Jonathan Thompson on the grid


KDNK, a public radio station in Carbondale, Colo., regularly interviews High Country News writers and editors, in a feature they call "Sounds of the High Country."

Electrical sounds courtesy of Lonemonk,
Horns courtesy of Robinhood76,
Yelling courtesy of stephsinger22,
Wind turbine courtesy of Andy Gardner,

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The power grid may determine whether we can kick our carbon habit
Ron Dickerson
Ron Dickerson
May 30, 2013 02:32 PM
Using the Sept 2011 event as a springboard for a discussion on high voltage grid expansion and global climate change conflates the issues. Moreover, it misses the mark on the cause of the blackout. An error that started with technician failing to put a mark on the right breaker is the type of contingency that system operators are required to be prepared for, and, transmission ratepayers are paying for:

FERC's Key Findings, Causes, and Recommendations:
The September 8, 2011, event showed that the system was not being operated in a
secure N-1 state. This failure stemmed primarily from weaknesses in two broad areas—
operations planning and real-time situational awareness—which, if done properly, would
have allowed system operators to proactively operate the system in a secure N-1 state
during normal system conditions and to restore the system to a secure N-1 state as soon
as possible, but no longer than 30 minutes. Without adequate planning and situational
awareness, entities responsible for operating and overseeing the transmission system
could not ensure reliable operations within System Operating Limits (SOLs) or prevent
cascading outages in the event of a single contingency. As demonstrated in Appendix
C, inadequate situational awareness and planning were also identified as causes of the
2003 blackout that affected an estimated 50 million people in the United States and

Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson Subscriber
May 30, 2013 02:55 PM
Ron. Good point. But I think if you read the story itself: , you'll see that I do lay out the cause of the blackout pretty clearly. And I would say that I use the San Diego event as a springboard for talking about the intricacies of the grid in general -- not just climate change and high voltage grid expansion -- which includes its vulnerabilities, its threats (including climate change) and what might be done to make it better (which includes making the grid smarter, or improving real-time situational awareness, as your comment notes). I'm not arguing that climate change caused the San Diego blackout, by any means, though the unseasonably hot day certainly could have added stress to the system on that day. Thank you for the feedback.