[Paleopsych] IEEE Spectrum: Peter Fairley: The Unruly Power Grid

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Tue Oct 26 19:11:52 UTC 2004

IEEE Spectrum: Peter Fairley: The Unruly Power Grid
2004 August

[I have the whole article (six pages) in PDF and will send it to anyone 
who wants it. The prospect that the power grid could be sabotaged, in 
addition to just going down on its own, is terrifying and much worse than 
bombing could be. Ditto for cyberwarfare that could possibly flood the 
Internet with denial-of-service messages. This threat, a friend who is 
telecommunications consultant, is not too serious (yet, I tell him), since 
recovery would be quick and people are already worried about this problem. 
But, he tells me, no individual electricity provider has much interest in 
making huge investments that will benefit mainly other providers, a 
classic free-rider, or market failure problem.

[On the other hand, governments aren't doing anything about it either, a 
classic government failure problem. It was a little silly for Sen. Kerry 
to blame "Bush" for not inspecting more than 5% of cargo entering the 
United States, silly since Kerry is a United States Senator and 
certainly had the opportunity to address the world's greatest deliberative 
body about the failure. He didn't mention deliberate sabotage of the power 
grid at all.

[I see no reason to think President Kerry would either. We should remember 
that government failure can exist apart from whoever is its nominal head. 
The solution is not to replace Tweedledum with Tweedledumber but alter the 
Constitution so reduce the failures. --Frank


Most experts agree that the major blackout that affected a large part of
the North American upper Midwest and Northeast last August 14, 2003, was
no anomaly and will definitely happen again. Records show that between
1984 and 2000, utilities logged 11 outages affecting more than 4000
megawatts, making the probability of any one outage 325 times greater
than mathematicians would have expected. Mathematicians, engineers, and
physicists have set out to explain the statistical overabundance of big
blackouts. Two distinct models emerged based on two general theories of
systems failure. One, an optimization model presumes that power
engineers make conscious and rational choices to focus resources on
preventing smaller and more common disturbances on the lines; large
blackouts occur because the grid isn't forcefully engineered to prevent
them. The other model views blackouts as a surprisingly constructive
force in an unconscious feedback loop that operates over years or
decades. Blackouts spur investments to strengthen overloaded power
systems, periodically counter-balancing pressures to maximize return on
investment and deliver electricity at the lowest possible cost. The
mainstream view among power system engineers continues to be the answer
to reliability problems is to make the grids more robust physically,
improve simulation techniques and computerized real-time controls, and
improve regulation. What system theorists suggest is that even if all
that is done and done well, the really big outages still will happen
more often than they should.

What sound does the liberal make? Mo__. 
What sound does the conservative make? Mo__.
What sound does the cow make? Mo__.

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