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The U.S. Power Grid: Fragile And Vulnerable




A maze of transmission wires and power substations crisscross the Unitied States, maintained by a patchwork of regulatory agencies and utility companies. The US power grid is one of the most advanced and extensive power networks in the world. It spans over 2.7 million miles of transmission lines and approximately 7,300 power plants. However, despite its impressive scale and reliability, the US power grid is also fragile and perilously vulnerable to disruptions and outages.


The primary reason why the US power grid is so susceptible to disruptions is due to its age and design. Much of the grid infrastructure dates back to the mid-20th century, and there hasn't been substantial investment in upgrading and modernizing it. This means that the current grid architecture is not equipped to handle modern cyber threats and other potential crashes.



In reading an article on this subject from MarshMcLennan.com, we found something else to consider. The excerpt speaks for itself:

If we were also to take into account the increase in demand anticipated from adoption of electric vehicles - a potential load growth of more than forty-five percent, according to our research - the United States could be looking at a required capital investment of more than one trillion dollars by 2050 to create a transmission system capable of dealing with the nation's future needs.



When you read things like this, it really brings into focus how fragile and outdated our power grid is, and how no one at the government level is working sincerely towards modernizing it with an eye to the future. Oh, they've passed some bills, sure. The most recent being the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which includes some legislation that envisions a revamped electrical power grid powered by renewable energy. Sounds nice, right? However, there's no allocation of resources for this "vision" nor any mention of any efforts or technology to secure the thousands of miles of transmission wires and power facilities that a grid like that would require. Meanwhile, we still have transmission wires that drape across thousands of lonely miles of rural highways, and transformers are rarely protected by anything more than a chain-link fence.




Of course, when you're sending over a billion dollars each month to a certain foreign country, there's not really a lot of room for domestic infrastructure issues, I suppose. Yes, I'm being cheeky. My apologies; back to the subject.



Moreover, the grid is susceptible to physical destruction caused by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or cyberattacks. Power plants and distribution systems are usually located in remote areas, which makes the infrastructure's protection a significant challenge. Attacks on the grid, either physical or cyber, can cause a domino effect resulting in massive power outages.



We've seen some of this recently here in the news. There were more than 100 attacks on U.S. electrical infrastructure in 2022, the most in more than 10 years. The final weeks of 2022 saw low-tech attacks on power substations in North Carolina, Washington state and Oregon. The perpetrators were able to knock out the power to tens of thousands of Americans for multiple days with everyday tools and an indiscriminate spray of bullets. FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) ordered a review of the grid’s physical security after the North Carolina and Pacific Northwest attacks, but for certain reasons, the federal government's past forays into the issue do not inspire confidence.


A power grid disruption has far-reaching consequences that affect not only households but also critical infrastructures such as hospitals, airports, and financial institutions. It usually takes days, weeks, even months to repair severe damage which poses a major challenge for national security and overall growth.


The US power grid problem isn't a recent phenomenon. Several industry experts and government officials have warned about the issue in the past. Cyberattacks on the power sector have already happened in Ukraine and could happen in the US as well. As recently as 2022, Putin threatened the US power grid of Florida in the early days of the Ukraine war to deter the United States from heavy involvment in the conflict.


In a 2022 alert, Peter Vincent Pry, the executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security, said concerns are growing that Russia, North Korea, and Iran are inching closer to testing an electromagnetic attack on the U.S. grid, or parts of it. During his administration, former president Donald Trump took some steps to protect grids around the country, but they still remain open to attack. With the Biden administration at a standstill on the subject, Pry urged all 50 state governors to take the lead in protecting each of their own state's power grid infrastructures.




While this impressive technological labyrinth has long sustained modern American life, its equally impressive shortcomings and vulnerabilities make it very attractive to those entities who would love to see this country thrust back into the dark ages. To not take adequate steps to tackle the issue is to put the security and economic growth of the US at risk. While lawmakers have largely brushed off those concerns, as a result, the crutial element of American national security remains largely unguarded.

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