The U.S. Energy Grid

A prolonged and catastrophic failure of the U.S electrical grid may seem like nothing but an apocalyptic science fiction for some but the truth is, this chances of breakdown are more likely than ever before.


Government officials are concerned and ever-vigilant regarding potential electrical grid failure. The grid, which is actually three interconnected sections, comes under heavy use.

Attacks

One particularly scary scenario for catastrophic grid failure is if an enemy stages a combination of physical and cyber attacks, which can destroy or render the inoperable vital power facilities and take down huge sections of the energy grid. Should hackers penetrate the electronic defenses of utility companies, they could give instructions to crucial equipment pieces to make them fail. 362 such attacks have been attempted in the last four years, none successfully.

There is always the potential for an enemy nation or terrorists to detonate a nuclear weapon at high altitude above the United States, which will release a radiation burst to interact with the atmosphere and magnetic field of the Earth. This includes the ionosphere, the thin upper layer packed with free electrons facilitating radio communications.It would result to a powerful electrical current radiating down the planet, creating extra currents which would then course through the man-made electric circuits. Localized EMP attacks can cause plenty of damages and inflict colossal economic losses.

 

Solar Flare

Not all threats to the electrical grid come from human enemies. A solar storm could spew a radiation surge from a distance of 93 million miles between the planet and the sun, and cause an electromagnetic pulse similar to one triggered by a high altitude nuclear blast, except that this could be bigger and with more devastating impact. People have been aware of the destructive effects of the solar weather on electrical infrastructure of the Earth as far back as 19th century. The very first clear warning happened in 1989, during which a modern intensity solar storm caused a failure in the Hydro-Quebec power grid in northeastern Canada. This event left millions of people with no electricity for 9 hours.

While it is clear that the U.S. power grid has some inherent weaknesses and potential vulnerabilities, it is also true that up until this point, it has done the job admirably. It should be noted that industry officials are far more concerned about the current threats to the grid, which include bad weather, human error, mechanical failures, vandals, and wildlife damage. 

A homegrown terrorist scopes out his target: a portion of the electrical grid.

A homegrown terrorist scopes out his target: a portion of the electrical grid.

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