Washington DC blackout sparks debate on grid modernization

Power cut in Washington triggers calls for grid modernization
The White House was one of several government buildings affected by a power outage in the US last week

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation has hit back at comments that the US grid is fragile following a widespread power outage in Washington DC last week.

President of the corporation Gerry Cauley said while it was natural to worry about the impact on the nation’s capital, the system worked as it should have, reports Reuters.

Mr Cauley said: “Sometimes I see a false sense of what the takeaway of such an event is – that the system is fragile,” Cauley said. “Actually, the grid has many multiple redundant parts and is very robust.”

Washington DC blackout

Regional utility Pepco is still investigating the blackout, but has indicated that a 230-kilovolt transmission conductor breaking off its support structure and cutting off supply to the switching stations of a local Maryland utility was the likely trigger of a dip in voltage across its service area.

Government buildings including the White House and State Department were without power momentarily, however, as emergency generators kicked in, said the Reuters report.

The power outage and subsequent fears that the US grid is one of several fragile critical infrastructures, according to Admiral Bill Gortney, head of US Northern Command, precedes the release of a blueprint from the Department of Energy on grid modernization.

Grid modernization

Melanie Kenderdine, head of policy at the Energy Department and leader of the study, said earlier this month that the review will deal with “transmission, storage and distribution structure,” with “energy asset security” and with how to make the “transition to a low-carbon grid of the future.”

Cauley of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation acknowledged the need for grid modernization, and he said he expects the Energy Department review will “highlight opportunities” to make upgrades.

But Cauley warned against expectations that a large-scale transformation of the grid will happen quickly, noting that it will involve complex permitting processes across every state.

“I think we are in a continuous state of modernization of the grid – but there will not be an all-of-a-sudden transformation,” he said.