2003 Blackout analysis = Superb edu on Power Grid


Excellent analysis and info.

“Three trees and a computer bug caused a major part of North American [power] to completely grind to a halt.  If you had asked anyone working in the power industry the prior day about catastrophic loss of service the next day…”


From the comments:

The power plant in the very first frame, next to the United Nations building in Manhattan, that’s where I was… in the control room as a very young Engineer. I was actually giving a tour of our control room and flipping through some system graphics, when all 3 units tripped offline at nearly the same time, and the plant went completely dark, which before then was thought to be impossible. One of the operators actually yelled at me because he thought it was my fault, lol… I was relieved when the system operator called a few minutes later, and told us to, “Standby, we just lost the entire Northeast.” We overcame a lot of challenges that evening, and for a young Engineer, it was exciting. I slept on the roof that night because it was too hot inside. I remember looking up at the night sky and seeing the stars, and thinking… when was the last time anyone in Manhattan looked up at the night sky and saw the stars like this? Great job on the video, and thanks for bringing back such great memories.
Damn…I just remembered how amazing that outage was. A bunch of us kids in the neighborhood had sleepovers, people were just going to each other’s houses. We were playing in the streets. There was such a strange and unique coming together of humans where I was. As soon as the power came back, people started to go on about their usual business and that special moment was gone.
The Lift Pump Station located near Ludington, Michigan helped save the entire eastern half of the US and Canadian power grids. This facility maintained grid frequency by absorbing most of the nearly 5 GW load imbalance as the disconnects around Lake Erie engaged. The pump station filled itself to the brim, well past its safe design water surface elevation, then ran itself nearly dry, again outside of safe operating levels and at great risk of causing cavitation in the turbines to provide power afterwards. These actions helped prevent catastrophic damage cascading all the way to Denver and gave some time for other stations to reconnect. If a power station is scrammed, a rapid shutdown, and depending on its type it can take days if not weeks to get a power station back up and running. A pump station can provide nearly immediate power generation. Thank you to all of the station operators, line workers and service crews who struggled on that day, your actions and quick thinking, kept the lights on east of the Rockies and prevented a far darker outcome. Both the 2003 and the Texas outages could have been much worse if the load imbalances had been allowed to progress a few minutes or even seconds longer. The control systems in place now are night and day more robust than what was present in 2003.
I’m a retired utility engineer and was working that day as a consulting engineer. You gave the best explanation of the August 2003 blackout that I’ve heard. One thing that needs to be said is that the power grid in the US is itself the largest and most complex“machine” ever built by man. While it’s reliability has been amazingly good, it’s really limited to our understanding of every conceivable event. It still requires the human mind to interpret events and make on the spot decisions. If this human intervention is not present, a cascading outage is the results. All major outages are a result of the lack of timely operator intervention. One major factor is that the system itself is composed of protection equipment that ranges in age from current technology to devices over 100 years old. It all has to operate together. It’s simply not possible economically to upgrade the entire system at one time. The best that can be done is to plan for every contingency we can identify and have an operating plan that addresses those contingencies. As computers and Artificial Intelligence become more capable, we can analyze more contingencies and anticipate more events. However we then become more vulnerable when the technology itself fails. It’s a balancing act. Most of the time we get it right. Sometimes we run into a situation we never anticipated. I doubt it will ever be possible to completely remove the human factor from the operation of the power grid, nor would that be in our best interest.
I’m not gonna lie, as someone who was in NYC during this, Manhattan specifically, it was actually really fun. Gas service was still going so restaurants were cooking and effectively giving away all the food they had built up, everyone was out on the street ( who wasn’t trudging across a bridge) was drinking. Driving…yes driving…was actually really easy because traffic was self moderating. It was a very surreal experience, all told. Spent the day after that first night out in Brooklyn by the water drinking with friends and then hung out at my friend’s place on the west side and watched them switch the super blocks back on one by one. Looking up 8th avenue, it was kind of amazing. From the horizon you could see entire sections of Manhattan switch on, I wanna say like 10 block squares at a time coming towards where we were down in the 30’s.
CONNECTIONS season 1 episode 1 by JAMES BURKE titled THE TRIGGER EFFECT has an excellent analysis of the 70s blackout — and it also includes an incredible predictive-pre-program for the 9/11 event. You should take a look and marvel at the mind control.


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