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End of Civilization as We Know It Part 2

March 14, 2014

While a terrorist attack on the grid or a Carrington Event would cause devastation, the ultimate effect would vary because of how the grid is organized, together with the extent of damage caused by the attack or event.

The grid itself is divided into three separate grids. There are the Western, Eastern and Texas Interconnections, isolated from each other.

Picture Courtesy of Nature

Picture Courtesy of Nature


Within the Eastern Interconnection and, to some extent the Western Interconnection, there are opportunities for isolating regions within each grid. The shades of grey provide a rough depiction of where regions of the Eastern Interconnection can be isolated from the others.

It should be noted that the regions extend into Canada.

It should also be noted that Europe and China have grids of varying degrees of sophistication and complexity.

A terrorist attack in the West could take down all of the Western Interconnection, but would not affect the Eastern or Texas Interconnections.

Since the greatest population is in the East, it should be expected that a terrorist attack would occur somewhere within the Eastern Connection. How the attack is executed would determine the extent of grid failure and whether the failure could be isolated within one or more regions.

A team, as small as six terrorists, could shut down much of the eastern grid.

A Carrington Event, however, would affect the grid differently, and much more profoundly.

It’s expected that a solar storm, equivalent to the Carrington Event, would destroy transformers in the northern half of the United States, including those supplying Canada’s largest cities.

It would also destroy transformers in Europe, and probably China and Japan. It would be, essentially, a worldwide event.

It will probably be possible to isolate the northern portions of the failed grid from the southern areas where transformers were not affected. This assumes that power generation equipment wasn’t harmed by the sudden collapse of the grid.

Isolating and restoring power to the southern portions of the United States might take a few weeks, while the northern cities would remain without power for a year or more.

Whether the government could prevent social collapse, including in the southern states, is problematic. How, for example, would the government either support, with food and water, 200 million people living in northern cities, or provide for their peaceful movement to southern states.

Some articles, such as in the Wall Street Journal, make comments about how transformers could be built overseas for the United States, but a Carrington Event would destroy the grids in Europe and Asia, so their factories would be building transformers for their use, and not for the United States.

The United States would have to rely on its resources, of which there are very few, perhaps four of five factories that could build large, extra high voltage power transformers.

Some say people should install generators, but natural gas for powering those generators won’t be available, since natural gas pipelines often rely on electricity to power compressors. Gasoline and diesel fuel also will be unavailable.

While a terrorist attack could be devastating, and might result in the destruction of the United States, a Carrington Event, or EMP from a high level nuclear explosion, would be more likely to end the United States as we know it.

H.R. 2417, 113th Congress, provides the process for identifying how to protect the grid from the effects of terrorist attack, as well as a Carrington Event or EMP.

A summary of H.R. 2417 states:

“Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act or SHIELD Act – Amends the Federal Power Act to authorize the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with or without notice, hearing, or report, to order emergency measures to protect the reliability of either the bulk-power system or the defense critical electric infrastructure whenever the President issues a written directive or determination identifying an imminent grid security threat.”


“Directs FERC also to order the ERO to submit reliability standards to: (1) protect the bulk-power system from a reasonably foreseeable geomagnetic storm event or electromagnetic pulse event (EMP); and (2) require entities that own or operate large transformers to ensure their adequate availability to restore promptly the reliable operation of the bulk-power system in the event of destruction or disability as a result of attack or a geomagnetic storm or EMP.”

H.R.2417 should be non-partisan, and Congress should act. Too much is at stake. A Carrington Event can happen at any time during any 11 year sun spot cycle. The outcome of such an event is well understood.

FERC issued new rules this past Friday, February 7, requiring utilizes to provide physical protection for “locations which, if badly damaged, could produce cascading blackouts or other widespread problems.”

FERC also asked the North American Electric Reliability Corp. to identify threats and establish physical protection standards.

These initiatives by FERC are a beginning, but lack some of the requirements of H.R. 2417, such as  requiring spare EHV transformers, and equally important, standards that would protect the grid from a Carrington Event or EMP.

H.R. 2417 is required to ensure the safety of the grid.

Protecting the 300 or so extra high voltage transformers, or having spares readily available, could make the difference between survival and annihilation.



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6 Comments leave one →
  1. donb permalink
    March 14, 2014 6:07 pm

    I presume solar power systems, widely distributed across buildings and cities, would offer more protection, and give some power, at least while the Sun shines?

    • March 16, 2014 11:00 am

      Yes, there would be some electricity, but No Food, No Water, No Gasoline, No natural gas etc.

  2. Craig Mott permalink
    March 15, 2014 10:21 pm

    Hi Donn,

    Do you expect the Congress to “Move Out” on their bill to reduce the down-time of our electrical grids in a timely manner, or will they dither around as usual?

    Do you know if any of the large utilities have EHV transformer replacements available in the event of any emergency as you have outlined, or are they waiting for the Utility regulators to make that decision?

    Last question:  How much could I charge Northern incoming “tenants” a huge rent in our four houses while I lived on the beach in their tents?   Or would they make their deals in the New Jersey style and evict those who don’t take in “boarders?”



    • March 16, 2014 11:03 am

      I’m not hopeful that Congress will do anything to provide a process and requirements for spare transformers.
      I believe there are on or two spare EHV transformers that were repaired after they failde for other reasons, but I’m not sure of that.
      Keep you shotgun handy. It will be dog eat dog.

  3. rphb permalink
    July 1, 2014 12:57 pm

    I doubt Congress will put money aside to that kind of emergencies. The USA is notoriously bad at handling natural disasters and we are talking about a cosmic extra terrestrial natural disaster here.
    Its smart to talk about terrorist here, because the treat of terrorism seems more real then that our beloved peaceful sun would hurl such a bunch of nasty our way.
    Personally I don’t think the USA could survive being hit by a new carrington event, the nation would be fragmented and ruled by thousands of petty warlords. Because you forget that these four of five factories that could produce new transformers are dependent on electricity to do so.
    your ability to get over such a disaster at all will depend on your ability to control the panicky masses. And America have a huge handicap compared to most other civilised nations in that these panicky masses are armed, thanks to your second amendment. And a year is a long time, how long did Louis XVI have till they had his head on a pike. No USA will be gone the moment the people looses their faith in the union, and a hungry stomach and a thirsty throat is enough to do that, the fact that there would be no communication about what is going on (no calming words from the president (propaganda)) would just make it fall all that quicker, because then the only voices the people can hear will be from the gun-nut survivalists.


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