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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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  • Wrong analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by halexists ( 2587109 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @08:16AM (#44695213)
    So facebook could probably lose a few servers is probably the more apt analogy, yes?
  • Coincidentally... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @08:21AM (#44695243) Homepage Journal

    ...I was talking to someone on a forum about a hot-air rework station he bought. It's basically a glorified hair-dryer. Every time he turns it on the lights flicker, and then they dim periodically as the heater turns on/off.

    American house wiring seems to be terrible. There also seem to be a lot of barriers to setting up solar feed-in systems. The concept of a smart grid is unheard of.

  • by bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:17AM (#44695681)

    Delivering electricity to a socket isn't hard.

    Delivering electricity at constant voltage and frequency is already hard.

    Delivering electricity at constant voltage and frequency in a grid where a few wandering clouds and a gust of wind create production spikes is definitly hard.

  • Re:Wrong analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cardcaptor_RLH85 ( 891550 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:25AM (#44695735)
    Strictly speaking, the center of the observable universe is wherever the observer happens to be at that moment.
  • by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @10:15AM (#44696245)

    Most of Europe (and much of the world) pays more for electricity than the average American. So what? The fact remains that in much of the USA it is already economical to install a solar system. And as time goes by, that trend is going to continue.

    But the real game changer will be the advent of affordable, grid-level storage, which is just around the corner. In particular, Khosla Ventures [wikipedia.org] is backing two novel technologies that are expected to hit the market around the end of next year. One is the liquid metal battery [ambri.com] that came from a research project at MIT. The other is a new twist on compressed air storage [lightsail.com] that uses a type of water carburetor to achieve isothermal compression. Both of these offer cheap, simple, reliable electricity storage.

    As the grid becomes more distributed and "islandable" it will naturally be more robust. And storage is a key enabler to make that happen.

  • Free beer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by holophrastic ( 221104 ) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @11:31AM (#44696995)

    I lived in Toronto at the time. We were without power for about 24 hours. We all banded together in a crisis situation to drink the beer while it was still cold.

    Local bars and pubs were giving it away free. And it was patio-season too!

    And I got to mock all of my friends whose cars were useless only because they didn't know how to manually open their garage doors. Funny.

    I'm looking forward to the next power failure.

Heuristics are bug ridden by definition. If they didn't have bugs, then they'd be algorithms.