Clean Power

Published on March 23rd, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan


Terrorists Could Put US Out Of Electricity For 1½ Years, Solar Power Could Help Grid Security Considerably

March 23rd, 2014 by  

Risk is about both the probability of something bad happening and how bad that bad thing is. And the decision to take a risk or not involves weighing all of that with the benefits that come from the action you want to take. We’ve built our electric grids in quite a risky way. Some might argue that we didn’t have many options decades ago. Fine, but installing increasingly low-cost solar power now would help us tremendously to reduce our considerable grid security risk, as would electric vehicle-to-grid capabilities, decentralized wind farms, and microgrids.

Just how considerable is our grid security risk? Well, take a look at this Solar Love repost for some concerning details:

electric lines

A recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission analysis finds that it would be fairly easy for terrorists to knock out all the electric grids in the US. And not just for a short time, but for about a year and a half!

“Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer,” FERC officials wrote in a memo for a former FERC chair.

John Upton at Grist further summarizes: “Crippling America’s old-fashioned electrical grid for a long period of time would be disturbingly easy. Saboteurs need only wait for a heat wave, and then knock out a factory plus a small number of the 55,000 electric-transmission substations that are scattered throughout the country.”

Oh, but surely these substations are heavily protected, right? Umm…

From a Wall Street Journal article on this story:

In last April’s attack at PG&E Corp.’s Metcalf substation, gunmen shot 17 large transformers over 19 minutes before fleeing in advance of police. The state grid operator was able to avoid any blackouts.

The Metcalf substation sits near a freeway outside San Jose, Calif. Some experts worry that substations farther from cities could face longer attacks because of their distance from police. Many sites aren’t staffed and are protected by little more than chain-link fences and cameras.

Holy yikes!!


Now, I think solar enthusiasts know what one very helpful solution would be. And if you didn’t before, you probably caught it in the title above. It is: a very distributed electricity system. For example, an electricity system that uses a ton of distributed solar power systems (e.g., rooftop solar).

Microgrids would be especially helpful and protecting against any such attacks. High military officials have been telling us this for years.

So, let’s get on it! Let’s install a ton of solar power, and let’s get moving on microgrids of the 21st century.

(By the way, FERC was not too pleased with the Wall Street Journal covering this sensitive topic. But the fact of the matter is: we need to develop a more secure grid, and maybe we need the public to push for that.)

Photo Credits: tieden / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND & Abdulelah_Qutub / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • John Young

    People today forget that the interstate highway system was built as a national defense project because Dwight Eisenhower had seen Hitler’s Autobahn and thought the U.S. needed a better way to move the Army around. A robust, decentralized power grid is also a national security issue. As reliant as we are on electricity today, think how much more so we will be in 50 years.

  • Rick Kargaard

    Terrorism is not the only threat when we rely on mega-systems. “The great Ice storm” of 1998 left areas of Ontario and Quebec without power for periods ranging from days to months. Generation, at or near the point of use, makes all kinds of good sense. The lowering cost and maintenance issues makes it more and more attractive.

  • David Howes

    Solar energy is the future for one simple reason: If I warm my home with a woodstove, the cost of the woodstove (a one time purchase) is nothing compared to the wood I have to buy to burn, year after year. Same with a car; the engine is . However, the sunlight I use in lieu of wood is always there, whether I’m using it or not. The only cost is the “stove” (solar cells / collector). Every two years the number of watts produced worldwide via sunlight doubles, meaning not only are the cells getting more efficient, but we as a species are installing more and more each year (more solar panels were installed in the last 18 months than were installed in the previous 30 years). When a photon strikes a semiconductor, an electron is released. It’s for this work (the Photoelectric Effect) that Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922, and not for his work on relativity.

  • RickFromMn
    • Rick Kargaard

      The desert wars plus the burning of Kuwait added and is still adding a disasterous amount of CO2 to the atmosphere. It highlights the consequences of human conflict other than the loss of life and human suffering. I fear that any progress against CO2 emissions could be, very quickly, negated by war.
      Somehow, we need to to eliminate reasons for conflict and dismantle the machinery of war.
      Elimination of the need for resources from unfriendly jurisdictions would be a good start.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Europe should greatly ramp up its use of renewables in order to starve out Tzar Vladimir Vladimirovich before he starts WWIII.

        • Rick Kargaard

          It is beginning to look like they won’t have much choice.

  • Kurtis Engle

    The method, shake the boogiman, is really getting freaking old. But in fact the grid does need to be redesigned. It is interesting the inter-tie is not mentioned. That IS the change that needs making, So power can flow both ways through our meters.

    But the reason to do it is not terror. It’s warming.

  • No way

    Haha… normally I hate the unfounded scare tactics used to manipulate the US people. Using empty words like “terrorism”, “freedom” or “patriot” to get the dumb mass to jump, roll around or play dead as you like.
    But for once it’s used for something good instead of invading countries, limit the freedom of the US people or keeping people from getting equal rights or keeping the country a non-democracy.

    So be a good “patriot” and protect your “freedom” and protect the country from “terrorism” by installing some solarpanels. 😉
    Anyone who doesn’t do that is a [insert your favourite insult or racial slur].

    • 😀

    • David Howes

      “It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.” Arthur Clarke

    • Yes, its a good one Zach. Just that the use of the tactic (lightly used by others in the past) kind of dilutes the real issue. Why be dependent on such centers of potential disasters (think tornadoes, earthquakes etc, if not terrorism)when there really is a viable solution to distributed power generation. Simply put why generate power centrally and then distribute it when you can simply generate distributed power .

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