Reliable electricity is not a convenience – it is a necessity. Below are some documents and studies that look into how electric reliability can be supported and improved.
By Henry F. Cooper and Peter Vincent Pry
An electromagnetic-pulse attack from North Korea or another U.S. enemy would cause staggering devastation.
The Pentagon is moving the headquarters for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) back into Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs, Colo., a decade after having largely vacated the site.
Why the return? Because the enormous bunker in the hollowed-out mountain, built to survive a Cold War-era nuclear conflict, can also resist an electromagnetic-pulse attack, or EMP. America’s military planners recognize the growing threat from an EMP attack by bad actors around the world, in particular North Korea and Iran.
An EMP strike, most likely from the detonation of a nuclear weapon in space, would destroy unprotected military and civilian electronics nationwide, blacking out the electric grid and other critical infrastructure for months or years. The staggering human cost of such a catastrophic attack is not difficult to imagine.
The primary headquarters for Norad, which provides early warning and command and control for the defense of the U.S. against nuclear attack, has for a decade been at nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Critical Norad operations are being moved back into Cheyenne Mountain, and the Pentagon recently awarded a $700 million contract to Raytheon to upgrade electronics through 2020.
At an April 7 Pentagon news conference, Norad Commander Adm. William Gortney noted that Norad is going back underground “because of the very nature of the way that Cheyenne Mountain’s built. It’s EMP-hardened.” He explained that North Korea now has mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, the KN-08, armed with nuclear warheads, that can strike the U.S. While the KN-08 is inaccurate, it could be used to launch a high-altitude nuclear EMP attack.
Adm. Gortney reassured those at the news conference that the U.S. can defend itself from a nuclear-missile threat from North Korea—or from Iran “if we get our assessment wrong,” he said, referring to the current nuclear negotiations. U.S. missile defense, he said, is “able to defend the nation against both those particular threats today.”
That is true as far as it goes—but only if an attack on the U.S. comes from the northern skies. Former senior Reagan administration officials warn that the U.S. is unprepared to cope with nuclear EMP strikes from North Korea and Iran if their missiles’ trajectory takes a southern route.
We are among those former Reagan officials. We joined William Graham (President Reagan’s science adviser and subsequent chairman of the Congressional EMP Commission) and Fritz Ermarth(a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council) in warning in Newsmax in February that Iran should be regarded as already having nuclear missiles capable of making an EMP attack against the U.S. Iran and North Korea have successfully orbited satellites on south-polar trajectories that appear to practice evading U.S. missile defenses, and at optimum altitudes to make a surprise EMP attack.
The U.S. has no ballistic-missile early-warning radars or ground-based interceptors facing south and would be blind to a nuclear warhead orbited as a satellite from a southern trajectory. The missile defense plans were oriented during the Cold War for a northern strike from the Soviet Union, and they have not been adapted for the changing threats.
The Pentagon was wise to move Norad communications back into Cheyenne Mountain and to take measures elsewhere to survive an EMP attack. But how are the American people to survive? In the event of a yearlong nationwide blackout, tens of millions of Americans would perish from starvation and societal chaos, according to members of the Congressional EMP Commission, which published its last unclassified report in 2008.
Yet President Obama has not acted on the EMP Commission’s draft executive order to protect national infrastructure that is essential to provide for the common defense. Hardening the national electric grid would cost a few billion dollars, a trivial amount compared with the loss of electricity and lives following an EMP attack. The U.S. also should deploy one of its existing transportable radars in the Philippines to help the ground-based interceptors at California’s Vandenberg Air Force defend the country against an attack from the south.
Congress also has failed to act on the plans of its own EMP commission to protect the electric grid and other civilian infrastructure that depends on a viable electric grid—such as communications, transportation, banking—that are essential to the economy. In recent years, the GRID Act, the Shield Act, and the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act have gained bipartisan and even unanimous support in the House, yet they died in the Senate.
States are not waiting for Washington to act. Maine and Virginia have enacted legislation and undertaken serious studies to consider how to deal with an EMP attack. Florida’s governor and emergency manager are considering executive action to harden their portion of the grid. Colorado legislators are holding hearings on legislation to protect their citizens. Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York have initiatives in various stages to deal with an EMP attack.
When ancient Rome could no longer protect its empire from barbarians, cities tried to protect themselves by building walls. Now Washington, unable or unwilling to protect its people, is making it necessary for states to build their own defenses against the electromagnetic-pulse barbarians of the 21st century.
Amb. Cooper is the former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Mr. Pry is executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security and served in the EMP Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Read the full article at the Wall Street Journal here.
By Ken Silverstein
Want to increase the use of green energy and reduce the level of harmful emissions? Invest heavily in the grid to both modernize and expand it, which will accomplish such aims while also building the US economy.
That’s the view of energy and utility experts assembled by Public Utilities Fortnightly at its energy, money and power conference last week in Washington, DC. A smarter and more extensive grid that is able to distribute greener power is expensive. But the benefits of creating a modern infrastructure are huge.
“This vision is also about job creation and economic benefits,” says Massoud Amin, chairman of the IEEE Smart Grid and a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota. For every $1 invested in the nation’s network, as much as $6 is returned, not to mention the 47,000 new jobs since 2012.
Just ask CenterPoint Energy Inc. and DTE Energy Co., which have invested hundreds of millions of dollars (with some federal help) to improve performance over their wires. Those who run electricity systems can now apply algorithms to tell operators which units to run and where to avoid congestion on the lines, all of which favors wind and solar energy that is variable in nature.
Today, the bulk power system — as it is known — is comprised of 10,000 power plants, 170,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and nearly 6 million miles of low-voltage distribution lines. It also has more than 15,000 substations.
The pressure to increase the use of renewables will only intensify, in part because of EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030. As such, the proposal will require more centrally-generated wind and solar energy that need access to the transmission lines. Professor Amin says that if wind energy is to swell by 40 percent during this time, high-voltage, long distance transmission will need to enlarge by 9 percent.
To that end, the PJM Interconnection that manages the transmission grid over 13-states in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions says that it has approved hundreds of upgrades and additions that will entail $24 billion of new capital in the coming years. Specifically, 10 of its 13 states have renewable portfolio standards that will require more green energy. With that, it sees 19,700 megawatts of wind going up before 2020 that will also demand investments in energy storage that can harness the power and then inject it later on to the grid.
“Expansion is happening,” says Terry Boston, chief executive of PJM. “The planning process is not broken. But the siting process is time consuming.”
“It won’t get much easier to site transmission,” adds Philip Moeller, commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). “You can’t just snap your fingers. Congress “needs to restore FERC’s backstop authority,” which it was given in 2005 as a way to facilitate much-need transmission projects if the states refused to act. But the courts later clarified the law to say that FERC cannot override the states if they decline to permit a project.
The American Wind Energy Association says that up to 60,000 megawatts of new wind energy development is possible if planned transmission expansions actually occur. In Texas, for example, it says that wind is generated in rural sections and transported to population centers, allowing the transmission operator known as ERCOT to nearly double its use of wind energy. There, nearly $15 billion has been invested to generate about 19,500 megawatts of wind energy.
Meantime, it says that transmission operators in the Midwest and the Southwest are enacting similar policies. The Mid-continent Independent System Operator is integrating 14,000 megawatts of new wind while the Southwest Power Pool is doing the same with 3,000 new megawatts there.
But what about solar energy? The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan could also boost that industry, says Julia Hamm, chief executive of the Solar Electric Power Association. The recent past has seen such mega-deals as the 392-megawatt concentrated solar plant called Ivanpah, which is joint venture among NRG Energy, Google and Brightsource Energy.
That project takes 173,000 mirrors and focuses the sunlight to the plant’s solar receiver steam generator, when then produces electricity. However, it’s costly and out-of-favor, given that it is much easier and much less expensive to put rooftop solar panels on homes and businesses — not to mention the headaches of trying to get new transmission built to carry the power to where it would be consumed.
That’s why Hamm says that the trend now is to build smaller utility-scale projects that may total 30 megawatts. Some of the biggest names in the solar industry are headed this way, she adds, pointing to First Solar Inc. and SunPower Corp.
“They can do it on the distribution side, not on the transmission side,” she says, who adds that “community solar” is also becoming a viable option: It permits consumers to buy into a larger project that it is taking place in a jurisdiction, which can also avoid high-voltage interfaces as well as the cross-subsidization battles now occurring between rooftop solar customers and their electric utilities.
By Kim Smuga-Otto, San Jose Mercury News
Folsom, California’s electrical grid has a problem — a nice problem, but a problem nonetheless: The state often has too much power.
Nearly 23 percent of California’s energy now comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar, and the state is on track to reach its goal of generating one-third of its energy from renewables by 2020. But feeding all that green energy into the Golden State’s grid — without overloading it — has become a major challenge.
That’s because the state’s aging natural gas plants aren’t nimble enough to turn off when the sun starts shining and then quickly switch back on when it gets dark. And while the technology to generate clean energy is growing by leaps and bounds, efforts to store the power haven’t kept up.
The dilemma has forced the energy industry to rethink the way we make and use electricity. And utilities are having to recalculate how much they should charge for electricity at certain times of the day.
“I’ve seen more changes in the past three years than the previous 20,” said Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations for the California Independent System Operator, the “air traffic control” center of one of the world’s largest electrical grids. The center is capable of directing more than 50,000 megawatts of electricity — the output of almost 300 average-sized power plants running at full capacity — over high-voltage lines that crisscross the state.
The ISO’s home in Folsom looks like a starship’s control room in a science fiction movie: 12 horseshoe-shaped tables, each with eight wide screens. A bank of colorful monitors stretches for 80 feet across one wall, flashing graphs, maps and constantly updating reports.
The last time Californians had to think about their electrical grid was in the early 2000s, when companies such as Enron manipulated energy prices and caused statewide brownouts. Since then, the nonprofit organization that oversees electricity delivery to 80 percent of the state has faded from view.
Since the late ’90s, public utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric have largely gotten out of the business of running power plants. They now buy most of the electricity their customers use from the wholesale energy market.
Roughly 140 companies sell to the market, resulting in about 27,000 transactions per day. The ISO makes sure the purchased electricity makes it to the utilities’ substations.
To help explain how the increases in renewable energy affect the amount of electricity available, grid operators have produced a graph they’ve nicknamed the Duck Curve because of its tail-belly-neck shape. The lines track California’s demand for electricity over a single day, subtracting out the electricity supplied by solar and wind.
In the morning, electricity demand rises as people wake up and turn on appliances, lights and electric toothbrushes. And as the day wears on, the state is increasingly dependent on solar plants, especially in the afternoon.
A recent record was set on March 6, when solar peaked at 5,812 megawatts, five times what it was three years ago. All this solar power is allowing California to cut back on natural gas — which now provides about 60 percent of the state’s energy needs — and other traditional sources of electricity.
But this can be a problem because the sun sets at the same time that people are returning home. That causes electricity use to surge, and the power plants that were turned down or even off need to start producing — fast.
The majority of California’s power plants, however, aren’t up for the abrupt on-and-off challenge. “A big portion of our fleet is not flexible,” said Steven Greenlee, an ISO spokesman. “It cannot be ramped up fast. It cannot start and stop multiple times.”
It can take up to a day for a typical electrical generator to go from “off” to being able to add electricity to the grid. And as more solar comes online, the ramp-up curve each evening is getting steeper.
Greenlee said the grid needs natural gas plants that can respond to increased demand within 10 minutes. This could mean building new plants or retrofitting old ones.
Another quick source of electricity could come from storage — basically big batteries that would discharge to the grid when needed. The storage capacity isn’t there now, but the California Public Utilities Commission has mandated that PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric have a combined 1,325 megawatts of storage no later than 2024.
Todd Strauss, PG&E’s senior director of energy policy, said there are “lots of engineering challenges behind the curtain,” but that the utility is on track to add its 500-megawatt share of storage on schedule.
PG&E is also looking to shift the times of its highest-priced electricity to match when demand is actually the greatest.
The utility now charges its highest rates on weekdays from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer. But that’s when the sun is supplying a great deal of energy. So the utility has petitioned the PUC to set the time back, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., to encourage PG&E customers to delay washing dishes or doing laundry until the demand for energy drops.
While the energy ramp-up may look like the most intimidating problem, a more immediate one is too much electricity on the grid.
Four times last year, the winds — which usually drop off in the early morning — kept blowing. Grid operators had to order a decrease of 1,700 megawatts of energy or risk damaging power lines.
“We have to take immediate action whenever the grid goes out of balance,” Greenlee said. “We can’t just wait and see.”
Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association, says that wind generation is usually a balancing force on the grid because it normally gets windier as the sun is setting. “It’s going in the right direction at the right time,” said Rader, who doesn’t see over-generation of wind energy as much of a problem because it’s easy to turn off a wind turbine.
And Joe Desmond, senior vice president of marketing for BrightSource, predicts that solar-energy generation will ultimately prove to be more flexible. The Oakland-based company that built Ivanpah in the Mojave Desert — California’s largest solar plant — is designing plants for China that can store solar heat and save it for after dark.
Schmitt is also optimistic. The grid operators, he said, are up to the challenge.
“In California, we’re out in front, setting the pace,” he said. “We’re showing folks how to do this.”
K.M.: What is the future of the electrical grid? How can we integrate renewables into it in a way that makes the most sense? Please comment on Germany’s renewable-grid situation, and, also, my town of Boulder, Colorado, which is planning an electrical municipal system with the goal of helping reduce greenhouse emissions.
Reinert: The problems with Germany’s power system and the transition to renewables are mostly political and in many ways likely point to Boulder’s future.
For decades the Greens have had a disproportionate role in Germany’s energy future. After Fukushima there was quite a bit of hysteria about nuclear energy. Merkel was in political trouble, made a deal with the Greens, and energiewende was born. The targets are lofty, 100% renewables and elimination of all nuclear plants. The trouble is energiewende targets were set by politicians, NGOs, and Academics with little or no industry experience and when expert opinion was offered it was largely ignored.
The public thinks that electricity is all about what generates it. Coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar or biomass, heated discussions have focused on costs, carbon and reliability.
Few know or care about the grid that delivers the electricity. It’s as important. But net metering just doesn’t sound like a hot issue. Nevertheless, it could become a major problem in the future if we don’t get it right.
Net metering, or net energy metering (NEM), is a billing system that credits small customers at the full retail electric price for any excess electricity they generate and sell to their local electric company via the grid from on-site small sources such as residential rooftop solar arrays.
Currently in place in 43 states and the District of Columbia, net metering is becoming another unnecessarily controversial issue.
Rooftop solar owners say net metering is necessary to encourage solar installations and help reduce fossil fuel use. Utilities say it gives rooftop owners a free pass on paying their fair share of maintaining the electric grid like everyone else does.
Welcome to the increasingly dangerous world of cyber-warfare. The latest nightmare; a western intelligence agency of unknown origin (according to the Financial Times of London) is infecting the internet service providers and sovereign telecoms operations of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mexico and Ireland. To what end is not known, though the cyber security company Symantec calls the malware extremely sophisticated.
Then, there are the criminal elements, who have been hacking into the credit card details of JP Morgan Chase (76 million customers’ names), and retailers like Home Depot, Target and EBay. Or the attempts going on by ne’er-do-well nations to break down the control of energy plants and factories, at times by criminal elements that act like stalking horses for sovereign nations up to no good.
I wrote about this phenomenon a decade ago for Forbes magazine (“The Next Threat”) and raised the problem of private industry, especially public utilities, needing to invest major capital into establishing cyber defenses against the very real possibility that our enemies could break into the internet connections of urban public utilities and cause chaos and massive economic injury by closing down the public’s access to electricity. Threats existed as well against the operations of infrastructure projects like dams, gas pipelines and transportation systems.
A DOD research facility in New Mexico plainly showed me how the nation’s public utility system could be penetrated and closed down via their internet connection. Apparently, we have made little or no progress in the past decade of defending our artificial light and energy.
It appears that our enemies (read competitors) have made exceedingly greater progress in their sophisticated cyber-warfare techniques than we have achieved in defending ourselves. Now comes Admiral Michael Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command, who warned last week that China and perhaps two other unnamed nations had “the ability to launch a cyber attack that could shut down the entire U.S. power grid and other critical infrastructure.”
Such a dire possibility should well have gotten a wider prominent play in the media. Yet Admiral Rogers underscored that software detected in China could seriously damage our nation’s economic future by interfering with the electric utility power companies that the citizens of New York, Dallas, Chicago, Detroit and other urban centers require as the basic life blood of survival. This possibility is a great deal more dangerous than stealing 76 million names from JP Morgan Chase.
This not a Sci-Fi fantasy being perpetrated as a hoax on the American public. The NSA head flatly predicted that “it is only a matter of the when, not the if, that we are going to see something traumatic.” He admitted NSA was watching multiple nations invest in this dangerous capability. He called the danger a “coming trend,” where our vulnerability will be equivalent to a hole in our software systems that are unseen by the multinational company, the public utility, the telecom giant, the defense manufacturer, the Department of Defense.
NATO took the threat seriously enough to organize mock cyber-wargame trials in Estonia several days ago that indicated the western nations are aware of the need to fight on a new battlefield where the enemy cannot be seen physically. It was the largest digital warfare exercise ever attempted, a trial run to test dealing with a new non-military threat to global security.
Consider the financial damage to our nation from an attack that could shut down the power systems of major cities. As Forbes pointed out a decade ago, there was a very great need to spend the money building firewalls around our infrastructure’s internet communications network. We are in worse shape today, since NSA chief Rogers plainly told the congressional intelligence committee last week “the Chinese intelligence services that conduct these attacks have little to fear because we have no practical deterrents to that threat.”
The cyber threat is real. America had better wake up to the need to defend the cogwheels of our economy from the electronic reconnaissance attacking our industrial control systems. Public opinion needs to be aroused by the media and security officials into a threat that no one can see as it is invisible. It is not Soviet missiles we fear, but inroads by nation states and criminal elements fronting for them. Our cyber command capabilities are as crucial as our Special Forces in beating back ISIS and other Islamic terrorists.
The Economist | Oct 18th 2014 | WASHINGTON, DC
AMERICA’S electricity grid is a mind-boggling mess. For one thing, it is two large and three small grids, rolled into one. Two types of organisation, independent system operators and regional transmission bodies, control their slices, which may cover several states. Each state has its own utility laws. Then there are eight regional reliability councils that work with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which is overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The two break down the grid into different, overlapping regions.
Nobody knows the true state of the national grid until something goes badly wrong, as it did in October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy left almost 8m people powerless, some for weeks. The number of big outages, defined as those affecting more than 50,000 people, has more than doubled in the past ten years.
America’s power industry talks about creating a “smart grid”, a digitally connected network, automatically monitored and balanced, to solve the problems. This would involve individual utilities—the country has over 3,000—putting in modern control systems and installing “smart meters” to track consumption. This helps to manage demand, improves efficiency and enables renewables to connect to the grid. But it has little effect on the grid’s overall ability to handle weather-related onslaughts that hit wide areas or a big cyber-attack.
By Ken Salazar
October 1, 2014
This week during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference in Washington, we have the opportunity to talk about how public policy will affect America’s fastest growing community. One of the most important policy areas, and one that impacts every minute of our daily lives, is energy. For most Americans, electricity is a keystone to our quality of life. At the same time, Americans take electricity for granted as “always being there” unless a house, business or community experiences a temporary emergency power outage. For a few Americans, like myself, we know the importance of electricity because we have had to live without it for decades.
When I was a child, my family’s rural home near Manassa, Colorado, was three miles away from the nearest power line. The only supply of electricity we had access to was my father’s very small electric generator that was used only when my mother did the laundry. Most of the time, we did our homework under the dim light of kerosene lamps, had no television or radio, no refrigerators or telephones. In 1981, when I was 26, we were finally connected to the electric grid and began enjoying the benefits of reliable power.
There probably aren’t too many 26-year-olds in America today who experienced growing up without electricity. It says so much about our nation that what was once a luxury item is now so commonplace that it is taken for granted by nearly everyone.
The electric power system has evolved through large, central power plants interconnected via grids of transmission lines and distribution networks that feed power to customers . The system is beginning to change—rapidly in some areas— with the rise of distributed energy resources (DER) such as small natural gas–fueled generators, combined heat and power plants, electricity storage, and solar photovoltaics (PV) on rooftops and in larger arrays connected to the distribution system.