A new account of the events that led to the cascading outages of 14 August has been prepared by a U.S.-Canadian expert team.
Speakers and exhibitors at an IEEE meeting in Dallas, Texas, drew attention to proven and new tools that could help make the U.S. grid systems much more robust.
Hardware that is available or soon will be available includes superconducting transmission cables, energy storage devices, fault-current limiters, high-voltage transmission systems, and semiconductor-based controls.
Electric power is transported over long distances at high voltage, and then is "stepped down" to lower voltages at for distribution to businesses and residences.
The volunteer-driven, policy-advising arm of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, known as IEEE-USA, gave testimony to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on the causes and implications of the 14 August blackout. Among other things it called for mandatory reliability rules, clearer regulatory boundaries between the U.S. and state governments, better regional transmission planning, and grid designs that would limit the impact of failures. It also recommends measures to prompt grids to break into self-contained "islands" under emergency conditions. To see the full testimony, go to the IEEE-USA Website.
A lot of redundancy is built into electric power systems, and hardly ever will just one failure cause major problems. Like all major cascading blackouts, the great Northeast-Midwest blackout of August 2003 was the result of many factors--technical, institutional, and political.
A glossary of the important operators in the blackout and its aftermath.
Power engineers, IEEE members, and the Spectrum reporters and editors who cover power and energy have been sounding the alarm about grid problems and potential cascading failures for nearly a decade. For a complete compendium of feature articles, news reports, and essays that have appeared in IEEE Spectrum magazine about previous power outages, grid reliability and security, and electric power policy click here.