Magazine article USA TODAY

Looking for a Jolt

Magazine article USA TODAY

Looking for a Jolt

Article excerpt

A MILITANT group's Jan. 25 attack on Pakistan's electric grid caused a blackout that affected 80% of the nation, as these extremists destroyed a transmission line that was key to the stability of the grid. What if extremists struck the U.S. grid in a similar fashion? A coordinated attack could destroy access to electricity across large parts of the country for months, according to a report from the National Academy of Sciences.

A New York Times article finds that, by blowing up targeted transmission lines and substations--or firing projectiles at them--militants could set an avalanche of system failures in motion. During the time that it would take to repair these outages, many people could be at risk--injuries or fatalities undoubtedly would occur as hospitals struggled to address the emergency.

Actually, the U.S. already has experienced attacks. In April 2013, gunshots struck a Pacific Gas and Electric power substation in Silicon Valley--a hub of technology and innovation. Reuters reported on the incident, which was attributed to vandalism, although many (not unjustifiably) believe it was a terrorist trial ran for a much larger effort.

In this country, we are fortunate to have electricity that is relatively affordable compared to that of other developed nations. However, the U.S. also has many challenges--making the most of limited fuels, generating clean electricity, assuring that the electricity we produce is not wasted, upgrading an aging infrastructure, and making our electric grid more resilient to disruptions.

Current technology can help with these challenges, as well as prevent the power grid from being a battleground. Advanced energy management systems can provide electricity safely and resist terrorism, vandalism, and other unexpected disruptions. These systems include microgrids that can be islanded from the larger grid in case of emergencies. Microgrids can ensure that hospitals, government buildings, corporate headquarters, colleges, and homes still have electricity in the event of a power outage. Distinct from a typical backup power system, Microgrids operate 24/7 and provide efficiency and economic benefits when the electric is working normally, but they also are available for prolonged outages. …

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