The Blackout – Sep 2015

A colleague of EnerScope recently threw an event to commemorate the massive Blackout of 2003.The events of that week were reflected on and stories of how we were caught off-guard were told. But what really happened?

It was a volatile mix of aging infrastructure, climate, maintenance practices, equipment and human error. When the boiling point was reached, the largest outage in North American history occurred. 50 million on the Eastern Sea Board of the USA and Canada were completely without power for more than 20 hours.

A tree branch in Ohio touched high-voltage transmission lines that were sagging lower than usual because of the extreme summer heat.This repeated itself on three adjacent power lines over the following two-hour period, setting off alarms in control rooms across the state. These lines were switched off obviously because of the risks and almost at the same time, Eastlake coal-fired generating station near Cleveland had a breakdown in one of its generating units.

With the load of the summer heat taking its toll on the grid and with a critical line gone, other transmission lines were used to supply the demand.The remaining lines were taxed and pushed to the limits and three hours later they went into fail mode,  setting off a chain reaction throughout the grid of the eastern seaboard, with a swath of Michigan to New England, Ontario and Québec.

TV News report showing the affected States and Provinces of the Eastern Seaboard

The question came up recently of how it could have been prevented and whether or not our grid is ready for a similar event present day 2015. Regular ongoing scheduled maintenance would have played a major role in preventing this and similar incidents.Also regular equipment updating could’ve prevented the Eastlake generating station from going offline partially. However, the sag of the transmission lines under the summer and operating heat was mostly unavoidable.

Over the past decade, Ontario has been trying to build a more robust and redundant power grid. More generation points, varied types of generation and redundant links in the grid. As an analyst in this sector, I think proper planning and strategic placement of infrastructure after high-level location analysis will go a long way in ensuring the grid functions as it should for 50+ years.I believe that a strong grid is integral and will do part of the job, however regular maintenance and quality analysis is a large portion of the solution.