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Power Grid: American System Fails More Than Any Other In The World

The power grid in the United States has more blackouts than any other country in the developed world. Americans face more power grid failures lasting at least an hour than residents of other nations, according to statistics provided by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation — NERC. Recent power grid reports indicate that the electrical system loses power more than 285 percent more often that it did in 1984 — when blackout record keeping began. The power outages cost businesses in the United States as much as $150 billion per year, according to the Department of Energy.

University of Minnesota Technological Leadership Institute Director Massoud Amin had this to say about power grid blackouts:

“Each one of these blackouts costs tens of hundreds of millions, up to billions, of dollars in economic losses per event. We used to have two to five major weather events per year that knocked out power, from the 50s to the 80s. Between 2008 t0 2012, major outages caused by weather increased to 70 to 130 outages per year. Weather used to account for about 17 to 21 percent of all root causes. Now, kin the last five years, it’s accounting for 68 to 73 percent of all major outages.”

In 2013, the power grid received a “D+” grade on its report card from American Society of Civil Engineers — ASCE. The power grid grade card rating means the energy infrastructure is in “poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life.” It further means a “large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration” with a “strong risk of failure.”

Concerns about a solar flare or an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack instantly sending us back to an 1800s existence appear to be extremely legitimate, but it may not take such an extreme act to render the power grid a useless tangle of wires. The majority of the United States’ infrastructure and public systems evaluated by the ASCE earned a “D” rating. A “C” ranking (public parks, rail, and bridges) was the highest grade earned. It would take a total of $3.6 trillion in investments by 2020 to fix everything, the report card stated. To put that number in perspective, the federal government’s budget for all of 2012 was slightly more, $3.7 trillion.

Excerpt from the ASCE power grid report:

“America relies on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems, some of which originated in the 1880s. Investment in power transmission has increased since 2005, but ongoing permitting issues, weather events, and limited maintenance have contributed to an increasing number of failures and power interruptions. While demand for electricity has remained level, the availability of energy in the form of electricity, natural gas, and oil will become a greater challenge after 2020 as the population increases. Although about 17,000 miles of additional high-voltage transmission lines and significant oil and gas pipelines are planned over the next five years, permitting and siting issues threaten their completion. The electric grid in the United States consists of a system of interconnected power generation, transmission facilities, and distribution facilities.”

There are approximately 400,000 miles of electrical transmission lines throughout the United States, and thousands of power generating plants dot the landscape. The ASCE report card also stated that new gas-fired and renewable generation issues increase the need to add new transmission lines. Antiquated power grid equipment has reportedly prompted even more “intermittent” power outages in recent years.

Do you think a massive power grid failure due to weather, solar flares, cyber hacking, or an EMP attack is possible?

[Image Via: National Geographic Media Kit]

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