Saturday, November 17, 2012

Growing Crisis of the U.S. Electrical System

Hurricane Sandy was just the latest test to the resilience of the U.S. electrical infrastructure, which has proven again to be woefully weak and outdated. According to Bloomberg, Sandy left “more than 8.5 million homes and businesses across 21 states” in dark on October 29, with 1.4 million still remaining without electricity last week. Sandy is one of the latest storms that brought a mass blackout to the East Coast, following the June 2012 derecho, Hurricane Irene in August 2011, and a snowstorm in October 2011. Some analysts predict that storms will become increasingly harsh with climate change.
But aside from putting the blame on severe storms, aging electricity infrastructure of the country has been begging attention for a while. While some parts of the electrical system are modernized, certain grids in the U.S. date back to a century ago. CNN reported in 2010 that “non-disaster U.S. power outages [were] up 124 percent since early 1990s [and] U.S. electricity reliability [is] low compared to some nations.” By 2010, nearly 50,000 consumers were affected by non-disaster electricity outages.
Sandy’s aftermath has generated a heated discussion among energy experts about upgrading the electrical infrastructure, integrating smart grid technology to effectively control and respond to a potential crisis, and burying power lines. While they come with a massive cost, it appears that the U.S. is bound to bear heavier economic losses by prolonging the inevitable dealing with the problem. The alternative is learning to live in darkness.

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