NEW YORK, August 1, 2012 — In terms of number of people affected, the largest power grid failure in history occurred in India this week, and it raises a question for America: Is the U.S power grid susceptible to a nationwide collapse?
To answer that question, we must understand the layout of the North American power grid. It is divided into four regional power systems, called interconnections, as depicted in the main picture above. On the west coast there is the Western interconnection. On the east coast, you guessed it, the Eastern interconnection, as well as the
These three main interconnections (Western, Eastern and ERCOT) are electrically isolated from each other. They are electrical “islands,” with no wires making connections between each region. If the Western Interconnection were to blackout, it would not have an impact on the ERCOT or Eastern interconnections. If ERCOT were to go dark, only the Texans would complain. The Eastern interconnection has had its share of difficulties over the last 60 years because it is so highly interconnected (this explains why the Eastern interconnection system frequency was affected by the loss of transmission lines in Florida), but again, there is no tie operationally and its operations do not affect the Western or ERCOT interconnections. This inherent isolation is the saving grace of our power network, but it was born that way out of logistical hurdles, not ingenious forethought. Crossing the north-south running Rocky Mountains with east-west transmission lines would prove too costly to build and maintain in the long run, creating a “natural” segregation in the power grid.
Outside of the isolation of the regions, the
It will take some time to discover the cause of the blackouts in
If the entire
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