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Power Math United States Science

US Electrical Grid On the Edge of Failure 293

ananyo writes "Facebook can lose a few users and remain a perfectly stable network, but where the national grid is concerned, simple geography dictates that it is always just a few transmission lines from collapse, according to a mathematical study of spatial networks. The upshot of the study is that spatial networks are necessarily dependent on any number of critical nodes whose failure can lead to abrupt — and unpredictable — collapse. The warning comes ten years after a blackout that crippled parts of the midwest and northeastern United States and parts of Canada. In that case, a series of errors resulted in the loss of three transmission lines in Ohio over the course of about an hour. Once the third line went down, the outage cascaded towards the coast, cutting power to some 50 million people. The authors say that this outage is an example of the inherent instability the study describes. But others question whether the team's conclusions can really be extrapolated to the real world. 'The problem is that this doesn't reflect the physics of how the power grid operates,' says Jeff Dagle, an electrical engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, who served on the government task force that investigated the 2003 outage."
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US Electrical Grid On the Edge of Failure

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  • by kannibal_klown ( 531544 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @08:16AM (#44695223)

    No, it needs to involve cars. All analogies, especially those pertaining to something technical, must always be reduced to cars.

  • by halexists ( 2587109 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @08:21AM (#44695241)

    No, it needs to involve cars. All analogies, especially those pertaining to something technical, must always be reduced to cars.

    You're right, you're right... my mistake! "Facebook could probably lose a few gas stations and remain a perfectly stable network..."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @08:34AM (#44695325)

    Solar panels is un-American.
    Try to set up a gas-driven backup generator first. You will get tons of support and advice. Then try to add some solar panels "to help a bit when it is running over capacity"
    Then you might be allowed to sneak over to full solar as long as the gas-driven generator is clearly visible.

  • Yup... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:02AM (#44695565) Homepage Journal
    I've been seeing it coming for years. It seems like it would be prudent to have other means of power generation at your house if at all possible. You can get a generator that'll run on LP or natural gas, power your whole house and cut in automatically if there's an outage for less than 10 grand. After a three day outage last winter, this has moved WAY up my list of priorities. If I had an exta few tens of millions sitting around I'd just drop a pebble bed reactor in my back yard and watch the vein in that one neighbor's head just explode! Heh heh heh.
  • by xenobyte ( 446878 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:18AM (#44695693)

    Based off of a sample size of 1. Nice generalization.

    Hey! That's one better than some of the climate change theories!

  • by FuzzNugget ( 2840687 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:27AM (#44695745)
    I thought it was to get +5 Insightful. Achievement Unlocked!
  • by Somebody Is Using My ( 985418 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:37AM (#44695839) Homepage

    Try living through a blackout when your home is on the upper floors of a TALL (30+ stories) apartment building. Walking up those stairs after a long work day (and an even longer commute) on a hot summer day was /not/ a fun experience. In the dark, no less. Emergency generators for the elevators were, apparently, too much of an expense. And those batteries in the emergency lighting fixtures only last a few hours...

    And I couldn't even get online to bitch about it once I got home! I mean, really; it was like living in the 20th century!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @10:50AM (#44696609)

    A bad analogy is like a leaky screwdriver. (been playing Krater)

  • by bdwebb ( 985489 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @02:05PM (#44698377)
    So you're in your car, right? You and 5 others, also in their cars, are pulling this train of big rigs right? Your new tow rope snaps and puts more tension on the others' ropes. Sally in car 4 has an old tow rope that her dad gave her and it is frayed and can't handle the tension so it also snaps (and hits an old lady in the face, killing her - but that's beside the point). The added tension from 2 failed tow ropes causes a cascade effect and all the remaining ropes snap and send the entire big rig train into the enormous gorge that just appeared in my story.

    Here's the kicker; one of the big rigs was carrying a nuke which explodes and kills EVERYONE...JUST LIKE THE POWER GRID. It's science.

    The moral of the story is that Sally is a bitch for using a shitty tow rope and is responsible for killing not only the old lady but everyone else. Also, what the hell happened to your new tow rope and why did it snap first? You need to get some higher quality emergency roadside equipment. Oh wait...you're dead. Fucking Sally.
  • by tippe ( 1136385 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:48PM (#44700229)

    A car could lose 25% of its wheel nuts and still remain a perfectly stable vehicle (provided that wheel nut loss was spread out evenly across all wheels). Reminds me of a joke:

    A motorist had a flat tire in front of an insane asylum. He took the wheel off, but when he stood up he tipped over the hubcap containing the bolts, spilling them all down a sewer drain.

    A patient, looking through the fence, suggested that the man take one bolt from
    the remaining three wheels to hold the fourth wheel in place until he could get to a service station.

    The motorist thanked him profusely and said, “I don’t know why you are in that place.”

    The patient said, “I’m in here for being crazy, not for being stupid.”

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