Life After Electricity: When Transformers Fail
Large power equipment can fail en masse under the assault of an EMP attack or an extreme solar event. An organisation called EMPACT America is holding an EMP conference in Niagara Falls at this time: from Sept 8 2009 through Sept 11 2009. They are discussing ways that the US and Canadian power grids can be hardened against EMP and solar events.
Opinions are divided as to how vulnerable the North American power grid actually is to EMP.
Should some of the roughly 300 transformers that are the backbone of our electrical grid be damaged or destroyed, the interruption to the electrical grid will not be brief. Today, we have few back-ups in place. These large and complex pieces of equipment are all produced overseas and it takes at least a year to take delivery of even one, let alone many.Manufacturers of electrical equipment are a bit more sanguine about the ability of heavy power equipment to withstand power surges of short duration. They are concerned about electronic control systems, however.
Dr. William Graham, President Reagan's Science Advisor, estimates that, if the electricity is off in large sections of America (far more than the relatively small part of the country afflicted by Katrina) for as long as a year, the effect will not simply be on the quality of life here. He says as many as nine out of ten of our men, women and children will die from starvation, disease and/or exposure. _CenterforSecurityPolicy
External grid monitoring and communication equipment are not normally shielded against EMPs. Advanced meters and syncrophasors are examples of new devices whose microprocessors would be destroyed or damaged by an EMP. Even if the underlying power equipment is operational, an EMP will likely cause failures or misoperation of grid control systems. If remote devices are partially damaged, the central control center may not differentiate between grid fault conditions or misreporting sensors. Special protection systems may deploy inadvertently.There are many ways in which the 3 stages of an EMP could shut down power to part or all of a utilities service area. Your electrical power utility is vulnerable. The question is how long should you expect to be without power, should the EMP scenario ever occur in reality.
...Some EMP warfare scenarios envision multiple blasts over a short duration. Many fault reclosers are designed to "lock out" if several faults occur rapidly, such as four trips in three minutes. Since an EMP affects all devices over a wide geographic area, multiple EMPs could lock out a large number of reclosers, resulting in islanded areas or lost load. Restoration of transmission paths would require cumbersome manual switching, especially if remote communications are also interrupted. _NEMAblog
Of course, that depends upon how well hardened your utility's power equipment is, and how well prepared the utility is for inevitable failures of electronic control systems. If failures are limited to electronic circuits, and the utility is well-stocked with electronic control replacement parts, re-start may take only a matter of several days to several weeks.
If larger electrical equipment is damaged, the power outage could last for months to years, while awaiting expensive replacements from overseas.
How would you like to live in a city without electricity for a year or two? What if your entire state, province, or region were affected? What if most of North America were without power for weeks, months, or years? What do you think would happen to you and those around you?
Here is one scenario