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Light in the Darkness

It’s been a week since power has been restored to San Diego after a massive “operator error”-induced blackout. In a sign of just how far we as a nation still have to go in achieving a Smart Grid, not only were grid operators unable to choke off the outage before it grew into a major blackout, but operators (as well as the media and even Congress) are still scratching their heads about just how this localized problem spread so far and so rapidly. California’s ISO announced a joint investigation with all of the affected utilities.

The economic damage caused by even short power outages is well-documented and the number crunchers have already estimated losses of $80-100 billion for the Sept. 8 outage, which affected a decent chunk of the Southwest.  The incalculable human toll of outages is even more dramatic especially when they occur during times of extreme temperature. 

But what about the impact that a human error hundreds of miles away—or worse yet, a physical or cyber-attack—can have on our nation’s critical military infrastructure?  In the San Diego area alone, the triumvirate of military installations, Naval Base San Diego, Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, and Camp Pendleton, were forced to resort to fossil-fuel generator power

But what if, when an event like the San Diego outage occurs, these essential assets could be immediately disengaged from the larger grid and begin to function as a self-sufficient entity drawing from a menu of energy sources and load management technologies, all at the direction of local officials with a grasp of the needs of critical infrastructure?

Microgrids are a particular application of Smart Grid technologies that reduce the risk of grid uncertainties.  These technologies are available right now to keep control in the hands of those with essential missions.  

Add another reason to deploy Smart Grid technologies: capacity, reliability, health and safety, cost-savings, efficiency, and now, national security.

Posted 09-14-2011 11:34 AM by Creevy, Jim


Charles V. Barlow wrote re: Light in the Darkness
on 09-21-2011 1:00 PM

Human error and equipment failure.  These two factors significanly impact reliability of electrical systems; and contribute to additional problems when added to inadequate maintenance of emergency lighting systems needed to evacuate buildings in the affected areas of this blackout.

How much more will the ultimate cost be for this power failure be when electrical emergency lighting systems fail to properly recharge back-up batteries?  Could this failure of basic electrical service also result in failure of electrical emergency lighting needed to safely evacuate buildings?  Some code inspectors think so - (reporting on the loss of electrical power following Hurricane Irene).

EverGlow, a manufacturer of (non-electrical) photoluminescent emergency lighting ( believes that a combination of electrical and non-electrical lighting provides much safer building evacuations at all times.  And, when the electrical power fails for long periods of time, photoluminescent exit signs a egress markers last longer than battery powerd devices and recover more quickly and reliably.

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