Lights Out: Power Grid Failure

I didn't grow up in America, despite being a US citizen from birth. So I don't really know who Ted Koppel is. But he wrote a book titled 'Lights Out'. It's about how vulnerable our power grids are. It's been somewhat painful reading through it, as he has fleshed it out with pointless descriptions of the offices and homes of various interviewees, or "the rolling hills of" I don't care where. But there appears to be a lot of in-depth information in it, and the scope and potential results of the scenario are severe to say the least.

The book is broken into three section:
• How a cyberattack (or series of them) could cause a grid failure.
• How unprepared our various levels of government are to prevent this or repair the damage promptly.
• How things are going to get really bad on a survival level after that.

We have 3 power grids in the lower 48. The Eastern grid, the Western grid, and the Texas grid. Good for Texas! But unfortunately, no one entity is responsible for any single grid. Cities, Counties, and various power companies seem to own parts of a grid and are therefore responsible for the maintanance and upkeep. As well as the computer systems that monitor the power usage and therefore demand in real time.

The last part is the important part, according to the book. But this next bit, I know from my youth. In the UK, evening soap operas are a big deal, and so is tea. When the commerical come on, millions of people get up from watching their TV and go turn on their electric kettles. The power companies have to push out a lot more power at this time, or the draw is too much and brownouts or blackouts happen. I can only imagine that once upon a time this would represent a significant challenge. But today computers monitor the demand, and probably have a great deal to do with adjusting the supply.

The networks that receive this information, and then transfer the data on to (I presume) the power companies, are not created equal. Cyber security is beyond my scope of knowledge, but apparently some of these systems for smaller sections of the grid - owned, controlled and monitored by a small city, with small budgets, for example - are not as secure as perhaps they should be. It has been suggested in the book that some of these may already have been hacked.

Basically, if someone could control enough monitoring "stations" to create false readings that say demand is high whilst demand is actually low, it could be possible to have the power companies increase output. Increase output beyond the capabilities of the grid. Causing cascading failures in high voltage lines, and transformers in sub station. Each failure would cut of part of the grid, and put more strain on what remained connected. All whilst the hacked monitoring systems are calling for more power.

Again, according to the book, this overload could ruin transformers at substations. I suppose they may just melt. Unfortunately, the transformers last indefinitely (unless damaged), and so there aren't replacements sitting around. Or at least not very many. To make matters worse, many of them were custom built, and are not standardized. To make matters even worse, some of the access needed to remove and replace some transformers no longer exists. Apparently special rail lines were used to install some of them originally. In some cases those lines have been removed. And those put in via roads needed extra large heavy duty tractor trailers. Transformers are supposedly quite heavy. And even worse than this, the book claims we don't really make these in the US any more, and getting new ones made to order can take 6 months.

Now, I can't say any of this is true. All I did was read a book. But if it's true, a well planned cyber attack could cripple the power supply of a significant area of the US for an extended period of time. And it sounds like it's possible that some foreign entity could already have access to some of our system, just waiting.

Just imagine, the grid you live in goes down. And doesn't come back up for 6 months at a minimum. What does that look like?

For me, I'd have no heating, possibly no running water, no microwave or stove, no communications, no access to money in my bank accounts. It's hard to say if natural gas lines would still be working, because I have no idea how much of those systems are electronically controlled. And all that is without a thought to what I consume. Production under the grid would all but halt, because without power most jobs cannot be done.

What do you think?
 
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