Delta Airlines recently experienced what it called a power outage in its home base of Atlanta, Georgia, causing all the company’s computers to go offline—all of them. This seemingly minor hiccup managed to singlehandedly ground all Delta planes for six hours, stranding passengers for even longer, as Delta scrambled to reshuffle passengers after the Monday debacle.
Where Delta blamed its catastrophic systems-wide computer failure vaguely on a loss of power, Georgia Power, their power provider, placed the ball squarely in Delta’s court, saying that “other Georgia Power customers were not affected”, and that they had staff on site to assist Delta.
Whether it was a true power outage, or an outage unique to Delta is fairly insignificant. The incident was a single company without power for six measly hours, yet it wreaked much havoc. Which brings to mind (or at least it should) what happens when the lights really go out—everywhere? And just how dependent is the U.S. on single-source power?
When you hear about the possible insufficiency, unreliability, or lack of resiliency of the U.S. power grid, your mind might naturally move toward the extreme, perhaps National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers. Talks about what a U.S. power grid failure could really mean are also often likened to survivalist blogs that speak of building faraday cages and hoarding food, or possibly some riveting blockbuster movie about a well-intentioned government-sponsored genetically altered mosquito that leads to some zombie apocalypse.
But in the event of a power grid failure—and we have more than our fair share here in the U.S.—your survivalist savvy may be all for naught.
This horror story doesn’t need zombies or genetically altered mosquitos in order to be scary. Using data from the United States Department of Energy, the International Business Times reported in 2014 that the United States suffers more blackouts than any other developed country in the world.
Unfortunately, not much has been done since then to alleviate the system’s critical vulnerabilities.
In theory, we all understand the wisdom about not putting all our eggs in one basket, as the old-adage goes. Yet the U.S. has done just that with our U.S. power grid. Sadly, this infrastructure is failing, and compared to many other countries, the U.S. is sauntering slowly behind many other more conscientious countries, seemingly unconcerned with its poor showing.
According to the United States Department of Energy, the American power grid is made up of three smaller grids, known as interconnections, which transport energy all over the country. The Eastern Interconnection provides electricity to states to the east of the Rocky Mountains, while the Western interconnection serves the Rocky Mountain states and those that border the Pacific Ocean.
The Texas Interconnected System is the smallest grid in the nation, and serves most of Texas, although small portions of the Lone Star state benefit from the other two grids.
And if you’re wondering why Texas gets a grid of its own, according to the Texas Tribune they have their own grid “to avoid dealing with the feds.” Now that’s true survivalist savvy—in theory.
When you look at the layout of the grid above, it’s easy to see that a single grid going offline would disrupt a huge segment of North America.
Wait—make that all of North America.
To give it to you straight, our national electrical grid works as an interdependent network. This means that the failure of any one part would trigger the borrowing of energy from other areas. Whichever grid attempts to carry the extra load would likely be overtaxed, as the grid is already taxed to near max levels during peak hot or cold seasons.
The aftermath of a single grid going down could leave millions of residents without power for days, weeks or longer depending on the scope of the failure.
So although on the surface it looks like the U.S. has wisely put its eggs into three separate baskets for safer keeping, the U.S. has in essence, lined up our baskets so that if one were to drop, or if the bottom were to fall out, the eggs from basket #1 would fall into basket #2. Which would break from the load, falling into basket #3—eventually scrambling all the eggs. Sorry, Texas.
And sorry for all you out there, likely 300 million of you, who have no idea or have no plans on how to live without power. Or how to live without trips to the local grocery store. Or how to live in a society where most people will ignore social norms and respect for law or even lives. Sorry for you but not everyone can survive the coming collapse.