Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Heat & Light

I realize this is a "dog-bites-man" story, but everyone on the left is blogging the Bush obscenity....yea...he didn't know the mics were open....riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight...so I figured to go in a different direction, and take a look at the electrical infrastructure in America, especially given the fact that 47 of the lower 48 states in the union hit temperatures over 90 yesterday (the sole exception was North Dakota, and I'd wager that was because they don't have enough weather stations out there).
North America avoids blackouts amid record power use

By Eileen O'Grady

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Power consumption across the U.S. and parts of Canada soared with scorching temperatures to new record highs on Monday, but blackouts were unlikely unless there were major equipment failures, said the industry group that oversees transmission.

By mid-afternoon, power demand in the Midwest region and Texas exceeded 2005 records and continued to climb.

Expected electric use will far exceed a summer forecast issued in May by the North American Electric Reliability Council, the group said.

"We are shattering old records," said Stan Johnson, NERC's manager of situation awareness. "It's very unusual to see records being set all across North America."
OK, now the relevant stuff:
Generation was expected to be ample to avoid blackouts, Johnson said.

"We are feeling pretty good," Johnson said as late afternoon peak-hour demand approached the East Coast. "We are watching some areas: the upper Midwest, the mid-Atlantic states, California and Ontario."[...]

While heat strains transmission lines and generating plants, Johnson said the U.S. will avoid blackouts "unless there are major equipment failures."
*AHEM* Consider this your warning shot, then.
At 12:45 p.m., a Manhattan-bound A train lost power between Beach 67th Street and Broad Channel. Without power, there was no air conditioning as outside temperatures soared into the low 90s, New York City Transit said. No injuries were reported.

The nearly 100 degree heat apparently caused a portion of the electrified third rail to buckle, a Transit Authority spokesman said.
Or this...
One of the four LaGuardia terminals and part of a second lost power when high demand caused by the heat triggered equipment problems. Some flights were diverted to other gates. The power was restored at 12:30 a.m.[....]

Consolidated Edison was urging customers in northwest Queens to reduce their electric usage because of broken electric cables. The advisory covers Sunnyside, Woodside, Hunters Point and Astoria.

The company said most of the 11,600 customers in Yonkers have had their power restored. Just about 200 customers were still blacked out as of 7 a.m.

Other areas of Westchester experiencing power outages Tuesday morning were 975 residents in Ossining, Mount Vernon, Rye, New Rochelle, North Castle and Harrison. Another 925 customers were blacked out in the rest of the county, Consolidated Edison said.[...]

PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid for all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia, asked people to reduce usage, especially between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.[...]

Consolidated Edison power company spokesman Chris Olert said equipment problems, possibly heat-releated, cut power to nearly 17,000 customers in Brooklyn and Westchester County. Yonkers was hardest hit, with 11,600 customers out, including the Yonkers Water Treatment Plant.
Maybe "warning short burst of gunfire" was more appropriate.

See, here's the problem: Entropy. Once you create something, you've also set in motion the mechanism by which is can be destroyed (and eventually will be), & artificial constructs eventually become chaotic.

Like machinery. Like objects. Like power generators, but also like wires and insulation, which are subject to weather, heat, and cold. Like transformers. Like switches.

Like the entire electrical grid, and you only need look back three years to the August 14, 2003 blackout of the entire Northeast, the single largest blackout in the nation's history (likely the world).

You can build as much redundancy and duplication as you like into any system, the simple fact is, it is going to fail. Period. Maybe not tomorrow, or today, but sometime in a finite frame of reference. Even rocks crumble given millennia.

So enough people using enough electrical power is going to set up pockets of chaotic behavior in the grid, collapsing at least parts of it, and Stan Johnson can make as many foolish and bold statements as he'd like, it's not going to mean a damn thing when the shit hits the fan.

It is only through luck, that random element that decides that this path is chosen over that path, that keeps the entire thing crashing down. We weren't so lucky in 2003. Yesterday we got lucky.