What Will You Do When The Lights Go Out? The Inevitable Failure Of The US Grid

Lambert here: We had a weird power failure up here a few weeks ago, that lasted a few hours; weird because there were no storms. I started to check the news online to see the extent of the outage but, oh wait… Now, if I had a cellphone, I would have been OK. As long as I had a charge, anyhow.

By Julianne Geiger is a veteran editor, writer and researcher for US-based Divergente LLC consulting firm. Originally published at OilPrice.com.

Delta Airlines recently experienced what it called a power outage in its home base of Atlanta, Georgia, causing all the company’s computers to go offline—all of them. This seemingly minor hiccup managed to singlehandedly ground all Delta planes for six hours, stranding passengers for even longer, as Delta scrambled to reshuffle passengers after the Monday debacle.

Where Delta blamed its catastrophic systems-wide computer failure vaguely on a loss of power, Georgia Power, their power provider, placed the ball squarely in Delta’s court, saying that “other Georgia Power customers were not affected”, and that they had staff on site to assist Delta.

Whether it was a true power outage, or an outage unique to Delta is fairly insignificant. The incident was a single company without power for six measly hours, yet it wreaked much havoc. Which brings to mind (or at least it should) what happens when the lights really go out—everywhere? And just how dependent is the U.S. on single-source power?

When you hear about the possible insufficiency, unreliability, or lack of resiliency of the U.S. power grid, your mind might naturally move toward the extreme, perhaps National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers. Talks about what a U.S. power grid failure could really mean are also often likened to survivalist blogs that speak of building faraday cages and hoarding food, or possibly some riveting blockbuster movie about a well-intentioned government-sponsored genetically altered mosquito that leads to some zombie apocalypse.

But in the event of a power grid failure—and we have more than our fair share here in the U.S.—your survivalist savvy may be all for naught.

This horror story doesn’t need zombies or genetically altered mosquitos in order to be scary. Using data from the United States Department of Energy, the International Business Times reported in 2014 that the United States suffers more blackouts than any other developed country in the world.

Unfortunately, not much has been done since then to alleviate the system’s critical vulnerabilities.

In theory, we all understand the wisdom about not putting all our eggs in one basket, as the old-adage goes. Yet the U.S. has done just that with our U.S. power grid. Sadly, this infrastructure is failing, and compared to many other countries, the U.S. is sauntering slowly behind many other more conscientious countries, seemingly unconcerned with its poor showing.

The Grid, by Geography and Geopolitics

According to the United States Department of Energy, the American power grid is made up of three smaller grids, known as interconnections, which transport energy all over the country. The Eastern Interconnection provides electricity to states to the east of the Rocky Mountains, while the Western interconnection serves the Rocky Mountain states and those that border the Pacific Ocean.

The Texas Interconnected System is the smallest grid in the nation, and serves most of Texas, although small portions of the Lone Star state benefit from the other two grids.

And if you’re wondering why Texas gets a grid of its own, according to the Texas Tribune they have their own grid “to avoid dealing with the feds.” Now that’s true survivalist savvy—in theory.

Juli1208A

When you look at the layout of the grid above, it’s easy to see that a single grid going offline would disrupt a huge segment of North America.

Wait—make that all of North America.

To give it to you straight, our national electrical grid works as an interdependent network. This means that the failure of any one part would trigger the borrowing of energy from other areas. Whichever grid attempts to carry the extra load would likely be overtaxed, as the grid is already taxed to near max levels during peak hot or cold seasons.

The aftermath of a single grid going down could leave millions of residents without power for days, weeks or longer depending on the scope of the failure.

So although on the surface it looks like the U.S. has wisely put its eggs into three separate baskets for safer keeping, the U.S. has in essence, lined up our baskets so that if one were to drop, or if the bottom were to fall out, the eggs from basket #1 would fall into basket #2. Which would break from the load, falling into basket #3—eventually scrambling all the eggs. Sorry, Texas. Related: Is Saudi Arabia About To Cry Uncle In The Oil Price War?

When multiple parts of the grid fail at the same time, it’s not necessarily more catastrophic—the catastrophe just happens more quickly.

According to Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in an interview with USA Today, “You have a very vulnerable system that will continue to be vulnerable until we figure out a way to break it out into more distributed systems.”

The Grid, by the Numbers

Let’s look at the math behind the power grid, and what the U.S. is doing to improve it.

1. Through the Recovery Act, the DOE invested about $4.5 billion in the power grid since 2010 to modernize it and “increase its reliability”. $4.5 billion seems like a fairly large number, unless you’re talking about a single machine that serves as the lifeblood to nearly every human in North America—a machine that was conceived in 1882 by Thomas Edison—with little changed since then, conceptually speaking. For people who reside in weather-challenged areas, such as my home state of Michigan, a home generator is almost as necessary of an appliance as a microwave, and people are scrambling to go “off-grid” with alternative energy solutions—an act that will not provide them immunity should the lights go out everywhere else. And for what it’s worth, for those of you sporting solar and wind energy, you’re further taxing the grid—the grid just wasn’t designed to accommodate the surges and lulls of such systems, however green you find them.

2. Power outages—just the ones due to severe weather—cost the U.S. economy between $18 and $33 billion annually in spoiled inventory, delayed production, grid damage, lost wages and output. Despite a few billion dollars being thrown at the grid to improve its resiliency or reliability, the number of outages due to weather is expected to increase, assuming that climate change will indeed intensify extreme weather, as some predict.

3. The total annual cost from power outages, per federal data published in The Smart Grid: An Introduction, is a whopping $150 billion.

4. As of 2014, the DOE had generously spent $100 million (million, not billion) into modernizing the grid for the specific purposes of surviving a cyber incident by maintaining critical functions. This would be measures separate from making the grid more reliable.

5. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the electrical grid a grade of D+ in early 2014 after evaluating the grid for security and other vulnerabilities.

6. The average age of large power transformers (LPTs) in the US is 40 years, with 70 percent of all large power transformers being 25 years or older. According to the DOE, “aging power transformers are subject to increased risk of failure.”

7. LPTs cannot be easily replaced. They are custom built, have long lead times (even 20 months, in some cases), cost millions of dollars, are usually purchased from foreign entities due to limited U.S. capacity, and weigh up to 400 tons. All this means that patching and fixing is likely to be favored over replacement, despite their age and associated risk.

Working with those figures, most of which are provided by federal sources, this means the U.S. invested, from 2010 to 2014, $4.5 billion to modernize the grid, along with an additional $100 million to stave off cyber threats. That’s $4.6 billion over four years, or $1.15 billion per year in upgrades. Next to the $150 billion lost each year due to outages, it looks like someone has done some subpar calculating.

The security of the power grid, which is a separate issue from the reliability of the power grid, is a whole other issue that concerns itself with hypothetical one-off scenarios—albeit terrible one-off scenarios. But at least there’s a chance that those one-off scenarios, such as a cyber-attack on the grid or some terrorist activity, would not come to fruition. A chance, at least.

What we are certain of, is that severe weather will continue to stress and threaten our power grid. And unless something changes, ultimately, it will fail. So when we talk about reliability, we’re talking about “when” and “for how long” scenarios, not “what if”.

The how-long factor plays a huge role into how bad is “bad”; not because of the events that one knows will follow, which includes mass food spoilage, deaths due to overheating in the hot summer months, deaths due to freezing in the cold regions, and the halting of everything we take for granted these days—airlines, internet and most other forms of communication.

All that sounds pretty bleak, but when you throw into the mix the mania and hysteria that would ensue shortly after such catastrophic events, it will be so much worse. Best-selling author Charles Mackay, in his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, does a pretty good job describing, through example, how crowd decisions and reactions are significantly less sensible than individual decisions—sometimes downright nutty, as evidenced by Tulip Mania, where supply and demand—or in this case scarcity and demand, drove up the prices of tulip bulbs to ridiculous levels.

In the context of blackouts, we saw this in 1977, when a lightning strike in New York on a Hudson River substation tripped two circuit breakers, causing power to be diverted in order to protect the circuit. The chain of events that followed ended in an entire blackout for the area, which led to mass rioting, over 1000 deliberately set fires, the looting of 1600 stores, and the eventual arrest of 4,500 perpetrators and the injury of 550 officers, according to some estimates. The power was only out for 25 hours, and in one area.

In all likelihood, the haves (those who have removed themselves from the grid and prepared accordingly) will soon be overrun by the have-nots in the event of any extended blackout, with heavily populated areas taking the brunt of the chaos—and your solar roof panels or generator will not suffice as your savior.

The U.S. would be wise to follow the lead of some other countries, such as Denmark, which has decentralized its grid, but we doubt the cash exists to fund such an ambitious overhaul of an archaic system that has been left essentially unattended for decades upon decades.

Pggrow

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

156 comments

  1. Nigel

    I think the lights are going out in the UK first. They are closing all the power stations, because of some bullshit environmental concern, with no idea what’s going to replace them!

    I don’t care – people can learn to play card games by candlelight like I did in 1974

    1. JTMcPhee

      …or as my training sergeant in the CBW part of Army basic training said, “In that situation, troop, bend forward at the waist, place your head between your legs, and kiss your a$$ goodbye.”

      The military is working to prolong itself in the event of grid failure by gaining energy self-sufficiency. The military of course is a parasite that depends on regular feeding and resupply from the stuff the rest of us generate, using petro and gird electricity.

    2. Aumua

      or, you know, start saying hello now because, by the time that happens, it might be a little late to start saying hello.

      1. Jake

        It’s the food supply that is the most critical issue. No power, no refrigeration; no fuel, no delivery (to markets); no network, no way to pay; no commerce, no jobs, those living paycheck to paycheck stop getting those life-giving resupplies to the essential bank account. Life goes back to being brutish and short.

      2. jrs

        but by the time that happens your neighbors might also be entirely different people as well, people move, a lot …

  2. David Sutton

    Your cellphones are pretty useless as the system immediately becomes overloaded by panicky users. However texts and emails may work. For about 7 or 8 hours until the batteries at the towers go flat.
    Wait for all the alarms to run out of juice and then the world becomes quiet, and if you go outside after dark you get to see how many stars there are in a place with no light pollution. Wait a few more days and you can cross the street safely because unless the petrol stations have back up generators there is no fuel.
    Remember to gaffe tape over the button on your toilet so it can’t be flushed. Unless your city is gravity fed, the water in its cistern may be the only drinking water around for a while.
    As Paul said, get to know your neighbours. It’s amazing the resources even a small community can muster.

  3. Jeremy Grimm

    Our electric grid is one of our greatest vulnerabilities. The article worries over storms and cyber attacks. The simplest way to take down the power grid is a volley of small weapons fire targeting one of the large transformers described in the post. And these are not “hard” targets. The impacts of a long term power outage should be well familiar to all. While our power elite [not electric power] worry over keeping their police forces well armed and ready to fire weapons on the unwashed — they have for years neglected our power grid.

    The post doesn’t mention it — but what happens at our nuclear power plants if there were a long term power outage? Do they have supplies of whatever their generators burn sufficient to keep running the pumps which drive cooling water over their reactor cores?

    What about all the solar panel installations which power our houses and feed back into the grid. How many of them can operate in the absense of the grid? Most of our appliances and equipment rely upon 110 Volts alternating current — not the direct current solar panels supply — before the conversions to enable feeds into the grid. How many of your appliances can operate on direct current — at the voltages a set of solar panels provide before conversion for the grid? Can you switch your solar panels over for direct current operations?

    I am puzzled by the seeming reflectance of terrorists to attack our power grid. Without directly harming anyone they could greatly harm our economy. Given the level of unquiet in our cities a long term power outage could stimulate untold damage and harm to persons — if that were a terrorist objective — and the greater part of the damage and harm would be self-inflicted. It might make for an interesting court case trying any terrorists — given the extent of our culpability in accomplishing our own harm.

    1. Clive

      The utilities have already been targeted. But rather than terrorists, I suspect these were intentional wake-up calls by the security services to show how vulnerable key installations in the grid are.

      First there was an attach which compromised the oil cooling of the substation:

      http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/04/16/gunshots-cause-oil-spill-at-san-jose-pge-substation/

      Then another to damage the transformer windings:

      http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/218482/2nd-us-power-plant-was-attacked-armed-gunman-daniel-greenfield

      If you intend to mount an attack on a component of the distribution grid, you really need to know what you are doing. Pot shots won’t be effective. But as the feature points out, decades of under-investment has created an incredibly fragile system. The utilities need a serious kick up the pants and this is why I suspect the repeated noticeable but not really that serious and not as serious as they could have been “terrorist” incidents were what they ended up being — literally, warning shots.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I don’t intend any sort of attack. I’m just an old guy who worries too much.

        I recall the pot boiler “One Second After” and the considerable discussions it provoked on the web leading me to a discussion of an attack on a transformer in the West [sorry — no links — may be apocryphal]. I don’t believe the perpetrators were ever tracked down and cannot speculate on their intent. They did manage to seriously damage a key transformer by firing small arms. Wake-up call? I didn’t notice anyone wake up.

        If some organization intended (I don’t!) to mount an attack on a component of the power distribution grid they don’t really need to know what they are doing. They just need to be obsessively thorough. I doubt that our power grid is all that robust.

        1. Pat

          I’m with you. Ted Koppel wrote a book in the last couple of years about our vulnerabilities in this area and I thought he was late to the party. Still it was apparently huge news to most of our political press for a day. It was the latest blonde co-ed who disappeared, until the next distraction. And these are the people who regularly opine on the greatest challenges facing our nation.

          It is one of the big reasons I have a huge problem with the Obama administration. This is a security issue. A major one. But they didn’t insist on putting it in the budget where it belongs (one where it would be more likely to get done), Defense. (Admittedly I think bridge and train rebuilding should be in the same budget but I have to work harder to justify that).

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        One other thread to my comment I should elaborate — terrorist attacks on life have always seemed counter productive to me — as far as terror goes. Why don’t terrorists attack things which generate income for the people they claim to target? Blow-up a building and kill a bunch of people and everyone rallies around the “leader” and sends troops to countries uninvolved with the attack.

        Take down the cell phone infrastructure and an attacker could provoke real terror in those suddenly bereft of texting.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think you give too much credit to most terrorists – the disadvantage of the AQ/Isis model is that they rely on recruiting local idiots who spend too much time watching youtube videos of beheadings, not people who actually think strategically. As you say, if they had more sense, a few well placed small bombs could cause enormous disruption, but thankfully they are not that smart. Plenty of terrorists/insurgents/freedom fighters *select favoured term* have identified the vulnerability of such systems, but in many cases don’t target them because it would impact their own supporters too much. The writer Brendan Behan spent time in prison in the 1950’s for IRA activities when he was caught with dynamite on him, intended for blowing up transponders in England, and the IRA successfully prevented interconnections between the UK and Ireland in the 1980’s by repeated sabotage. In WWII Britain did quite a lot of damage to German power systems by simply floating over balloons trailing wires along the ground, shorting lines as the wind blew them over Europe. You could probably do the same more efficiently now with drones bought in hobby shops. The fact that so far as I know its not been tried is probably a reflection of just how shabby and inept most Islamic jihadi’s are in reality.

          1. EoinW

            I’d be embarrassed to call myself a terrorist today. After all, they don’t create much terror. For all the horror of mass killings, they’re over and done with before the general population even hears about it. What terror results from such attacks comes from the media and politicians sensationalizing then overreacting to what are criminal acts.

            If these “terrorists” wanted to stop the crimes commited in their own countries they’d go after those at the top. Like Charlotte Corday, “kill one and the rest will be afraid”. However it seems they welcome the violence as an excuse to hate then to kill in revenge. The murderers on both side cut from the same cloth.

            The IRA actually had a goal beyond violence for the sake of violence. Just remember, it was the Brighton bombing when they targeted the Thatcher government that led the “Iron Lady” to sign the Anglo-Irish agreement.

          2. Isolato

            I have to agree that the lack of attacks on our power supply puts the lie to the Terrorist Menace. I was in Peru in the early 90s during the Shining Path uprising. Power in Lima was constantly disrupted by the simplest of means, just topple a transmission tower out in the middle of nowhere. They can’t all be guarded and, as you may have noticed…minus one leg they are a bit tippy.

        2. fajensen

          Most of the terrorist / death squad / “freedom fighter” types are drawn from the ever-present cesspit of failed narcissists, sadists and malignant necrophiliacs. These types basically gets their kinks on from destroying life (and it’s surrogates – until they are ready – anything which is beautiful, animals, art, freedom of expression, sexuality, happiness in children, … ).

          Hurting a dead object, (which is ugly to boot in the eyes of people who do not understand the engineering) doesn’t satisfy their objectives for being whatever they call themselves.

          These people are neither professional nor soldiers, they are just taking the opportunity to be doing openly what they secretly enjoy, not what matters.

          PS:
          Sometimes these creeps even manage to fail upwards, glom onto the resources of the state and then we get this spectacle as a warning that something is going wrong in society:

          https://theintercept.com/2016/08/09/ex-cia-chief-who-endorsed-clinton-calls-for-killing-iranians-and-russians-in-syria/

          PPS:
          This book changed my perspective on the whole thing.
          https://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Human-Destructiveness-Erich-Fromm/dp/080501604X

          1. John Zelnicker

            Erich Fromm wrote another book that had a major influence on my thinking and that is very relevant to what’s going on today. The title is Escape From Freedom and the major premise is that people will give up various freedoms to an authoritarian leader because it’s easier than creating and maintaining a moral society through cooperation and consensus.

          2. Jagger

            Most of the terrorist / death squad / “freedom fighter” types are drawn from the ever-present cesspit of failed narcissists, sadists and malignant necrophiliacs

            And that is the reason we will triumph. The leaders of the free world are drawn from the ever-present pool of successful narcissists, sadists and malignant necrophiliacs.

        3. different clue

          Sending troops to countries uninvolved with the attack is exactly the effect the bin Laddies sought to achieve. Bin Laden said so plainly in some speech or other. The goal was to get America to bankrupt itself and auto-degrade its society, make itself hated all over the world, heighten the contradictions between America and Islamdom, and within Islamdom itself.

          And it succeeded.

    2. Clive

      The thing that scuppers small localised grids relying on solar supplies is motors (i.e. pumps, lifts/escalators, compressors used in refrigeration / cooling and so on). These have a high starting current (mostly, inverter drivers are different). These need a source of supply that can toleratre what is, effectively, a momentary short-circuit condition without tripping.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Not a proponent for small localized grids — just an old guy who worries too much.

        — But along that line of thought — electric motors are convenient but many of our appliances might be powered mechanically — worst case. Many of the applications using electric motors use mechanical power in levels I might extract from one of my kids — were I to compel their efforts [directly extract — mechanical application directly driven by mechanical means].

      2. SufferinSuccotash, Red Fool

        Not unlike the hospital in NYC during the ’65 blackout which found that its wonderful new emergency power generator included a starter motor which, um, needed outside current to run.
        /sad trombones…

    3. EoinW

      Maybe that’s because there never were nor have been many terrorists. Of course if you count western governments, western spooks and western militaries then there are plenty of terrorists.

    4. Bubba_Gump

      In theory, backup diesel generators co-located with nuclear plants serve to keep cooling pumps running if the grid goes down. But nuke plants depend on their interconnection with the grid to function — if the grid goes away then the plant trips offline and scrams the reactor. The pumps, now powered from the diesels, continue operating to remove heat during shutdown. Implicit in the design is the assumption that more diesel can be delivered to the plant. If not diesel is available, the plant goes into blackout and thermal siphoning is used the circulate coolant for residual heat removal. That only works if the plant is already in cold shutdown, which would have been reached after a couple of days running on diesels.

      The trouble at Fukushima could have been averted to some extent had the plant designers located the diesel generators above ground rather than in the basement, which of course flooded first. Also, the chain of events that led to the Chernobyl accident began during a test in which the remaining steam would be diverted after the scram to run the pumps for the initial minute or so that the diesels take to start and get up to speed. The test failed because the operators had screwed up the reactor state before the test but proceeded anyway.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Thank you for your answer. I live within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant in an area which seems to lose power every time there’s a storm. Your answer lets me feel a little more comfortable.

        I have another question though. Storm season is approaching and the nearby nuclear power plant is by a large body of water sitting at an elevation which to me seems a bit too close to the typical elevation of the water. What measures might protect the nuclear power plant in the event of a strong storm surge?

    5. Skip Intro

      What terrorists?

      But seriously. There is plenty of money to fix the grid, there is just no political will. The whole discussion assumes the plentiful terrorists targeting the homeland, and a dearth of government funds that would have to be diverted from schools and welfare programs or even homeland security, to revamp the grid. In fact, the opposite is true.

  4. clarky90

    Our human bodies are full of strategic redundancy. We have two eyes, two kidneys, two testes or ovaries.

    The arterial and venous blood circulatory systems have spare capacity, and alternative routing in case of a blockage or a wound. It is how we are designed.

    The “just in time”, maximum efficiency model of “digital life” is a disaster in waiting. Take your clothes off and look in the mirror! The creature before you has survived Ice Ages! Walked continents. Sailed seas.

    Rebuilding USA infrastructure will employ many Americans.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Oh, but where oh where will all that money come from? /s

      Maybe the Social Security “Trust Fund.?”

      Austerity time!

    2. Clive

      I was simply appalled by the abysmal technical standard I saw in the US grid. Not just the local distribution system. The high and very high voltage infrastructure too. It was so obviously built to a single objective — lowest first cost. Resilience be dammed.

      1. ambrit

        Yep. That’s what we get for Public/Private schemes designed by the ‘Private’ side of the equation. Such short term thinking could be referred to as one of the “Discontents of Financialization.”
        I remember a house on Pigeon Key, a tiny isolated island in the middle of one of the longer stretches of the old Overseas Highway, which ran from Key Largo down to Key West. It had a large and very visible water cistern next to the main building. Rain water would run off of the roof into it. The house would use that water to function. My point being that older, so called Third World technology already exists to solve many human needs. Application is the stumbling block, application and energy supply.
        Human history goes back, as far as presently known, for about 3500 years. The Industrial Revolution goes back, oh, about two hundred years. Ergo, we’re still working the bugs out of the new system.

        1. jsn

          Concentration and scale are the challenges the industrial revolution imposed on those robust old systems.

          The challenge now is to unwind the concentrations and dis-aggregate the scale without ramping up mortality.

          That cistern can only support so many people per acre, and the same is true for all sustainable systems. I grow less hopeful by the day about transitioning without a “jackpot” but keep slogging on.

          1. ambrit

            I reluctantly agree. What scares me is that the same people who screwed up much of the contemporary scene are poised to come out on top of the “Jackpot” phase because they ‘wrote the rules’ that will govern how the Lottery that controls the ‘Jackpot’ pay out is run. I remember reading long ago an article that argued that modern medicine was responsible for most of the “modern” era’s woes because said modern medicine had eliminated the ‘salutary’ influences flowing from the previously much higher mortality rates.
            I sometimes wonder whether the advent of “Lizard Overlords” would be a net plus or net minus for humankind. At least ethical beings take care of their ‘pets.’

    3. fajensen

      Well. See! Inefficiency!!

      You *could* sell off half of that stuff and buy a lot of convenience NOW while you are young and able to fully appreciate it, however, thinking like a proper CEX you will instead sell other peoples redundant systems and use some of the proceeds to have solar power, independent water supplies (and maybe some Rafael Systems auto-cannons) for your private island McMansion.

      1. EndOfTheWorld

        Texas was its own Republic briefly. (six flags over Texas.)

        BTW, ambrit, the correct spelling of the possessive pronoun “its” is “its”, and not “it’s”. We must constantly strive to rise above the common, run of the mill blog.

        1. ambrit

          Ah, I have been bedeviled by that question, no sarcasm implied, true speech here.
          Some spell check systems promote the accent between the last letter of the pronoun and the possessive ‘s.’ Other authorities ‘beg to differ,’ as it were. I had been using the system of placing the accent after the possessive ‘s’ for a while but became lazy enough to submit to the importunings of the Internet Spellcheck djini.
          If I were a Evans-essant soul, I would strive puissantly to rise above the standards of any Mill on the Mental Floss blog.
          I have heard it said by genuine Texicans that Texas is its, or it’s or its’ own state of mind, nevermind the geographical constraints.
          I love this blog.
          Cheers!

          1. EndOfTheWorld

            Spell check can’t think for you! “it’s” is a legitimate word, indeed—a contraction meaning “it is”. Use your God-given brain, ambrit. If the Good Lord didn’t bless you with an overabundance of brain power, that’s all the more reason not to SQUANDER the little bit you DO HAVE!

    1. jsn

      Texas exists as a result of the 1837 panic which was essentially an anticipation of our recent mortgage bubble except then the underlying asset was Southern slaves rather than sub-prime real estate loans. When securitized slave mortgage holders tried to foreclose, Southern slave owners decamped to Texas. There they waited out the periods ‘statute of limitations’ and then joined the fissiparous Union just in time to Confederate.

      Like many of the former slave states, Texas was a technological backwater until Johnson got power in congress and my parents were both beneficiaries of the rural electrification he implemented there, like the TVA, but to remote from anything else to be part of a larger grid. I expect that mythical identity as an independent nation and Johnson’s lasting power in the state are how Texas ended up with its own grid.

      1. jsn

        Should have added to “decamped to Texas” “and took their slaves with them”, one step ahead of the devil, who I suspect still dwells in East Texas.

  5. Baby Gerald

    We had a huge outage to the Northeast sector of the Eastern Interconnection thirteen years ago. The power went down here in NYC for two days in my neighborhood and almost three days in many areas. It was early August and people handled it quite well, actually.
    According to the Wikipedia article:

    The blackout’s primary cause was a software bug in the alarm system at a control room of the FirstEnergy Corporation, located in Ohio. A lack of alarm left operators unaware of the need to re-distribute power after overloaded transmission lines hit unpruned foliage, which triggered a race condition in the control software. What would have been a manageable local blackout cascaded into massive widespread distress on the electric grid.

    Restaurants that were at risk of spoilage often had cook-outs, people shared food with neighbors out on the streets, the at-risk from heat stroke were often taken to shelters with back-up generators, and all-in-all New Yorkers took it in stride. There wasn’t too much in the way of looting, although there were definitely a few instances. That’s not to say that things wouldn’t have devolved quickly had it lingered a few more days. People were definitely getting edgy by the end of the second day, that’s for certain.

    1. KurtisMayfield

      I was out on Long Island during that. Yes everything was fine because we all knew it was temporary. But trust me during the Sandy blackouts and gas shortages people were getting jittery.

      The difference between 2004 and 2016 is that now we have and entire generation that “cannot live” without smart phones. It’s going to be different if the power grid fails again.

      1. kees_popinga

        During Sandy my landlord had a generator on his truck. It had an extension cord with a power strip. While he was using the generator to pump out the basement, a rotating group of neighbors congregated around the power strip and used it it charge their phones. I hooked up my electric coffee percolator. It was all very congenial but three more days and it would have been zombie apocalypse.

  6. PlutoniumKun

    I appreciate its a short article, but I think the problems with the US grid are significantly more complicated than this. It is a problem both of being too interconnected, and not being connected enough. The network of small sub-grids are often poorly connected to each other (i.e. there is a lack of high capacity DC lines going across states), while there is also a lack of density of individual power circuits within sub-regions. As an example, in Europe it is considered standard that each unit of around 100,000 people will have a minimum of three separate circuits capable of handling 80MW of power (in this case, 110Kv power lines) serving it. So one can be down for maintenance, one can be down by accident, and the area will still have a power supply. This should ensure near 100% regional supply. But clearly this is not the case in many parts of the US.

    Because renewables are not spread evenly across the US there is an inevitable need for very large scale interconnections to supply energy across States. This means very large DC lines which are likely to be very unpopular with the people who will live next to them. But there also needs to be a regional decentralisation and densification of the networks to provide security and to provide for more efficient local power sources – CHP and local solar/wind/hydro/biomass.

    Providing this security will be enormously expensive. But the fact that nobody is looking at this expenditure, while a trillion dollars are more will be spent on the F-35 Flying Turkey alone shows that the War on Terror, etc., has grossly skewed security spending. It shows everything about US politics these days that if a future president does grasp the nettle and push for a major expenditure on the network it will have to be via a law entitled the ‘Protect our Air Con from Terrorists and Putin and those Iranian guys’ or something similar.

    1. Clive

      Thanks PlutoniumKun — you saved me a lot of typing as I was going to say the same things! The only point I’d also add to your comprehensive assessment of the tale of woe that is the US power grid are the total mismatch between the generation assets and the load centres. You couldn’t have made it worse if you’d set out to do so. Oh, and the lack of peak lopping capacity (not necessarily just pump storage or similar, but smaller scale thermal storage such as ice storage to lessen the impact of the notoriously intense peaky mid-afternoon spike for A/C demand.)

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thanks Clive. Yes, going deeper into this, you have the problem of idiot economists driving policies of deregulation and privatisation in power systems which ensures necessary spare capacity is not built in from the beginning, and that you don’t have local monopolies created by grids being too focused on legacy power plants. The UK in particular has suffered from an ideological opposition to having a proper energy policy since the 1980’s, but has survived ok so far because of the historic density and quality of the existing legacy network (plus the availability of cheap gas). But in the coming decades there are plenty of chickens coming to roost there too.

        The article in ‘links’ yesterday about the problem with wind power in Wyoming is typical. Wyoming has ‘cheap’ coal power thanks to the sunk cost in older dirty coal plants, and of course a lot of lobbying money goes in ensuring there is no competition so that their lives are extended when there are much better options (most notably wind and hydro) available. Its just purely wasteful that a new power line needs to be created to link a wind farm in Wyoming to California, while Wyoming coal interests do their best to undermine the economics of the wind farm. Its this kind of local stupidity (and corruption) that prevents a rational design of network.

        1. Charger01

          Wyoming also has the natural resource curse. The mining, transportation, and processing of coal creates an enormous amount of high paying jobs for decades. Wind turbines have an enormous startup cost (lots of jobs for installation) less jobs for the operation and maintenance. Plus, wind is dependent on Congress for their tax break. If you remove the tax break, new wind generation will grind to a halt.

      2. beene

        What is missing is that several of the top universities are already developing better storage. Not to mention we can no longer hear that peak power is a problem from those wanting more nuclear power plants.

        Perhaps the author’s opinion on solar and wind is based on outdated information. Consumer Reports has a good article in Aug 16 issue.

        Plus current system has a transformer in Pa. that if lost the whole eastern system fails. Sorry do not have a link for the transformer information.

    2. tony

      If I were the leader of a powerful nuclear-armed country threathened militarily by the US, I would have plans in place to to take out the US power grid. It would be a way of attacking the US mainland without escalating to nuclear.

      1. lulu

        As I recall, Ted Koppel makes the point that backdoors are likely already in place in computer control systems on all sides.

    3. Jeff

      The business of PG&E, or any other similar company, is to make money, eventually from the power they provide (Enron made money without providing any power), not to provide a resilient energy infrastructure.
      So a future president would need to inject some “serious communism” to rebuild the grid as a regulated utility service.
      As an individual, we can try to improve a bit (eg I know someone who couldn’t leave her house after a power failure, as all electric shutters were closed and had no manual backups. That is a situation that can and should be avoided), but off-grid solutions are mostly a waste of money. How long before your nice home-generator runs out of gasoline? What use is a broken windmill after a tornado?

      1. ray phenicie

        I see you suggesting that some government regulation of power suppliers is needed so the country can be safe. How dare you promulgate such heresy! Don’t you know marketplaces are self regulating for the optimal utilization of all products? Now go read three chapters of standard orthodox economic theory as penance.

    4. TheCatSaid

      Regarding network vulnerability, about a year ago I read that modelling of network vulnerability showed that while networks based on a single central hub are very vulnerable, the MOST vulnerable option was having a few major hubs–which is what the US power grid is like.

  7. Bill Smith

    Instead of a chicken in every pot, a solar roof and an Powerwall or Mercedes battery pack at every house?

        1. ambrit

          Bingo! Mandate connection to the grid and then charge high “basic services” imposts. We pay 20 dollars a month for our “connection” to the local mandated centralized water and sewer system for the house in Pearlington that we cannot live in. If we stop paying, the charge is routed to our yearly tax bill. If we don’t pay that, the house is sold “for taxes” the next year to a speculator. Because of “upgraded” zoning rules enacted after Hurricane Katrina, the place is impossible to sell for anything approaching it’s true value; more speculators reaping the benefits.
          Modern Life.

            1. ambrit

              Hmmm. Hardly a “Civil” course to proceed in.
              Also, opting out of State mandated rent extraction systems is precluded. Absent any truly ‘free’ “competitors,” price discovery becomes a mere ‘herding’ endeavour.

          1. different clue

            If the house cannot be used in its present state, do you have plans to upgrade it to live in it eventually? If you plan to never ever upgrade it to live in it, why keep paying for it?

            Why not fill the bathtub, toilet, hot water heater, sinks, and all pipes and lines within the house which are legally part of the “private property” of the house itself . . . with wet cement? And let it harden up good and rocklike? And then stop paying and just walk away?

            1. ambrit

              Good question to which there is no truly ‘rational’ answer. Sentiment plays a big part in decisions regarding personal and family living. Also, since the house was filled with sea water up to the tops of the inside doorways during hurricane Katrina, the house is a truly ‘sunk asset.’ The place is intact mainly because it is 100% cypress construction. Studs, joists, tongue and groove floors walls and ceilings of cypress. We may end up selling the wood off piecemeal, and keeping the half acre of grounds; all of this a hundred yards from the east bank of the East Pearl River.
              I suspect that our children will curse my shade for leaving them such a mess. Well, such is life. If I knew what I was doing, I’d be dangerous.

              1. different clue

                Ahh . . .cypress. Perhaps for dismantling and selling off very slowly and carefully at best price. Perhaps for giving high value cypress to children if/when they might want it.

                If the half acre is not poisoned, and the soil is potentially rich, it might be a place to grow food, especially if grid collapse leads to other collapses including food delivery collapse. A gardenable half acre might be cherished then. I had not realized there was a half acre around the house. And near a river sounds like the kind of place that would have supported a pre-electric civilization in the pre-electricity era. And might again in the post-electricity era to come.

                1. ambrit

                  The town is on the first reasonably dry ground inland from the mouth of the Pearl River. It was the site of the oldest recorded trading post to the local tribes in Mississippi. Before the Katrina Event, this town wasn’t even listed as a flood risk zone. No flood insurance was required by the banks for a mortgage. Now, everything on the Mississippi Gulf Coast south of Interstate 10 is a maximum flood risk area. Home insurance rates are prohibitive. Someone has decided to let “the Market” do the job of slowly depopulating the at risk of flooding coastal strip.
                  Along the rivers here, one can, if enough attention is paid, find pre Colombian and some later hunter gatherer camp sites. I have turned up flint heads during rambles through the Bogue Chitto and Pearl River bottom lands. America was heavily populated before the European diseases, to which the American populations had no herd immunity, did their nefarious work.

                  1. different clue

                    I am no expert, but it sounds to me like this half acre is worth keeping in the family at all costs, with or without any sort of house on it.

                    The land can grow food. If civilization collapses so profoundly that there are no housing inspectors left to know or care what you or your descendants build there, and no tax assessors left to say it is worth “this” or “that”, then you or your descendants, however remotely into the future from the present unhappy present, could build the appropriate “Indian type shelter” on it and live by growing food there. That would be worth more than any money, especially if money itself becomes worthless by that time.

      1. fajensen

        Here (Sweden), they charge for the size of incoming fuses and there is a “transport fee” if one sell solar electricity back to the grid.

        They, and their paid-for politicians are in a bit of a bind at the present because solar, wind and “green-Anything” and “localization / self-reliance” are hugely popular themes amongst the electorate.

        The problem is that a disproportional part of the costs of the centralized electrical grid was always paid by consumers, not the industry who really need large amounts of always-on power.

        At the same time we see the prices for solar installations, storage and DC-AC converters are falling, the consumer-part of energy consumption is literally crashing due to better appliances, the latest building standards and LED-lighting.

        The “green energy revolution” is coming much faster than anticipated, so revenues are falling and fixed tariffs cannot be raised because that doesn’t fly politically. The Danish government has (been) turned and is presently actively fighting this development with mixed success; the Swedish d.o. hasn’t decided yet – mainly because the swedes have a *much* more rational tax system than the Danes have. Energy businesses take the biggest hit, not government revenue like in the DK. And it’s mainly E.ON. who are whining. They are Germans. Outsiders, not made people, like Vattenfall.

        PS:
        I know of a large-ish E.ON-owned transformer from 1938 with a blown tap-changer that at the going budget of E.ON of 1% of revenue for replacement will have to last 50 years more – or not. Once it burns itself and a part of the forest it sits in, the incident is probably a different budget category and the bean-counters will pay up.

        The same forces driving crapification are at work here too, just 20 years delayed. The only way to avoid the eventual CFIT-event “here” in the EU, is if the US manage to do that first too ;-)

      2. PlutoniumKun

        A sun tax! (don’t laugh, they tried a rainwater tax once in Bolivia when the US owned water utility found out it was losing money to domestic rainwater collectors).

  8. ex-PFC Chuck

    To give it to you straight, our national electrical grid works as an interdependent network. This means that the failure of any one part would trigger the borrowing of energy from other areas. Whichever grid attempts to carry the extra load would likely be overtaxed, as the grid is already taxed to near max levels during peak hot or cold seasons.

    This is just plain wrong. The four grids are not synchronous with each other and therefore they cannot be directly interconnected with AC connections. Within an AC grid the power flows are determined by the locations of the generation resources, the locations of the loads, and the physical parameters of the infrastructure – lines, transformers, substation buses, etc. If an AC connection were attempted the fact that the two grids are not synchronous, even though they operate at the same nominal frequency (60.00 Hz in North America) will sooner or later (most probably sooner) drift far enough apart in phase angle to cause the power flowing across the connection to exceed its capacity, and if the protection scheme works correctly the circuit breakers disconnect it.

    There are some points of exchange between grids, but these are AC/DC/AC connections. In some cases the DC piece is hundreds of miles long and in others its distance is measured in feet. These latter are in substations on or near a boundary between grids. Unlike an AC connection, the power flow and direction across an AC/DC/AC connection is directly controllable. If the system protection equipment senses a collapse of voltage on the receiving end it will simply shut off the flow.

    One caveat. When I began ramping down into retirement nearly 15 years ago the so-called FACTS (Flexible AC Transmission Systems) technology was just emerging. This was designed to address phase angle differences that can occur within an AC grid for various reasons. I’m not aware that it’s ever been used in interconnections between grids, but I’m not paying as much attention to the industry as I once did.

    1. Watt4Bob

      You’re right, but…

      The four main grids are not the issue here.

      The big grids are composed of smaller regional grids whose operators coordinate the flow of power between each other to balance loads and protect themselves from damage due to peak demand and local outages etc.

      There is embedded in this ‘coordination’ an agreement to physically remove your particular portion of the grid if local conditions are such that continued connection represents a risk to the system as a whole.

      It’s a heavy responsibility, to turn the lights out in your region, for instance so the lights can stay on everywhere else.

      In the case noted above, the great east coast black out, the problem, I believe, was in Ohio, but the local operator did not disconnect the local system from the greater grid, and ended up causing a cascading series of bigger failures…

      The question at that point was why didn’t they disconnect?

      Did they think they could fix the problem, and so delayed disconnecting, or did they consider that turning off the lights, cost them money because the electric meters quit turning?

      1. JCC

        Wikipedia has a decent article on the outage of 2003 (much larger and longer than the one mentioned in the article) and it talks about the chain of events and regional interconnect problems with out-of-phase generators running away and shutting down.

        My home area was without power for over 48 hours. It was a relatively pleasant experience in my town of 2000 people. Most had candles on the porches at night and there was no light pollution ruining clear night skies… and no riots or general panic anywhere that that I can recall, although it did cause lots of infrastructure problems.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_2003

        1. ray phenicie

          This is the event, in August of 2003, that triggered the cascading outages according to the Wikipedia article. High voltage wires ‘tripped’ meaning I guess they went down over trees that were brushing against the lines. Also other High voltage lines rubbing on trees were inculcated into the series of events. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article implies human error about two hours previous to the lines going down as monitors were not correctly set after a date error occurred. Seems the monitoring failed to report what was actually happening in the field. Sounds familiar to an afficiando of power failures like myself.

          So what is really needed I think, to avoid this happening is better attention paid to the utility companies by government authorities. I do remember DTE Energy in the Metro Detroit area, going on a tree cutting frenzy right after that. Several dozen tree cutting crews camped out at local hotels for months while they roamed the area pulling down what had to be thousands and thousands of branches and trees.

          This assessment makes it clear that there is a regulatory problem just like Lambert is saying. We have to have better control of something that is so vital as well as backups that don’t depend on having a plug to the grid to keep them going like Fukushima.

          As a sidebar, does anyone know why electric power lines are not underground? It seems to me that would be the way to go like with gas, a lot of phone and water lines.

          1. ray phenicie

            One of the things I wanted to mention was that First Energy, the operator powering the faulted lines, had actually leased out the lines to a business partner and did not actually maintain the lines themselves. Finding reliable business partners in large operations like power generation and health care is the Achilles heel of so many business operations that have levels of interactions that are three and four deep. Seems the top operator does not, too often, know what’s really going on further down the food chain. I see this as a major problem in the way business is done these days. Seems the best solution would still be better (trained, educated, motivated, paid) regulators traversing the many levels of the food chain.

          2. Ames Gilbert

            The cost of first insulating and then burying all high-voltage lines in the US would be many trillions of dollars. Lower voltage lines cheaper, but there are many more of them.
            Air is an excellent insulator as long as it is not ionized, providing you have enough of it. Hence poles and pylons. Then all you need is to insulate the wires from the pylons.

      2. John Zelnicker

        @Watt4Bob – In Baby Gerald’s comment above at 6:20 am., the following is quoted from Wikipedia:

        “The blackout’s primary cause was a software bug in the alarm system at a control room of the FirstEnergy Corporation, located in Ohio. A lack of alarm left operators unaware of the need to re-distribute power after overloaded transmission lines hit unpruned foliage, which triggered a race condition in the control software. What would have been a manageable local blackout cascaded into massive widespread distress on the electric grid.”

        Apparently, they had no idea they needed to disconnect.

        1. Watt4Bob

          I’d trust this source for a much more complete explanation, which though buried in technical/regulatory language, ends up describing the situation as I did.

          Below are a few excerpts from the final report.

          From the final report of the US Canada Power System Outage Task Force;

          *Although MISO is the reliability coordinator for
          FE, on August 14 FE was not a signatory to the
          MISO Transmission Owners Agreement and
          was not under the MISO tariff, so MISO did not
          have the necessary authority as FE’s Reliability
          Coordinator as required by NERC Policy 9, Section
          B, Requirement 2.
          Although lacking authority under a signed
          agreement, MISO as reliability coordinator nevertheless
          should have issued directives to FE to
          return system operation to a safe and reliable
          level as required by NERC Policy 9, Section B,
          Requirement 2, before the cascading outages occured

          As indicated above, the investigation team identified
          a number of institutional issues with respect
          to NERC’s reliability standards. Many of the institutional
          problems arise not because NERC is an
          inadequate or ineffective organization, but rather
          because it has no structural independence from
          the industry it represents and has no authority to
          develop strong reliability standards and to enforce
          compliance with those standards.
          While many in
          the industry and at NERC support such measures,
          legislative action by the U.S. Congress is needed to
          make this happen.

          4. The NERC compliance program and regionbased
          auditing process has not been comprehensive
          or aggressive enough to assess the capability
          of all control areas to direct the operation
          of their portions of the bulk power system. The
          effectiveness and thoroughness of regional
          councils’ efforts to audit for compliance with
          reliability requirements have varied significantly
          from region to region. Equally important,
          absent mandatory compliance and penalty
          authority, there is no requirement that an entity
          found to be deficient in an audit must remedy
          the deficiency.

          W4B;

          *Midwest Independent System Operator
          (MISO) is the reliability coordinator for
          FirstEnergy. (FE)

          I would characterize the defective alarm excuse as a basic PR method to obfuscate from the public at least, a much deeper problem. It’s a perennial reaction when, from the industry, and the regulatory body’s perspective, angry public reaction will not contribute to a fix.

          The ‘primary cause’ was not a software bug, it was just one of many contributing causes, starting with the failure of First Energy to perform basic housekeeping chores, trimming over-grown trees in their transmission line rights-of-way.

          And, my bad, as is quoted above, FE was not a signatory to an agreement to disconnect, but I’m certain that prior to de-regulation, the engineers in the transmission industry considered the option to be basic good-sense professional courtesy.

          The problem is, that a real fix will cost money that the industry does not want to spend and that regulators cannot mandate because they have been left toothless by political action/inaction.

          1. TheCatSaid

            Thank you for the technical language and perspective. It is revealing indeed. This is the kind of detail (i.e. containing all the devils) that eludes Wikipedia.

    2. fajensen

      ABB and Siemens are investing heavily in FACTS and similar technologies. “Everybody” at the “decision level” knows that it is becoming necessary to build, mange and integrate 400-1000 kV HVDC links as an overlay to the existing system and that we really need to do something to integrate solar and wind power sources, which are very variable, into the grid and move away from relying on “base-load generation” – which are single-points of failure, often nuclear-, coal- or gas- powered plants to boot.

      The E.ON research center in Aachen at RWTH (E.ON Energy Research Center) seem to cater to both ABB and Siemens too, despite the overt branding ;-).

      One of the projects, I have seen there, is a 5 MVA prototype distribution transformer where the voltages, frequency and phases are not necessarily linked by the device (they use a clever coupling of two power converters and a HF-transformer for this – alas, the link is down p.t.). They guess-stimate that the savings in materials could pay for the power converters.

      This device allows much finer and more robust control of the grid because the direction (and size) of the energy flow(s) can be controlled much better than when the entire grid is hard-linked to “the same” 50 Hz reference.

      link: http://www.eonerc.rwth-aachen.de/cms/~dmud/E-ON-ERC/lidx/1/

  9. weinerdog43

    Living in north central Wisconsin, this has been an issue I’ve thinking about now for a while. Winters here are not terribly balmy. If I lose my heating in January, it will be serious trouble in just hours.

    I’ve actually started pricing and investigating generators, and not the little gas powered portable units either. For a house our size, we’re talking about $3,800-$4,600 without installation. Add another $1,500 for that. It hooks up to your natural gas line, so as long as you have gas, you’ll have power. But how many people have the wherewithal to consider something like this? I’ll probably bite the bullet in the next 12-15 months (after I’ve saved a bit more), but it is still a pretty big lift. I’d love solar back up, but not only are we in the forest, but it’s cloudy for days on end. I don’t think solar is necessarily the answer.

    The power grid is something you never think about, until it doesn’t work. No internet! Oh noes!

    1. fajensen

      With backup power, one usually don’t want to backup everything and one also want to decide some level of discomfort to be suffered, because it is a major investment (and there is maintenance, storage of fuel, controls, et cetera, which scales with the power).

      In Sweden, most homes have wood-burning stoves (Google Image Search: “braskamin”) for those rare-ish occasions. There are a lot of trees and rocks in Sweden, meaning, that a lot of electrical power comes on 6, 11 or 20 kV overhead lines, which will be pulled down by falling trees when there is a good storm. I can live with one room heated to comfort temperature, the pipes not breaking in the rest of the house and the freezer being on.

      I have a camping cooker using kerosene or petrol, so, we will eat.

      It can (and has) take up to 20 days for power to be restored “out in the forest”, these people have generators too. In towns and cities it has never taken more than 20 hours. The electrical company will install container generators if they have to.

      If it’s a big power failure, the water and the gas might go out too. In our case we could drink the water from the electric water heater for quite a while (400 liter) or the local stream if we make tea with it first.

      Maybe fuel cells are worth looking at now?
      http://serenergy.com/applications/cabinets/

      1. weinerdog43

        Excellent points. My major reason for delaying at this point is my concern that I’m also dependent on the natural gas supply.

        We have a wood burning stove too…. just in case. ;-)

          1. tony

            A firestarter.

            Also, I would invest in a rocket mass heater. It’s a few hundred to maybe a thousand and has four times the efficiency of regular fireplaces.

        1. clarky90

          Have a little camping tent to put up in your living room. Fill it up with bedding and a person or three. You will be toasty warm, even in sub zero temperatures.

          It is a technique perfected during the Ice Ages. It works and only costs a little.

      2. Ames Gilbert

        We heat with a wood stove anyway. We have a small, very high quality Yamaha generator, and it supplies individual things, like the fridge, via extension cords as needed. We can drain the entire house plumbing (extremely well-insulated) if things get too cold for too long, or we go away in the winter for any length of time, since there is no backup heat.
        No problems for up to four days, out here in the country. After that, we start running the separate freezer (which we never open in a power outage) for a couple of hours a day. The longest we’ve done without electricity is 15 days thus far, and our 400 gallons of freeze-proof back-up water lasted fine, including flushes and sponge baths. We’ve left the house unheated in freezing winter up to 2 months without damage after taking due precautions.

  10. Watt4Bob

    I seem to remember reading that the power industry has evolved (devolved) in the direction of removing the responsibility for grid maintenance from the groups selling the power.

    This has led to a perverse situation where big power companies no longer pay for grid upkeep.

    It’s similar to the situation with the auto industry where the money guys, say GMAC decide it would make more sense to abandon making cars because factories and employees are expensive, the solution being focus on financing only, load the infrastructure with debt, sell what can be sold, and declare bankruptcy, i.e. dump it on the tax-payer.

    That’s how we ended up with the Enron debacle, big money manipulating the neglected grid for huge profit at the expense of a captured populace.

    To make it the more depressing, the current mania for privatization is attacking the remaining parts of the system that are still operated as public utilities, and probably better maintained.

    Think Scott Walker trying to sell Wisconsin’s publicly owned power plants to private industry, i.e. them what finance him.

    1. kgw

      “That’s how we ended up with the Enron debacle, big money manipulating the neglected grid for huge profit at the expense of a captured populace.”

      Well-put! You just described the principle of the power elite in the USA, and several other areas of satrapy. . .

  11. TarheelDem

    Each power company within a grid has one or more regions that it can disconnect from the grid to interrupt rolling grid-wide failure. In the two largest failures, outages were confined to the Northeast and Great Lakes states. The author does not understand how the US grid operates to prevent massive outages.

    Delta is passing the buck for its own underinvestment.

    It is possible that Georgia Power is as well, depending on what state regulators have required to prevent outages.

    There is lots of cash sitting on the table that could go to making private-owned infrastructure more resilient and still have a reasonable rate of return, but the oscillation between fear and greed keeps the cash on the table.

    And public regulatory bodies have chased the unicorn of deregulation of utilities for over two decades now.

    1. JTMcPhee

      There is zero incentive in the current political economy to use any cash on the table to build resilience. And “public regulatory bodies” is a patent falsehood.
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-holton-henderson/florida-solar_b_5574755.html
      I sort of follow the FL PSC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the major power companies thanks to “legitimate” purges and selections by the Fokker who surfed his fokking bald alien head into the governor’s mansion on a wave of cash stolen from the “pubic side:”
      http://flaglerlive.com/15261/rick-scott-buys-governorship/ And of course lots of “campaign contributions.”

  12. Praedor

    Changing and de-centralizing our grid runs smack dab into a wall that is NOT simply cost of doing so. It runs headlong into the Koch Brothers and their associates that fight, tooth and nail, against ANY modernization that would lead to decentralization, loss of profits for their pet corporations, and more local (or even individual) control of the grid. They stand there fighting against ANY attempts to allow homeowners to generate their own electricity economically – seeking to tax them for the power they produce rather than pay them for it. They fight against wind and solar in favor of coal and other fossil fuel centralized generation because 1) doing anything else looks suspiciously close to actually doing something about climate change; and 2) they make lots of money on fossil fuels AND get an almost sexual pleasure out of screwing over workers and other peasants for their wealth accumulation.

    Then there’s the stupid people themselves. Ask them in a poll if they want to improve the grid, allow for homeowner power generation, etc, and they will say “Yes” but when it comes to doing it, they vote no because it often means a tax imposed somewhere. It’s like education. Ask people if they want better schools, better education, and they always say “YES!” but when it comes time to vote on paying for it, they almost all uniformly vote “NO NEW TAXES!”

    1. Jagger

      they almost all uniformly vote “NO NEW TAXES!”

      I am always a bit conflicted when it comes to paying my taxes. Are my tax dollars paying for bombing Syria and Libya, invading Iraq, subversion of the Ukraine, investing in Israeli land grabs, ensuring for-profit prisons are at full capacity and subsidizing too big to fail monopolies or are they going for better education, better healthcare and safer infrastructure???? Makes my head spin just worrying about it.

  13. furious anger

    Operation Fishbowl – Starfish Prime test

    In testimony before the United States Congress House Armed Services Committee on October 7, 1999, the eminent physicist Dr. Lowell Wood, in talking about Starfish Prime and the related EMP-producing nuclear tests in 1962, stated,

    “Most fortunately, these tests took place over Johnston Island in the mid-Pacific rather than the Nevada Test Site, or electromagnetic pulse would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of the citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in the history books. As it was, significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, over 800 miles away from ground zero. The origin and nature of this damage was successfully obscured at the time — aided by its mysterious character and the essentially incredible truth.”

    1. nowhere

      Good thing our esteemed scientists understand the ramifications of their tests. Kind of like this:

      Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States, with a yield of 15 megatons of TNT. That yield, far exceeding the expected yield of 4 to 8 megatons, combined with shifting winds, led to the most significant radioactive contamination ever caused by the United States.

    2. Ronbert

      The US gvt. “bought” many electrical appliances from the citizens of the Hawaiian islands. All the defective appliances were blamed on the test. The test blew lighting bulbs in stop lights and houses.

  14. EndOfTheWorld

    I have not yet seen anybody on this thread mention EMP, aka electro magnetic pulse. My understanding is it could be set off by a nuke detonated up in the air.
    Also, a severe solar storm could screw the entire country, no es verdad?

    1. ambrit

      Si, eso es la verdad.
      Now we drift off into ‘Prepper’ territory, alas, that benighted realm of non PC thought. (And we thought the Internets would encourage independence of thought. Hah!)
      One drawback of Prepperdom is the eternal yearning after chaos and devolution for personal ego gratification reasons. (See! I told you so!)
      Balance is all. I keep telling myself that, despite the evidence to the contrary.

    2. abynormal

      hey EndOfTheWorld, i read about a gathering concerning this…maybe this:
      Government, Industry Studying Threat of Nuclear EMP Attack on Electric Grid
      High-altitude nuclear blast would cause widespread power outage, Washington Free Beacon BY: Bill Gertz May 19, 2016 American power companies are studying ways to protect electric grids against a high-altitude nuclear blast and other directed energy attacks that could severely disrupt electricity transmission, an industry representative told a Senate hearing Wednesday. https://nuclear-news.net/2016/05/20/threat-of-nuclear-emp-attack-on-electric-grid/

      just backed into: https://www.preparingtexas.org/Resources/documents/2016%20TEMC%20Presentations/Protecting%20the%20Texas%20Electric%20Grid%20from%20EMP.pdf

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      The Carrington Event of 1859 took down telegraph communications. A short extract from a Wikipedia entry:
      On July 23, 2012 a “Carrington-class” Solar Superstorm (Solar flare, Coronal mass ejection, Solar EMP) was observed; its trajectory missed Earth in orbit. Information about these observations was first shared publicly by NASA on April 28, 2014.”
      Michio Kaku made the potential for another Carrington Event the subject of one of his radio shows a few years ago. NASA was sufficiently concerned about the possibility to promote an effort to upgrade the grid. As I recall the Earth came to within a few days of being at the right place at the right time to encounter a Carrington scale solar flare.

      The pot-boiler “One Second After” draws a scary scenario for how three well placed nuclear explosions positioned in space over the US would knock out the electric grid and most of our electronic devices. It sounded plausible to me. A lot more serious problems arise than loss of the Internet

  15. Eureka Springs

    If I recall correctly I once read (likely through a link here) ALL transformers are produced in one place – Korea. And that our back-stock is for worse than woefully inadequate. If that’s true, we are totally screwed on this single weakness alone.

    Since I live in a remote location several of my closest city friends plan to come here with whatever goods they have. I try to keep about ninety days worth of dry goods (for six) on hand. Beans, rice, corn meal, raw sugar, wheat, and a grinder for the whole grains, etc. Am fortunate enough to have rivers and springs within a couple hundred yards of my home so can filter water and have enough batteries in my boat and camper to hook up to a small solar panel to keep the iphone running for communications. Firewood for heat. Guns and fishing equip for protein. I would immediately begin smoking/drying meats now in the deep freezer.

    More home canned goods and a small generator connected to my full propane tank would be prudent. Within a week, maybe two, you know the roaming desperado’s will make anyplace unsafe. The policio, even less safe.

        1. EndOfTheWorld

          To the best of my knowledge, EVERY household in my small town is equipped with weapons and ammo, and SOME of the households have many many. The marauders would be well advised to go somewhere else.

          Will a golf cart stand up to multiple shotgun blasts? I know a horse won’t. No vehicle will operate with its tires blown out.

          1. EndOfTheWorld

            The only thing that would screw us is if the feds sent a lot of National Guard and/or other troops and officials to round everybody up and send us to some detention camp. Who the hell knows what plan the feeble-minded a-holes in the guv’mint will come up with?

          2. ambrit

            Sounds like the Northfield Minnesota Raid of 1869. Don’t worry about the bank guards, its the townsfolk you need to fear.

      1. ambrit

        During WW2, autos in many countries were converted to a system that used wood chip gassification for a fuel source for internal combustion engines. Pictures of such vehicles looked like cars or trucks with big barbecue pits in the boot or bed. There is a lot of usable late nineteenth and early twentieth century technology available.

    1. Watt4Bob

      I had a dream once, I was standing in my living room looking out the front window when a mushroom cloud sprouted far in the distance. By the time I reached the kitchen, there were couple of guys with assault rifles coming over the backyard fence.

      Upon reflection I came to the understanding that relatively speaking, those guys with rifles were late to the game, since the guys with golf carts had already stolen everything not nailed down, destroyed the natural environment, and put an end to any hope of world peace.

      IOW, their rifles might end my suffering, but would only prolong theirs.

  16. EndOfTheWorld

    What about Seattle? Will it be totally f%$#@d as well? I’m thinking about buying a condo there.

          1. ambrit

            All right there. That’s enough from the Ozarks peanut gallery. (Says a guy from the lowlands of Mississippi.)

        1. ambrit

          I still find it difficult to know how far reaching the effects of Chernobyl are. That areal plume went all around the world, true. Fukushima could do the same, and Fukushima is a still ‘critical’ event.

    1. Lord Koos

      Why would you want to buy a condo there? Housing is way too expensive, and the traffic there is terrible. If you are moving there for the area’s natural beauty, buy outside of the metro area.

      1. EndOfTheWorld

        Easy to rent, is what I’ve heard. Live there a few months out of the year and rent it the rest—you make money. If this is all BS, tell me. Also WA has no state income tax, so the whole state is good for retirees with pension checks. There are other reasons too, but I’m told that Seattle University District is always easy to rent out your condo. Having said all that, I don’t know if I will go through with it or not. I will leave it up to ambrit, who seems pretty smart. Should I go through with it?

        1. Isotope_C14

          I lived up in the PAC-NW, research “Seattle Freeze” it’s something you notice up there. Check out the first season of Portlandia as well, people think it’s a comedy, I thought it was a documentary…

          If you’re highly introverted, and want zero or minimal social interaction, you probably won’t find it too bad, but the mist goes sometimes for months. Absolutely miserable (for me). I’d take a Northern Minnesota lifestyle anyday.

            1. Isotope_C14

              Then you might be fine, I like the eastern side of the cascades better, since there are plenty of easy to drive locations for rocks, crystals, and minerals. Central OR is rockhounding central, and living up north of there would be beautiful. There’s also plenty of ag areas there in which you could start a hobby vineyard :)

        2. 3.14e-9

          No income tax, but high property taxes. Plus if you buy a condo, there are HOA dues. Renting it out means either paying the utilities yourself and hoping the tenant(s) is energy conscious, or trusting that they will pay the bill, because if they don’t, you’ll be on the hook for it. One-bedroom condos in the U District start at around $275K, but those are few and far between, and they get snapped up immediately. Just about everything under $400K is pending right now. If you were even able to find a one-bedroom in the $350K range, you could expect to pay around $2,500 in annual property taxes. To cover your costs, you’d have to rent it out for $2,200-2,500 — not affordable for a college student, so they’d double up. As you arrived for a beautiful summer (truly exquisite here), your first tasks probably would be painting, replacing the carpet, and who knows what else.

          If you’re serious, I recommend Redfin. I don’t like their search tool, though, so I use John L. Scott to search and Redfin for their detailed info, which includes HOA dues and most-recent tax bill. If you want information on the building, use the King County Parcel Viewer. And of course you can use Craigslist to get an idea of how much condos are renting for near where you plan to buy.

          If it were me, I’d take Koos’s advice and look at an outlying area. Due to the affordable housing crisis in Seattle, people are putting up with commute times of one and two hours just to be able to afford housing. Of course, a house is harder to rent out for only nine months out of the year, but you might be able to find a creative solution.

          1. EndOfTheWorld

            Thanks, 3.14—yeah I’m looking at the whole thing but I’m not sure. I actually kind of like it already where I live now, so this would really be more of just a moneymaking deal, and I’m sure it could go bad. It’s a gamble.

            1. 3.14e-9

              You’re very welcome. The reason I have that info at my fingertips is that I’ve been helping a friend who needs an investment property to lower his tax bill. Like you, he wants to rent it out, although he’s looking at houses, not condos, mostly because he doesn’t want to deal with HOA control freaks.

              After several months of searching a severely limited inventory, we concluded that to cover his mortgage payment, he’d have to set the rent higher than a couple or small family could afford. The solution appears to be to find a place that either is already split into two units or that could be converted. The only problem is that others figured that out long ago. Those are the first places to sell. Presumably, the buyers intend to live in one unit and rent out the other.

              In any case, he has put his search on hold, because he thinks the bubble’s about to burst. He called it in 2007. The “experts” disagree, but there’s no question that it’s a sellers’ market. Several of the properties I was watching for him sold above the asking price.

              I’m not too worried about Mount Rainier blowing on its own. I’m more concerned about an earthquake. I would absolutely not want to be in the city when that happens.

              http://www.kiro7.com/news/local/biggest-drill-in-state-history-will-simulate-90-earthquake/326054397

        3. PQS

          Yes, consider outlying areas. Pierce and Kitsap Counties have lots of inexpensive and rural areas and Kitsap is just a ferry ride away from downtown. Tacoma is in Pierce County and has a lot of city amenities, but of course it’s not Seattle. Both areas are much less expensive than King County (where Seattle/Bellevue are). I’ve lived in Pierce County for 8 years because the schools are good and it is very affordable compared to Seattle. And yes, I commute an hour, but who doesn’t anymore? I consider it my down time.

          Pierce County also has the advantage of being close to the large military outposts, where you would likely find good renters who would be OK with a short term rental and probably not destroy the place.

        4. ambrit

          High there EndOfTheWorld.
          I feel that this is a question where your best strategy would be to do the opposite of what I suggest.
          Prime determinant is, can you afford to have all your expectations go wrong? This would obviously not be your primary residence, unless you yearned mightily for a bi-coastal life style.
          You mentioned tax considerations. So, you have money coming in. Is it enough to carry you through the year if you cannot rent the condo out? Also, consider the probability of the condo depreciating. I have yet to read about housing stock being a depreciable asset, unless you structure it as a business. Then there are taxes and fees.
          Housing is, according to the commentariat and various ‘experts,’ in a bubble phase right now. Wait until the bubble bursts and get in at the slump. There, I said it.
          Good luck with a danger fraught “opportunity.”
          I seriously hope that you sit down and think long and hard about this.

          1. EndOfTheWorld

            Yeah, I took a look at that link to Mt. Ranier. She’s due to blow. Also the area is due for a big earthquake, they say. Yes, real estate is hard to predict. But Seattle is not in as big a bubble as some of the other cities. Bottom line is—I’m pretty sure I could make money on this deal. But it might very well be more of a pain in the ass than it’s worth. Moving is always a learning curve. Where I’m at now is not too bad and I already know where stuff is. Plus there is nearly zero crime where I live. In Seattle I’d probably have to pack heat just to cycle on the Burke Gilman Trail.

            1. 3.14e-9

              I had the comment window open for a couple of hours while I was multitasking so didn’t see your reply to ambrit until after I posted at 9:02 p.m. It looks like everyone is pretty much on the same page, though.

              PQS mentioned Kitsap. I’ve looked over there, too. No question that you get a whole lot more house for the money … precisely because of the ferry commute. It’s not just the duration of the trip, but waiting in long lines. If you’re walking on, it’s not too bad. If you can work from home, problem solved. As PQS said, the amenities are good. And there’s way less traffic.

          2. ambrit

            I’m truly amazed at how far apart housing values are in different regions of the country. Here Down South, a 3000 square foot newer home on a half acre can be had for 200K to 225K. We got our 1400 square foot mid 1940s spec bungalow in decent shape on a fifth acre for 55K. Add another 10 to 15K in restoration work and there we are.
            However, no one, not even the locals will suggest that Hattiesburg is on the cutting edge of anything. We would be lost in Seattle, and living in a cardboard box.
            Mt. Rainier worries me, as does the Cascadia subduction zone. But, one day we’ll all be with the Blessed Keynes.
            Excelsior.

    2. Joe Renter

      Buy that condo now! I have been living here for quite some time and have seen this city turn into something I am not sure how to describe. Eight years ago you could not give away a condo if you had one (well yes, you could give it away). Now that you have condos selling without buyers even looking at them, I am sure its a great investment. This time its different. :)

      1. EndOfTheWorld

        I know what you mean, Joe, but it’s still a hell of a lot cheaper than SF where an uninhabitable shack sold for more than one million bucks. The thing that gets me is the earthquake and volcano threats. Yes, they might say you have insurance, but I don’t have time to read the fine print. Even if you eventually got paid most of the money back, it would be a mess.

  17. crittermom

    I lived off grid for 20 years.
    That is, until the banksters stole my home.
    I loved it and can’t wait to be off grid once again.

    My next plan was for a greenhouse (needed at 10,000′ for anything more than short crops). I already had the glass and was looking at plans for a pit greenhouse.

    I still have 2 generators back in storage in CO (needed to ‘float’ the batteries and keep them at maximum efficiency). Solar system gone. (along with home, land, income…)

    Truly, if more people had to live off grid for 6 mths they would learn how to quit wasting so much electricity.

    Yes, I was one of those who would turn off the blaring TV’s and lights in rooms not used when visiting friends, asking first if they had need for them to be on (which, of course, they didn’t).

    What continues to amaze me is how many people believe when their electric goes out their phone doesn’t work. Not true!
    That’s only if you’re using a cordless phone, which requires electricity.
    Electric and phone lines are 2 separate entities, but with most folks using cordless phones they fail to realize that.

    Even now I still keep a hard-line phone plugged in next to my cordless.
    At least that way I can call to report it when the electricity goes down here.

    I really, really miss being off grid.
    And my system I used for 20 years was only 408 watts of panels.
    Folks need to learn to conserve better.

  18. Ivy

    Thought Experiment that might save your life.
    Look around you and at how you go through your day.
    List all items that require electricity, and also water and other fuels such as natural gas, propane, heating fuel, gas and diesel.
    For example, if the power goes out, will you be able to exit your garage, descend from your high-rise apartment without the elevator, etc. Urban dwellers will face a much different set of circumstances than rural dwellers.
    Consider how you will refill or replenish everything that you will need to survive. Then think of how the people further up the supply chain will do their bit, if they can. There are weak points in such chains and when you are at the end you get the impact of all preceding links.
    Example 2: if you need some medications periodically, how will you get to a pharmacy, and will they be restocked, let alone even open? Hospitals typically have their own backup generation systems and are able to ride out disturbances and disruptions longer as part of their mission. You may find that the pharmacy at the hospital is your best, or only bet.
    Example 3: What will you eat and drink? All that food and beverage needs to get to a store, and then home. During the Northridge earthquake, some stores were operating in the dark with hand ledgers until the power was restored. Other stores saw their inventories of perishable items perish. That didn’t take very long to happen.
    There are lists, spreadsheets and similar tools to help in your voyage of discovery.
    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    1. crittermom

      Excellent points.
      Those of us rural are better able to improvise since we’re not usually as dependent on ‘outside’ sources.

      “Then think of how the people further up the supply chain will do their bit, if they can. There are weak points in such chains and when you are at the end you get the impact of all preceding links.”

      I guess that’s why I felt it necessary to post a metal sign at my former gate that said, “Trespassers will be violated; survivors will be shot”

      Hey, I found it humorous, but then…

      1. abynormal

        regarding your Sunday replies…i see clearly what you miss and my heart goes out to you. when i was young we couldn’t afford vacations so we’d go ‘visiting’ with kin folk lived, Appalachia Mtns. i loved it so that i got left for summer months at a time. the living and life lessons were real. btw, hat off to your chosen audience for writing…they aren’t pushovers. adults tend to confuse children’s focus on a book with attention received. i use to read to kids at a B&N…by the 3rd book it was easy to see if the author did their homework’) Enjoy. the open space in our mind is infinite…no government nor hard-time can corral it without our permission.

        He said that those who have endured some misfortune will always be set apart but that it is just that misfortune which is their gift and which is their strength.”
        ~All The Pretty Horses

  19. Desertmerf

    While I cringe at James Howard Kunztler’s backwards ‘the past was so much better’ thinking and on many many other issues his series of four World Made by Hand novels are must reads for anyone interested in a world without electricity. He does an excellent job of sketching out the gains and losses…. The books can each be read in one sitting and are quite interesting. And a little( stress little) less overtly political than One Second After.

  20. Edward

    Somehow this problem isn’t an election issue. Instead the press will treat us to another lecture about some comment from Donald Trump.

  21. Ben

    I hate to rain on your hyperbole, but the rickety old grid is pretty solid, and the reason why it’s not vulnerable is due to its age, ironically. The grid has been running nonstop for over 100 years – pretty remarkable when you think about it. When there is a problem, the “network” you refer to disconnects into islands that keep the power running until they can connect again.

  22. TheCatSaid

    The 1989 geomagnetic storm that impacted Quebec was yet another example of wide-range impacts from a single vent. (Not to mention the Carrington event.)*

    A year ago after attending an “instant community” workshop in a nearby town, I determined that I would start getting to know my neighbors better now, in advance of an emergency.

    Over the last 8 months I have heard from unrelated but independently reliable sources in different parts of the world (USA, UK, Poland) that Oct/Nov we will be faced with sudden events that will bring about the failure of the grid & communication systems, economic collapse and social/political upheaval. (With potential for much-needed house-cleaning on all fronts, but “messy” in the meantime.)

    None have said what would be the cause–natural or manmade.

    About 2 months ago I formally began my personal “community cohesion” project, starting with making contact with my immediate neighbors. I tell them what I’ve heard, including that I’ve heard it would be helpful to have a 2-3 week supply of water, canned food, critical medicines (e.g. cigarettes for smokers!) and a camping stove. I’ve told them they can count on me to “have their back” if such things do transpire. So far everyone has appreciated the heads-up. Several have contributed good ideas of their own. It’s still a work in progress. I’m creating a list of resources (e.g. local expertise, know-how, water/land resources) and vulnerabilities (elderly, sick, personal comfort zones, who might want certain kinds of assistance).

    As others have said, it’s best to start to get to know your neighbors now, and not when there’s an emergency. It can be done without scaring the bejeezus out of them.

    *I have extended family expertise regarding solar flares, the poor state of science’s ability to predict solar storms, and the Korean-made transformers that would take up to 2 years to make. (How that timing works out if an event affects USA, Korea, and global communications is anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t bet on 2 years.)

  23. Gaylord

    At some point in the future, as chaos descends upon collapsing civilization, the power grid will catastrophically go down for extended periods. All of the nuclear power plants depend on the power grid for cooling both the reactors and the spent fuel pools, so when the backup generators run out of diesel fuel, there will be multiple meltdowns and deadly releases of radionuclides that will poison and kill all living beings that reside downwind.

    That is just one of the many nightmare scenarios that will result from abrupt climate change and the accompanying mass extinction event we are facing within a few decades. What to do? Prepare to “exit stage left.” The show is almost over.

    1. TheCatSaid

      And start to work in a conscious 2-way partnership with nature. Perelandra tools and any others who might be moving in a similar direction. Relying on our human gut instinct will not be enough.

  24. Joe Renter

    I heard the rumor that we are all going to die one day. Damn and harsh toke to boot.
    Invest in what is not transitory my little grasshopper.

  25. Tigerlily

    As a survivor of two relatively minor disasters this topic is near and dear to my heart. I was living in Montreal during the 1998 ice storn which knocked out power in the middle of winter for almost two weeks, and then I was living in Calgary three years ago when it experienced its “one in a hundred years” flood.

    The first thing that stood out for me in the article was this: “All that sounds pretty bleak, but when you throw into the mix the mania and hysteria that would ensue shortly after such catastrophic events, it will be so much worse.” I have to say in my very limited experience the first reaction of people in a crisis is NOT “Let’s murder the neighbours and take all their stuff!!” This is a particularly American preoccupation, indicative a very sick society with vanishingly small reserves of social capital and trust. I’m not saying that it would NEVER happen in Canada, but I think it’s going to take a lot more than a temporary, localized emergency (in the case of a really big crisis, like a giant solar flare which knocks out power across the whole continent, all bets are off -but I choose optimism).

    In the case of Montreal it helps that Quebec is probably the most socialist place in North America. People are familiar with and value public goods, such as the publicly owned electrical utility (Hydro Quebec) or the province’s tuition free public colleges (CEGEPs). There’s a conceit in America that socialism encourages learned helplessness and discourages initiative and self reliance, but my experience is the opposite. When confronted with adversity people naturally look to each other for support and assume the best way to manage a common problem is by sharing the burden.

    I also think climate is underappreciated as a determinant of social attitudes. When you live in place with a harsh climate people are united by their adversity to Mother Nature and have less time and energy to turn on each other. Why do you think social democracy found its most fertile soil in Scandinavia, and why Canada is more left leaning than its balmier southern neighbour? Even the US the country becomes progressively less, uh…progressive, I guess, as you move south.

    Of course it probably helped that I was still a kid at the time so the whole thing was tinged with the romanticism of adventure. I still remember that when I heard the power might go out my first thought was “extended Christmas break!”

    Now by the time of the 2013 flood I was thankfully a competent prepper. I can date this pretty precisely, to Hurricaine Katrina when I read a diary about disaster readiness on Daily Kos. Wish I could find it now because the writer had some great advice about getting a 5 gallon bucket and filling it with some essentials like water purification tablets, nitrile gloves, industrial garbage bags, a hand crank radio, a carbon monoxide detector (in case you need to use propane appliances indoors which, while not recommended, might be necessary in some circumstances), a coupling to attach your Coleman camp stove to a BBQ propane tank, etc. Full disclosure: ever since I was a kid I’ve had a love affair with kits of all sorts. So when I moved out on my own I decided I needed one of those. At the time I took some ribbing from my friends, but that all stopped about the time the power went out and the city of Calgary declared a “mandatory” evacuation of downtown as the Elbow river filled the Saddledome and inundated the low lying areas adjacent the rivers. I was living on the 15th floor of a highrise downtown, ten blocks from the river, so I wasn’t going to drown, and like many people in the building I ignored the evacuation order because I didn’t really have anywhere to go and I wasn’t in any immediate danger (the city made no serious attempt to enforce the order). It happened in June so heat wasn’t an issue, and I was in the lowrise part of the building which still (thankfully) had water. I had 21 gallons stored in waterbricks plus a 5 gallon water cooler bottle (which I ended up loaning out to people who didn’t have water) so I could have managed but that would have been much less convenient. The worst part was having to walk up and down 15 flights of stairs to go in and out.

    Of course since these were localized events there was plenty of help available from outside, though America’s epic failure in New Orleans has made me aware that this isn’t something one should take for granted. Obviously you can’t prep for every contingency and if the disaster is big enough it will overwhelm your resources, but I found taking some basic precautionary measures really made a big difference.

  26. Bea Braun

    I read these books a few years ago. The non fiction covers the electrical grid also.
    CYBER WAR The next threat to national security and what to do about it (Non Fiction)
    Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake
    Clarke served in the White House for Presidents Reagan, H Bush, W, Bush and Bill Clinton who appointed him as national Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism. Anyway he also wrote 2 fiction books Scorpion’s Gate and Breakpoint. Breakpoint refers to Scorpion’s Gate but it is not necessary to have read it. I think I liked Breakpoint better. It is about a cyber attack on the US and having read the non-fiction book first makes it much less far fetched.

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