Like the steady delivery of clean, fresh water to our homes, most of us also take a steady source of affordable electricity for granted. A shutdown of a large section of the North American power grid would likely be the most disruptive occurrence that our society could face.
Think about the fragile spiderweb of power lines that bring this vitally important resource to North America. According to a recent Bloomberg report there are 3200 electric utility companies and over 2.7 million miles of power lines in the U.S. alone. Many of these are private, for profit, companies who know that the best way to keep profits high is to keep expenses down (raising rates really sets consumers off). Maintaining this patchwork of aging equipment costs a fortune and the interconnected nature of the grid makes it vulnerable to massive failure.
Here’s a list of the largest utilities in the U.S. There are 28 separate companies listed for California alone. What could cause a large scale failure of the power grid?
*Sheer supply and demand
*Natural Disasters – massive storms, earthquakes, flooding, etc.
*Climate Change – extremely hot or cold weather could cause the system to overload and fail
*Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) and sunspots – chances are that the earth will take a direct hit from a massive solar flare at some point, literally frying our power grid. Most utility companies carry as few parts as possible as they are a drain on profits. A single Large Power Transformer can cost millions of dollars and weigh between 100 to 400 tons. The average age of LPT’s in North America is 40 years.
*A severe Geo Magnetic Disturbance
*A pandemic disease that eliminated key personnel in the delivery system
*“Terrorist” attack – By targeting select areas, it would be possible to cripple huge sections of the grid, particularly if they were already under stress or particularly ill maintained. A cyber attack would be even easier to accomplish as the entire grid is reliant on computers and, in many cases, old and vulnerable programming.
*A sheer lack of maintenance by the interconnected, for profit, utility companies
Several large scale blackouts have already occurred (1965, 1977, 2003) and there’s no reason to believe it won’t happen again. The 2003 blackout affected 10 million people in Ontario and 45 million in 8 U.S. states. The primary cause for this massive blackout was a software glitch in an Ohio utility’s alarm system that failed to re-distribute power after already overloaded power lines came in contact with unpruned foliage (another expense that drains profits).
Although these failures lasted only days, imagine what would happen if it were weeks, or months before power were restored. Why not ask ourselves “what would we wished we had done to prepare for this” and prepare for the possibility. We’re not entitled to an endless supply of electricity and some very serious repercussions would result.
*No access to money. Banks would close, ATM’s wouldn’t be working.
*Stores would close. Without power they couldn’t sell you anything even if you had cash. Food inventories would be quickly depleted.
*No water. Unless you have an artesian well on your property, there are pumps involved in delivering water to your home.
*No heat/air conditioning/ No cooking/ More darkness
*No fuel even if you have cash. The delivery of fuel involves electric pumps.
*Nowhere to run – with no gas pumps or traffic lights working, driving any distance to find power could be impossible.
*No internet or cell phone – Both require power. Although there may be generators involved, they need to be re-fueled at some point and the fuel delivery system is reliant on electricity
*No work for many of us. Would your workplace continue without electricity?
The list can go on and on … it would only be a matter of a few days before widespread panic began in most areas.
Take some time to ask yourself an important question. What would I wish I had done and/or bought while I had the chance, before the power went out? (now go out and do it!)
It’s also time for all of us to stop taking things for granted. Our overall sense of entitlement is beyond the realm of reality.