--> Gill Blog: Interim Report on Causes of the Blackout

Gill Blog

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Interim Report on Causes of the Blackout

Our September white paper on the blackout pointed out that in the aftermath of the event, most fingers were being pointed toward the supply side deficiencies of power distribution, while completely ignoring the demand side problems associated with consumption. We identified smart buildings as being an important contributor in managing demand, as office buildings consumed almost 40% of the total energy in the United States, and smart buildings could reduce power consumption anywhere from 20-80%.

We are now minutes away from the release of the interim report on the causes of the blackout - this is timely given the following interview of CBC’s The Current I heard this past Monday by John Bennett, Director of the Climate Action Network. In it, he stresses that the effects of the blackout may have been minimized if the infrastructure supplying power was decentralized and power officials paid closer attention to managing the demand side of the equation – this notion aligns very closely with the theme of our September paper. Bennett notes that even though “our infrastructure is fifty years old, we continue to add subdivisions, factories and buildings and keep making the wires a little longer”. Accordingly “we depend on very large power plants that need very large transmission lines and as a result when things go wrong, they go wrong very big.” He believes that the effects of the August 14th blackout were magnified because of the centralized nature of the distribution infrastructure and could have been minimized if growth was properly managed, “We should really be working on a system that is decentralized so that if one plant goes out, it doesn’t knock out millions of people.”

We are expecting the postponed report to be released today. It is widely believed that those who are producing the report will look for scapegoats in the form of people or companies, who will be identified as the root cause of the outage. This will be done in order to justify the massive amounts of money they’re going to spend to maintain the present system. If this is in fact what happens, the industry would miss its golden opportunity to make the same type of substantive infrastructural changes stressing reliability and security that were made in the Province of Quebec following the 1998 ice storm.

Important Update:

The U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force has just published its Interim Report: Causes of the August 14 Blackout in the United States and Canada.

In the days ahead, we'll be reviewing this Interim Report and discussing the highlights we find interesting from our perspective.


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