Just one day after India’s power grid left 370
million residents of its northern provinces without electricity, the country
is experiencing another massive crash of their fragile power grid with some
600 million people – about half its entire population – now going
through widespread outages in what can only be described as a cascading power
Though no cause has yet been identified, the power
ministry is frantically working to restore electricity as essential services
collapse and transportation systems come to a grinding halt. Hundreds of
thousands have been trapped in mid transport on trains, while millions sit in
traffic jams across afflicted areas.
clogged streets in New Delhi after a power outage disrupted traffic lights
and the city’s rail services.
About 600 million people lost power in India on
Tuesday when the country’s northern and eastern electricity grids
failed, crippling the country for a second consecutive day.
The outage stopped hundreds of trains in their
tracks, darkened traffic lights, shuttered the Delhi Metro and left nearly
everyone — the police, water utilities, private businesses and citizens
— without electricity. About half of India’s population of
1.2 billion people was without power. India’s unofficial power grid, a
huge number of backup diesel generators and other private power sources, kept
hospitals electrified and major airports running.
Manoranjan Kumar, an economic adviser with the Ministry of Power,
said in a telephone interview that the grids had failed and that the ministry
was working to figure out the source of the problem.
Source: New York
Originally Published Monday, July 30, 2012:
As power grids in emerging and developing nations
take on more demand than ever before, it was only a matter of time before the
strain became too much to bear. This morning the weakness in global grid
systems became apparent when some 370 million residents in northern India
were left without power:
Northern India’s power grid crashed Monday,
halting trains, forcing hospitals and airports onto backup power and
providing a dark reminder of the nation’s inability to feed a growing
hunger for energy as it strives to become an economic power.
Some small businesses were forced to shut for the
day. Buildings were without water because the pumps weren’t working,
and the vaunted New Delhi Metro, with 1.8 million daily riders, was paralyzed
during the busy morning commute.
Power Minister Sushil
Kumar Shinde deflected criticism, pointing out that
the United States and Brazil also had huge power failures in recent years.
“I ask you to look at the power situation in
other countries as well,” he said.
A large portion of India’s population
regularly operates without electricity – either because they are too
poor to have lines installed, or due to regular power outages. The power in
this particular instance was restored to the majority of areas within 12
hours, but demonstrates that the Indian grid, as well as those around the
rest of the world, could stop pumping electricity at any time.
Consider how India’s populace would have
reacted had the grid gone down for several days, or weeks, without repair.
India’s grid crash is reportedly a result of
excessive energy demand, and thus service was much easier to restore than,
say, if there had been a natural disaster or attack focused on the utility
infrastructure (from someone like neighboring Pakistan – who,
incidentally, probably just got a great idea).
In any case, what we can learn from this is that
even in a country of one billion people, there are critical infrastructure
issues that have been left unaddressed.
The power grid in the United States, while more advanced
and apparently better maintained, is also under excessive strain as has been
witnessed in recent years with rolling brownouts, blackouts, and unforeseen
crashes resulting from key component failure.
One industry insider who has worked in the utility
industry for nearly two decades advised this author recently that it
wouldn’t take much to bring down the system even in the United States,
potentially affecting tens of millions of customers. Though it’s the
21st century, many grid components in operation are, in some cases, as much
as 40 years old, thus replacement parts are almost impossible to find. Other
components, like massive transformers may take weeks or months to replace. In
the event of a scenario where multiple components are targeted simultaneously,
by either a man-made EMP or natural event, it is not too far of a stretch to
suggest that the afflicted regions would be engulfed in pandemonium.
This potential for widespread failure is so
plausible that former Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, who has spoken on the
vulnerabilities of the US power grid, has advised that Those Who
Can, Should Move Their Families Out Of the City:
After Hurricane Ike passed through the Houston area
2008 some 90% of the metropolitan was without power. While hospitals, police
and critical infrastructure was restored within a few days, residents in
outlying suburban areas experienced the outage for over three weeks. We
witnessed the rapid loss of patience, increased anxiety and frustration, and
the subsequent breakdown of interpersonal interaction at high-demand venues
such as gas stations, where long lines, screaming matches and even fist
fights became a common occurrence.
The bottom line: As demonstrated in India today,
Quebec in 1989 (caused by a geo-magnetic storm originating from the sun), Ike
in 2008, Hurricane Irene on the East coast in 2012 and the plethora of
incidents that have taken place over the last couple of decades, the North
American power grid, just as India’s, is susceptible to
far-from-equilibrium situations, and sometimes it takes extended periods of
time to get power up and running.
With just three major grids running the United
States, our dependence on massive flows of electricity to power our home air
conditioners, food refrigeration, communications, water and gas pump systems,
and daily business operations could come to a screeching halt should the grid
ever be struck by a natural disaster like a solar coronal mass ejection or a
large-scale earthquake in California or on the Madrid fault. Likewise, as
we’ve noted previously, rogue organizations looking to wreak havoc have
already demonstrated the staggering
security holes in our power, water and oil grid infrastructure, with leading cyber security firms noting that it
is just a matter of time before disaster strikes.
While a short-term, isolated metropolitan outage can
be dealt with by sourcing labor and supplies from unaffected areas of the
country, considering that the US operates on three key power grid systems, a
region-wide outage affecting just one of these nodes could lead to a
cascading breakdown in the electrical power system that envelops the entire
The most dangerous possibility emerges when we look
at threats posed by the sun or a rogue terror cell or nation that could
deploy an Electro-Magnetic Pulse weapon (EMP / Super
American skies. It’s been surmised that either one of these
possibilities could cause damage so staggering that the grid would be down for
months, leaving millions without just-in-time food and gas delivery systems,
medical care, local emergency response, or even clean water. According to one
estimate, some 90% of
Americans would die in such a scenario if the power wasn’t restored
within one year.
Thus, it is clear that our power grids are a
critical lifeline to keeping life as we know it in the world today
operational. And, as we have seen historically and India this morning, power
grids can and do crash – even in countries with hundreds of millions of
Though a nationwide long-term power grid failure in
the United States is an unlikely low-probability event, were it to occur it
would literally change the face of the world as we know it.