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So New York City is without power.  One time, in how many years?  Boo-hiss, boo-hiss.  I have just one thing to say to you big babies: move to Kilbertsville, then talk to me about power outages.  Twice a month is the minimum -- the bare minimum -- that power goes out here.

But on the serious tip, this is actually a big deal because it’s not just NYC; it’s a half-dozen states plus some of Canada.  Word so far is that a single point of failure between upstate NY and Canada is to blame.  Exactly how one failure could take portions of so many states offline is hard to imagine.  It’ll be interesting to learn the details.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply


01. Aug 15, 2003 at 6:47pm by Anthony:

Some circuit in the power grid approached its overload point.  Whether that overload was due to excess demand, or a piece of hardware that actually failed, is so far uncertain.  But it’s clear that somewhere, demand exceeded capacity and a circuit went down.

At that point, the grid automatically re-routes current from elsewhere to supply the demand.  Which means that now some other circuit is being asked to supply current to its own load, plus this excessive load from the first circuit.  This causes the second circuit to go offline (again, ideally via circuit breaker, but possibly via hardware failure).

This morning on NPR, a professor from Drexel was on the phone explaining why we weren’t affected by this failure.  I couldn’t make out his name, nor could I properly pronounce/spell it even if I knew it; as you might expect, understanding his explanation wasn’t easy.  But I gathered that somewhere in Valley Forge (PA), there is a mechanism that detaches "us" from the part of the grid that went down.  I don’t know whether that’s automatic or manual, but apparently that happened, and it isolated us from the problem.

Whatever caused the initial circuit failure -- whether it was a hardware failure, some sort of sabotage, or simply excess demand -- isn’t particularly interesting to me.  What I want to know is why the detachment that happened at Valley Forge didn’t also happen in lots of other places.  If the power grid can be sectioned off that way, then it seems to me that the sections should be considerably smaller than the size of 6 states plus some of Canada.

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