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Published on March 23rd, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan

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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!!

electricity-lines-grid-security-terrorists

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

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species). He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor. He's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. 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. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.



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