Most of us don’t think about how everything – EVERYTHING – we do, use and need to lead our 21st Century lives relies on the generation of reliable sources of energy. Our water supply and sewage treatment facilities rely on electricity. Traffic lights, air traffic control, etc., as well as healthcare, public safety, government, finance and manufacturing must have energy to run effectively and communicate.
This 21st Century need for electricity is balancing on a 20th Century approach to energy production and distribution, according “National Security and Assured U.S. Electrical Power,” a report by the CNA Military Advisory Board.
Today’s grid is comprised of three grids: the Eastern, Western and Texas Interconnects and “is built on the model that power comes from large stationary power-generation facilities, flows through hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission lines and high-voltage transformers, and finally reaches consumers.” As our country has evolved, it almost seems like the grid has reversed… while they have grown in size, they also have grown in distance from consumers, and their numbers have decreased.
Why should we care about this outdated and rigid grid? As I mentioned in my last post, the growing number of attacks on it is just one reason. More alarming to me is the fact that our infrastructure has 55,000 transmission substations, but, according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) study, if an attack – physical or cyber – took out just nine of these nodes, we could end up in a regional or nationwide electricity outage that could last for weeks or more.
In addition, since most generating sources are fossil fuel powered or nuclear powered, the consequences of disrupting or attacking these plants are far more dangerous than destroying wind turbines or solar panels.
Remember, everything relies on energy, and backup generators aren’t designed to last for weeks or months. Not only could we not communicate in the ways we are used to – phones, email, blogging, etc. – our public safety networks would eventually go down. Our transportation infrastructure – street lights and, presumably, the ability to travel by air or rail – would also eventually stop. Hospitals would run out of power for dialysis machines and other life-saving supports. “The likely resulting chaos and potential social unrest will present overwhelming challenges for emergency responders, law enforcement, and public health and medical providers—providers who will be confronting the same power shortages.”
Not scared yet? You should be. Our country needs to move away from our traditional approach to energy and toward a modern, “flexible, open-architecture grid paradigm [that] will provide for electrical energy that is generated closer to the user and will be less of a strategic target.”
That new open architecture will include renewable energy sources, such as solar and help reduce our reliance on our large – and very vulnerable – traditional power plants.