U.S. electricity blackouts skyrocketing

Discussion in 'General Survival and Preparedness' started by fortunateson, Aug 10, 2010.

  1. fortunateson

    fortunateson I hate Illinois Nazis!

    See blue highlighted portion: Big brother in your thermostat.

    U.S. electricity blackouts skyrocketing - CNN.com

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    <!--Article Goes Here--> <table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="100%"> <tbody><tr> <td> U.S. electricity blackouts skyrocketing

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    </td><td style="vertical-align: bottom;">By Thom Patterson, CNN
    | Filed under: Innovation



    • Non-disaster U.S. power outages up 124 percent since early '90s
    • U.S. electricity reliability low compared to some nations
    • Experts: "Smart grid" would avert blackouts, save billions
    • Austin "Easy Button" controls tens of thousands of Texas thermostats

    (CNN) -- New York's Staten Island was broiling under a life-threatening heat wave and borough President James Molinaro was seriously concerned about the area's Little League baseball players.

    It was last July's Eastern heat wave and Consolidated Edison was responding to scattered power outages as electricity usage neared record highs.
    So, authorities followed Molinaro's suggestion to cancel that night's Little League games, which were to be played under electricity-sucking stadium lights.
    "Number one, it was a danger to the children that were playing out there in that heat, and secondly it would save electricity that people would need for air conditioning in their homes," said Molinaro, who'd been forced to sleep at his office that night because of a blackout in his own neighborhood.
    Throughout New York City, about 52,000 of ConEd's 3.2 million customers lost power during the heat wave. Triple-digit temperatures forced residents like 77 year-old Rui Zhi Chen, to seek shelter at one of the city's 400 emergency cooling centers. "It felt like an oven in my home and on the street," Chen said.
    Should Americans view these kinds of scenarios as extraordinary circumstances -- or a warning sign of a darker future?
    Experts on the nation's electricity system point to a frighteningly steep increase in non-disaster-related outages affecting at least 50,000 consumers.
    During the past two decades, such blackouts have increased 124 percent -- up from 41 blackouts between 1991 and 1995, to 92 between 2001 and 2005, according to research at the University of Minnesota.

    In the most recently analyzed data available, utilities reported 36 such outages in 2006 alone.
    "It's hard to imagine how anyone could believe that -- in the United States -- we should learn to cope with blackouts," said University of Minnesota Professor Massoud Amin, a leading expert on the U.S. electricity grid.
    Amin supports construction of a nationwide "smart grid" that would avert blackouts and save billions of dollars in wasted electricity.
    In a nutshell, a smart grid is an automated electricity system that improves the reliability, security and efficiency of electric power. It more easily connects with new energy sources, such as wind and solar, and is designed to charge electric vehicles and control home appliances via a so-called "smart" devices.

    Summer of '77
    You might say Amin's connection with electricity began in New York City with a bolt of lightning.

    In July 1977, Amin was a 16-year-old high school student visiting from his native Iran when lightning triggered a 24-hour blackout that cut power to nine million.
    As he and his father walked near their Midtown Manhattan hotel, they were shocked to see looters smash their way into an electronics store less than 20 yards down the street.
    Amin recalls feeling violated by the ugly scene -- and wondering if the nation's infrastructure was in danger of collapse. "... not just the electric grid that underpins our lives," he said, "but also the human condition."
    More than 30 years later, the United States is still "operating the most advanced economy in the world with 1960s and 70s technology," said Amin. Failing to modernize the grid, he said, will threaten the U.S. position as an economic super power.
    Millions remember the historic August 2003 blackout, when overgrown trees on powerlines triggered an outage that cascaded across an overloaded regional grid. An estimated 50 million people lost power in Canada and eight northeastern states. Smart grid technology, experts say, would have immediately detected the potential crisis, diverted power and likely saved $6 billion in estimated business losses.
    By April of 2013 ConEd hopes to install a "smart" automated self-healing system aimed at preventing the burnout of large feeder cables during peak demand periods -- such as heat waves.

    The new technology would anticipate possible equipment failure in specific neighborhoods and reroute electricity to compensate. For example, a project to help Queens' Flushing neighborhood will "give us the capability to remotely control up to 26 underground switches," said Con Ed smart grid manager Thomas Magee.
    Had systems like this been in place, said ConEd's Aseem Kapur, it might have prevented or reduced New York's scattered outages last July.
    Who's got the juice?

    Some of the most reliable utilities are in the heartland states of Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas.

    In those states, the power is out an average of only 92 minutes per year, according to a 2008 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study. On the other end of the spectrum, utilities in New York Pennsylvania and New Jersey averaged 214 minutes of total interruptions each year. These figures don't include power outages blamed on tornadoes or other disasters.
    Map: How often do the lights go out where you live?
    But compare the U.S. data to Japan which averages only four minutes of total interrupted service each year. "As you can see, we have a long way to go," said Andres Carvallo, who played a key role in planning the smart grid inAustin, Texas.

    Experts point to the northeastern and southeastern U.S. as regions where outages pose the most threat -- mainly due to aging wires, pole transformers and other lagging infrastructure.
    "They know where they have tight spots," said Mark Lauby, of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which enforces reliability standards. Without mentioning specific regions, Lauby said utilities are "making sure the generation and the transmission are available to help support those consumers."
    Building a national smart grid "won't be cheap and it wont be easy," acknowledged Amin. Much of it could be completed as soon as 2030 at a cost of up to $1.5 trillion, according to the Department of Energy. It's unclear who would foot the entire bill, but the Obama administration has committed about $4 billion in investment grants.
    The 'Easy Button'

    Carvallo jokes about the so-called "Easy Button" at Austin Energy. It's not really a big red button on the wall, but it is a mechanism that allows an operator to control tens of thousands of home thermostats.

    "Austin is two to three years ahead of everybody else," said Carvallo, now chief strategy officer for the smart grid software firm Grid Net.

    He points to a volunteer program that offers free thermostats to customers who allow the utility to remotely control their air conditioners during specific months and hours. This way, thousands of power-gulping air conditioners can be cycled off for a short time when electricity was needed elsewhere.

    By summer's end, Austin expects to begin enabling its 700,000 streetlights to be turned "on and off with a flip of a switch," saving $340,000 in electricity each year, and eliminating 200 tons of carbon dioxide air pollution.

    Replacing old-style electric meters with "smart meters" is often described as the first step in creating a smart grid. All 400,000 of Austin's meters are smart meters.

    Nationwide, 26 utilities in 15 states have installed some 16 million smart meters in homes and businesses.
    Soon, when power goes out in a neighborhood with smart meters, utilities won't have to wait for customers to report outages -- the smart meters will alert utilities automatically. Utilities will then e-mail or text message each affected customer information about when the lights will be back on.
    Critics question smart meter accuracy and whether the devices will really save energy in the long run.

    "It feels a bit like the utilities are jumping the gun and they're trying to put these meters in before the rest of the pieces of the so-called smart grid are in place and before we even know that the smart meters are going to have advantages commensurate with the cost," said electricity consumer advocate Mindy Spatt of The Utility Reform Network.
    One advantage of smart grid technology may be jobs.

    High-tech manufacturers want to locate their factories in places where electricity is most reliable, said Carvallo. "That's where the manufacturing facilities move to. That's where you get your high-paying jobs."
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  2. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

  3. Seawolf1090

    Seawolf1090 Retired Curmudgeonly IT Monkey Founding Member

    Incorporating Solar Power and LED lighting into new building construction , and upgrading older building with the same, would save a lot too. Germany gets 25% of it's electricty nationwide from solar, even though their sunlight quality is comparable to our northern states (not as sun filled as our southern states!) - WE get less than 1% from solar nationwide. Sure, solar isn't the be-all, end-all of power production, but it could make a lot of our buildings self-sustaining or nearly so. It would relax the pressure on the city utilities.

    Shutting off those danged stadium lights on non-game nights - now THAT is a 'no-brainer'. I always did find it ridiculous to drive by and see them burning up there for no reason! :rolleyes:
  4. kckndrgn

    kckndrgn Monkey+++ Moderator Emeritus Founding Member

    In regards to the "easy button" my family had something like that installed back in the 80's in MN. It was an "off-peak" program. Where our water heater and AC was regulated to not work as much during the day. We actually had 2 water heater tanks, one was used pretty much for storage only, while the other one is the one that heated the water.
    My parents received some sort of discount on the utility bill, but I don't know what it was.
  5. CraftyMofo

    CraftyMofo Monkey+++

    You sure about that figure for Germany? I've heard they are the world leader, but 25% sounds awfully high...
  6. Hispeedal2

    Hispeedal2 Nay Sayer

    More reason to get off the grid entirely. My family is currently able to operate, no problem, in the event of a blackout. We could only stand it temporarily, though.
  7. fortunateson

    fortunateson I hate Illinois Nazis!

    We had this when we lived in another part of NC. There was a box outside that controlled the AC unit. We received a $16 credit every month for having it. That was a fair deal.
    When they changed it to $8 and we had our first child, we told them to remove it. Couldn't see possibly making the baby roast in the NC heat for $8 / month.
    In about 4 years that we had it, it was never triggered.

    IMO That sort of thing is OK, so long as it's optional. Looks like they want to get a bit more "hands-on" with it nowadays.
  8. Tool User

    Tool User Monkey+

    Once you start watching the news, this kind of breakdown is rampant. It seems like you see more and more every year too.

    I still have a small (2200w) generator I bought for post hurricane use but I hope to add a few solar panels for reliable lighting soon.
  9. bnmb

    bnmb On Hiatus Banned

    I wonder when a cascade will happen?... :(
  10. Ender Wiggin

    Ender Wiggin Monkey+

    control your energy, control your water, control your guns, eliminate secrete ballots, prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.
  11. jmore99

    jmore99 Monkey+

    A friend of mine was in a blackout that lasted 3 days . For the United States that is a long time. He decided after that , that he would have some kind of backup . So he went and bought 4 solar panels and the electronics that go with them . 4 large deep cycle batteries, and took all that and put into a box that had wheels and stuck it in his garage.

    It is a little portable thing but he says it will get him by during another one of those service interruptions . He only wants to power his laptop and a couple of lights so that should do the trick
  12. bnmb

    bnmb On Hiatus Banned

    HUH...for ANY country that is a long time...most we ever had was an hour or two...
  13. Seawolf1090

    Seawolf1090 Retired Curmudgeonly IT Monkey Founding Member

    Four days outage for my parents several years ago after a hurricane, and they live on the edge of a fair sized city! Only a couple hours at most for me so far, but I am literally within sight of our local power plant and on the main leg from it - as long as it is up, I have power.
    I still do plan to have a solar-power system soon.
    I have one deep cycle battery and an inverter - soon will buy another battery and a set of panels. Plans are to eventually have four batteries in my system.
    I would only be powering the PC, my radio and a few LED lights.
  14. bnmb

    bnmb On Hiatus Banned

    I'm building bike generator...already have the parts...
  15. Falcon15

    Falcon15 Falco Peregrinus

    I am investing in a solar set and deep cycle batteries. Just in case. That and my gas Gennie (Oh how I want a 1930's Lister Diesel engine rig, le-sigh, le-double-sigh).

    Damn. Only 4 days post hurricane without power? Lucky devils. I personally was 3 months no power after Hurricane Andrew. One person went fifteen years. This lady was in the same area I am from (Cutler Bay. . . Used to be called Cutler Ridge). Anyhow, When Hurricane Ike came and stomped around in H-Town, my family and I were without grid power for a week and a half. We had one room with A/C and we cooked on the grill and a propane stove. We took some cold showers. All part and parcel of a hurricane outage. However, the aging infrastructure, the utility companies, and the Government will only be able to maintain the grid so long. Hence, Big Brother in your thermostat stealing your A/C, in a vain, futile attempt to maintain the aging grid, meet a demand they cannot meet, and keep electric utility costs down (if you buy that). I myself do not. We are moving further into an "off grid" lifestyle. One step at a time.

    If we were forced to be off grid tomorrow, we would survive. Maybe not in the lap of luxury, however survival is survival.
  16. bnmb

    bnmb On Hiatus Banned

    SAY WHAT??? 3 months!!!...15 YEARS!!!...Geeeezz....Lights Out!
    Respect to you friend!... [applaud]
  17. Falcon15

    Falcon15 Falco Peregrinus

    Thank you. Yes, fifteen years....the lady's insurance money ran out, the contractors left and the house did not meet code. No code = no utilities. Someone heard her story and the next thing you know the house is brought to code, and voila, electric is restored. Amazing. Marvelous. Bloody snarky utilities. Down with the MAN! ahem. Just kidding.
  18. stompk

    stompk Monkey++

    wonder what will happen when electric cars are more popular? is that even being addressed ?
  19. fireplaceguy

    fireplaceguy Monkey+

    There's a lot of excess capacity in the grid at night, when most of those cars would be charging. And FWIW, I think plug-in hybrids make more sense than pure electrics. With them, you get 100+ MPG commuting to work, but you can still take a road trip if you need to, without stopping to charge for several hours every 50 miles.

    And getting back on topic, literature I've read about smart meters claims they can tell how many people live in any given house, how many of them are watching TV's, how many loads of laundry they wash, etc., etc.

    Sounds a little too smart to me!
  20. bnmb

    bnmb On Hiatus Banned

    Yup...you're right...it's bull...unless they have hidden cams in the meters... :D
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