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Blackouts: An Unsolved Problem

Posted in Admin,Electricity Transmission,USA Federal by Cheryl Morgan on the August 14th, 2008

Five years on from the great East Coast blackout of 2003, Scientific American revisits the issue and asks is we are any closer to finding a cure for such occurrences. Worryingly, despite all of the talk of reliability standards and smart grids, it appears that we are not:

If the standards have reduced the number of blackouts, the evidence has yet to bear it out. A study of NERC blackout data by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that the frequency of blackouts affecting more than 50,000 people has held fairly constant at about 12 per year from 1984 to 2006. Co-author Paul Hines, now assistant professor of engineering at the University of Vermont in Burlington, says current statistics indicate that a 2003-level blackout will occur every 25 years.

You can find the original research here (Look for the paper called “Trends in the History of Large Blackouts in the United States”.). A password is required, but it is relatively straightforward to obtain. And the conclusions of the paper are actually somewhat stronger than Scientific American reports. By some of the measures used, the frequency of blackouts is actually increasing slightly.

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