Many people around the world have experienced the calamitous effects of natural catastrophes, like hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and flooding, to name a few. Who could ever forget the havoc that Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy brought to the US? How about the recent earthquakes in Nepal and Japan? Then, there are the deadly tsunamis of a few years back that hit Indonesia, New Zealand and a number of Pacific Islands.
Natural disasters can bring about unspeakable destruction to what is known as the “world’s largest machine”: the power grid. For us lucky enough to be spared from major calamities, the power grid operates invisibly, almost unnoticeable. The time, however, that it begins to fail, is when we realize the gravity of its benefits in our lives. Some of us may think that power outages are simply isolated events, but recent studies reveal a bigger challenge looming large.
Massoud Amin, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, conducted a research that showed that the rate of power outages had increased dramatically every five years. It exposed that blackouts had been on the rise since the 1980s, despite the world’s increasing reliance on electricity. It is the same heightened dependence on electrical power that magnifies the effects of a power outage: Once the power goes out, it is not difficult to imagine that any society will be grounded to a standstill.
Amin further told of a worse news: The grid, and not only in the US, is old and falling apart, making it more susceptible to the effects of natural disasters and the overwhelming demand of today’s consumers.
He advocates transparency in information pertaining to grid reliability, and vigilance and activism on the part of the citizens. He believed that if the people did not know the real state of the power grid, they would find it unreasonable and difficult to persuade the governments and utility providers to invest in addressing the problem.
Despite the alarming results of his study, Amin maintained an optimistic stance, as he acknowledged today’s technological advancements in the way we produce, distribute and utilize electricity. At the bottom of it all, Amin concluded, the onus was still on the people to be aware and to pay a heightened attention to the massive energy infrastructure that is the power grid.
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