When the Lights Go Out

Threatened by massive solar storms, terrorists, and climate change, how safe is the U.S. electrical grid, really?

  • Xavier

    A major electrical outage will affect more than just the lights and comfort. Water pumps won’t be able to replenish towers and gas stations won’t be able to sell fuel for generators. Most people will have about 3 days before it becomes a panic situation. The transformers mentioned in this article are our Achilles’s tendon – if they were targeted it could literally be years before the grid fully recovered.

    Coincidentally, just a few minutes ago Granny and I were discussing preparing for winter and one thing we need to address is communication. Most modern phones, whether cell or base station wireless, need to plug into a wall outlet to function. You might want to find that old Princess wall phone and keep it handy – it will probably work if the phone company can still supply power via the phone lines. Also, we’re getting a small uninterruptible power supply/battery backup for the modem – the laptop will last a couple hours but if the modem won’t work you’re s.o.l. trying to contact anyone. You can buy a couple extra laptop batteries on eBay fairly cheaply – just keep them charged and handy. Combined with a solar charger or a generator and prudent use, you might be the only one in the neighborhood able to contact family and emergency services.

    • Exile1981

      Depending on the meter station an electrical interruption could cause the local natural gas regulation shack to fail closed. That would cut off the natural gas flow to every home and business down line from there. A lot of the older onesrun the valves on gas line pressure to cycle them but a significant number of newer ones use electrically accuated valves. In those ones a power loss would fail close and no more gas toyour furnace etc.

    • dance…dancetotheradio

      The phone company supplies 48 volts DC to your land line.
      I don’t know if they have battery back up.
      We do keep a phone on the wall as back up to our cordlessessesses.

  • simus1

    If an unstable electric grid is so fearsome, perhaps connecting windmills to it and creating permanent instability is not a good idea.

  • Gary

    The 1859 Carrington solar flare wiped out miles of the primitive telegraph lines.
    The huge Flare ( CME ) from the Sun was seen by Richard Carrington while the Sun was facing the Earth. It took about 17 hours to travel 93 million miles and struck with such force that the dark side of the earth saw the Northern Lights as far as Australia .

    We’ve been lucky so far but with all the satellites running the phones and data transfers for security system we will see the system shut down as ATM’s go down and all the wifi phones and Computers in cars .

  • eMan14

    You don’t have to be a survivalist, but a little prepping can go a long way. And much of that is commons sense stuff. Food, water, heat, and shelter.

  • Clausewitz

    I don’t know about the US, but here in Mississauga we’ve had black outs almost every night in August. It’s kind of a tradition to wake up late with our clocks blinking 12. Thanks Kathleen, you’ve given us the most expensive unreliable power system on the planet.