Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Electricity vulnerabilities becoming more evident...

LOS ANGELES, CA, United States (UPI) -- The investigation into the ongoing blackout in the New York City borough of Queens could lead to the conclusion that the local electricity infrastructure was simply overtaxed by relentless growth in power demand.

...the outage wasn`t the result of some glitch at a far-off power plant or some 'act of God' that crippled a major high-voltage supply line.

The problem was, in fact, a widespread meltdown of the local grid in Queens that resulted not just in a loss of power, but in physical damage to lines and transformers that required ConEd crews to toil inside grubby, stifling nearly airless manholes for hours to replace equipment.

The big question -- make that the multibillion-dollar question -- to be illuminated by the pending ConEd report is whether or not the local grid in New York can still handle the growing amount of power consumers are demanding, and if not, are other major American cities about to hit the wall as well?

The Edison Electric Institute estimated earlier this year that the boom in personal computers and other home electronics accounted for 42 terawatt hours of power in 2005 compared to 16.5 terawatt hours in 2001. At the same time, growing urban populations and a humming economy have left less of a buffer for those mid-summer classic heat waves that has air conditioners and fans working overtime. ...

In a nutshell, Burke explained, the genesis of the outages was the failure of 'feeder lines' that carry 27,000 volts of electricity through ConEd`s 57 distribution areas. Feeder lines connect to transformers that 'step down,' or reduce the voltage down to the 120 volts found in household outlets. ...

The loss of feeder lines was blamed for the Washington Heights outages, which according to a report by the New York State Attorney General was traced in large part to insulation issues in the oven-like environment of underground utility vaults.

But as it did in 1999, the loss of the feeder lines in Queens caused higher volumes of electricity to run through the remaining feeders, transformers, and the lower-voltage lines, which were subsequently fried one-by-one by heavy power loads that they simply were not designed to handle.

Meanwhile, when all of this was going on in the netherworld of electricity, the folks in Queens went about their business with air conditioners pumping away.

'If the customers don`t see what is going on, they don`t reduce their (power) consumption,' Burke said. 'The electricity went through fewer and fewer primary feeders, which caused them to fail. The low-power grid now has to be put back together.'

...if the proverbial scene of the crime can`t be localized, it raises the prospect that the system was simply overloaded and people not only in Queens but in Manhattan and maybe even the rest of the United States will have to start restricting the use of their computers, big-screen televisions and washing machines to off hours. ...

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Detroit News wire services) -- Authorities investigated at least 29 possible heat-related deaths Monday in California, where days of tropical heat and humidity have driven demand for electricity to record highs. If people can't take the weather anymore, neither could transformers and other equipment, which sputtered and shorted out and left tens of thousands of people without power in California and other states. ...

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered state agencies to reduce electricity consumption by 25 percent, acting on a prediction from the state's power grid managers that demand would peak at 52,000 megawatts, a mark they had not expected to reach until 2011. Demand peaked at 50,270 megawatts, breaking the record of 49,036 megawatts set Friday. ...

Blackout Hits Small Business Owners Hard (AP)


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