Every year hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions) of people go without power for a variety of reasons. It can sometimes be from storm damage, as was the case in 2003, during the worst blackout in U.S. history; power lines were taken down by trees, which led to a cascading failure. This left an estimated 55 million people without power, as well as an estimated 6 billion dollar business loss. It can also be caused from routine operation of changing out a piece of faulty equipment, which led to a blackout, leaving 7 million people in the dark.
Why is there such a propensity for failure? There are multiple reasons. Much of our electric grid is fifty years old or older, running on parts with a thirty to thirty five year life expectancy. There are power plants that cost millions of dollars to build and no one inside America even builds them anymore. Another reason is, there are interlinked dependencies that no one seems to understand. In both of the blackouts that I linked above, there was a failure that shouldn’t have bled into others, but did.
Another reason is our insatiable appetite for electricity and the things it powers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from an eco-hippie, but there is a ton of juice being used to power “fluff”, even when it is not on. It seems like every year there are rolling brownouts due to supply not meeting demand.
The article U.S. Electric Grid Is Reaching the End Game goes into great detail on the problems of our failing infrastructure. If you’re interested in more information, it is worth the read.
What are the dangers?
As I mentioned above, weather is a cause; in fact it’s probably the biggest cause. I wrote an article on another threat called EMP’s, Solar Flares and CME’s. I explain what these events are and how much of a danger I think they actually are. There are always things getting old and breaking down, as commented on in Recent Blackout Highlights Nation’s Aging Electricity Grid and in Aging Gas Pipes at Risk of Erupting Nationwide.
Another threat I think is very real is from other countries hacking into our grid. China and Russia hack into US power grid This doesn’t have to do with our electrical grid, but most recently Foreign hackers targeted U.S. water plant in apparent malicious cyber attack.
What Can We Do?
We can take responsibility for what we use and how much we use it. I’m not saying unplug everything that isn’t in use, though for some items that might not be a bad idea. Turning off lights that aren’t in use, or turning the PC off if it’s not going to be used for an extended period can’t hurt. Don’t tell me about the hibernate feature; I’m pretty sure the devil invented that right after software user agreements and hold music.
We can also provide some of our own electricity at whatever level we can afford. If that’s a full scale solar panel system, wind turbine or a portable generator to provide off grid electricity, so be it. I can’t afford to do a full scale solar panel system, but I have thought about getting a small panel and battery to learn the ropes and scale up slowly.
If you have any other ideas that we can do, please post them in the comments.
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