11 September 2009

Chinese Scientists Study to Bring Down US Power Grid

Wang and colleagues at Dalian University of Technology in the Chinese province of Liaoning modelled the US's west-coast grid using publicly available data on how it, and its subnetworks, are connected....Their aim was to examine the potential for cascade failures, where a major power outage in a subnetwork results in power being dumped into an adjacent subnetwork, causing a chain reaction of failures. Where, they wondered, were the weak spots? _NewScientist
An electrical power grid is like a living organism, often delicately balanced between stasis and chaotic activity. Every power grid has its weak points, and those who might wish to bring the grid down -- for whatever reason -- will want to study those weaknesses.

Ian Fells at Newcastle University recommends using Semtex explosive on transmission lines located near a power station, for robust effectiveness in bringing down a power grid. Other enterprising power saboteurs have simply removed the anchoring bolts for the line tower.

Other approaches have included shorting across the different phase lines, shorting out the transformers, and hitting power grid control equipment with an electromagnetic pulse.

Local power outages -- although inconvenient for customers and often expensive to repair for utility companies -- are manageable as long as they are limited in size. Even a larger outage that involved an entire state, province, or region, could be managed over time with assistance from non-involved regions.

A much larger outage that involved multiple regions, including most major cities of North America, would be a hug problem. Particularly since such an attack would almost certainly occur in conjunction with significant conflicts elsewhere on the globe. Such distant conflicts could tie up the US military -- usually one of the first organisations on the scene in a global emergency -- and prevent it from assisting.

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