Design Con 2015

Power grid blackouts: Are they preventable and predictable?

-September 19, 2013

This article will outline the events leading up to a major grid failure in Northeastern and Mid-Western  US and parts of Canada in 2003. It was a type of domino effect as one power sub-station after another went offline in rapid succession. This event affected 55 million people.

The blackout's primary cause was a software bug in the alarm system at a control room of the FirstEnergy Corporation in Ohio. Operators were unaware of the need to re-distribute power after overloaded transmission lines hit unpruned foliage. What should have been a manageable local blackout cascaded into widespread chaos on the electric grid.

The following article includes an actual timeline video/images of the 2003 outage as well as a sequence of events that the Genscape Real-Time North American Power Product (Power RT) captured, recorded and identified as the blackout was happening. We will show how such a system alerts users to what and where problems are beginning to crop up and perhaps avoid such catastrophic events in the future.


Sunrise over NYC the morning after the largest power outage in US history---August 14, 2003 (Photo courtesy of Mike Albans/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

I was 16 years old when the lights went out in Brooklyn at 5:27 PM on November 9, 1965.  The entire Northeast went out plus large parts of Canada.

On a hot summer night in July 1977, again I experienced a major blackout in NY. These were not pleasant experiences.

Again on August 14, 2003, we experienced a huge power failure in NY.


No power---no trains, no traffic lights in NYC---we walk from Manhattan across the 59th Street Bridge to Queens toward our homes. (Photo courtesy of Robin Platzer/FilmMagic)

 


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