm not denigrating your comment at all . . . but "balanced" is often a euphemism for 95% 'doing it like we've always done it' and 5% 'keep the granolas somewhat appeased'.
 

charrison

Lifer
Oct 13, 1999
17,033
1
81
Originally posted by: BaliBabyDoc
I'd say we could do well with both ideas. Modernizing to some degree and promoting solar/wind power for home owners via tax breaks, etc... A balanced approach is what is needed.
I'm not denigrating your comment at all . . . but "balanced" is often a euphemism for 95% 'doing it like we've always done it' and 5% 'keep the granolas somewhat appeased'.
There are real saving in conservation. The utility of solar because of cost is quite debatable. Is it better to spend $10k to partially take a house of the grid, or to upgrade 5 old wasteful residential HVAC systems? I can tell you which will save more energy.
 

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