Considering how much we rely on electric power, it can be scary to think about losing access to it. From charging our phones to quickly cooking food, we count on the power grid to keep our lives running as we know them. But this leaves many people wondering how vulnerable the U.S. power grid may be.
The U.S. power grid is quite vulnerable to cyber attacks, physical attacks on substations, and natural disasters. Not only are cyber-attacks a significant risk for the U.S. power grid, but overload and aging technology can significantly affect its future sustainability.
Let’s talk more about this vulnerability and how we can seek to improve it in the future.
Potential Dangers to the U.S. Power Grid
The U.S. power grid consists of three major parts. One covers eastern states, one covers western, and finally, Texas has its own power grid. That only tells part of the story, as the North American power grid is much more complex than that.
Not only does the North American power grid extend north through Canada and to Alaska, but it also goes South into Mexico, with more work South of the border planned for the future. Authority over electricity generation and transmission in Canada rests primarily with provincial governments.
There are nine additional power grid regions within the three major parts of the North American power grid under the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) for North America.
With only nine power grid regions sending electrical power to all of North America, potential dangers to the grid can severely impact a large part of the U.S. and Canada.
We have written many articles on the devastating effects that can occur from losing the United States power grid. Please see some of our interesting articles, like “What Happens if the American Power Grid Goes Down?” and “What Is An Internet Apocalypse?”
While; the three major regions and nine sub-regions of the U.S. power grid act independently, there is still a risk that one or all of the grids can fall victim to a cyber attack. While this is a concern, the power grid’s most significant risk is through the grid distribution. Many transmission systems nationwide help distribute power from those three major grids.
In order to keep up with the demands of technology, transmission systems have become more vulnerable to network access attacks. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they are easy to access. However, someone with malicious intentions could disrupt them even temporarily.
Disrupting even one of these transmission systems can affect the power of thousands of homes and offices. Though it may be in just one area, this can still significantly impact the lives of those residing and working there. If there are hospitals, care facilities, and other places that require power for health reasons, this could get dangerous quickly.
While cyber-attacks may be pretty concerning regarding the U.S. power grid, natural disasters can also be a major concern. Natural disasters, in total, have increased over the years, raising the probability that they will occur. Unfortunately, our power grid may suffer because of this.
Flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, and geomagnetic storms from the sun can affect the power grid. In fact, power outages are a significant part of experiencing inclement weather and are expected. This is because our power grid system can’t always withstand high waters or wind.
We hear about and experience natural disasters often enough that we may not consider the significant impact they can have, especially on the power grid. When the electrical power of almost half of the country comes from one major source, it can be devastating to so many people if that source stops.
Like cyber attacks, the transmission system is the more likely power source to suffer from natural disasters. Natural disasters have impacted these systems, and they can continue to do so until we better figure out a way to protect them from floods and other natural disasters.
We discuss in depth whether you “Should You Be Worried About Weather-Caused Power Grid Outages?”
A physical attack is a risk many people don’t consider when considering our power grid. We have seen increased attempted physical attacks on the power grid system in the U.S. Rather than simply focusing on cyber threats; we should also consider physical threats.
While security is in place at U.S. power grid locations, that doesn’t mean they are entirely safe. We have seen several power grid attacks just within the past year. While depending on the site, this may not impact the entire country, attacking a single transmission system can cut power for tens of thousands of homes.
Recently, on December 3, 2022, there were power grid attacks on two Duke Energy Substations in Moore County, North Carolina that caused major blackouts for 45,000 people from someone shooting rifles at power transformers inside of the power stations.
Using More Power
One of the most significant risks to the U.S. power grid is us. We risk putting too much pressure on power grids. One of the significant recent examples of this is the power grid failure in Texas. With a major winter storm, we got to see how vulnerable the power grid can be.
4.5 million homes lost power during this event, and several people died. This was the first major event that drew attention to a significant area that needs improvement, the power grid. The Texas power grid then faced stress again later that same year in June. As they saw record-high temperatures, officials made it clear that the use of power was straining the energy grid once again.
So, this shows that our response to harsh weather can significantly impact our own power grid’s ability to perform. While we can better plan for this, having learned from the February 2021 outage, we should also consider ways that we can improve the grid overall to better withstand these increased power needs like using Smart grid technologies.
Physical threats are something we can find a solution for right away. More intense security and harsher punishments for threats to the grid can help keep them safer. But it is essential to understand that threats go beyond cyber.
Impacts of Losing Power
Since we better understand the threats to the U.S. power grid, let’s talk about what loss of power can mean for us.
Let’s look at some things we lose after a power grid failure or blackout:
- Communication: Loss of electrical power can disrupt communication. Without power, we cannot charge or often use our phones to communicate with the outside world. It will be way more difficult, if not impossible, to contact emergency services if needed.
- Lights: Without electricity, we will lose access to lights to see at night and electronics that we use for entertainment. This result means that we would need to light candles and rely on battery-operated lights to see after dark. We would also have no easy way of getting access to news and staying up to date about incoming assistance.
- Food and Water: When it comes to basic survival, losing electrical power will disrupt our ability to prepare meals or access water. The food that people already have would go bad quickly without a working refrigerator. So, there would be a lot of wasted resources that can cost a lot of money to replace later.
- Money: We would also lose access to much of our money with a significant power loss. We can’t use any type of electronic payment method without power. So, ATMs, gas stations, grocery stores, and other places would no longer be accessible to those without cash. Even for those that did have cash, stores would not be able to use their systems to calculate totals.
- Medical Devices: While some medical devices can work without power for a long time, it is not sustainable. This situation could be a disaster for people who rely on medical devices to survive. Hospitals would suffer as they have limited backup resources.
Does losing power mean having a backup, like a solar cell at home, can help if there’s an attack on the U.S. Power Grid? We have product reviews on products like emergency Combo Propane Gas Hybrid and Solar Generators and Emergency Home Lighting in Electrical Outages to help you with your peace of mind.
Access to a backup electricity generating system will offer some assistance, particularly in domestic activities. But remember that your local market, various businesses, and even some government offices will be out of power, and all those places don’t have a solar backup. As a result, you, too, will be affected.
On that note, if you’re interested in adopting (or already using) solar energy domestically, we recommend you check out our article discussing the current government rules and regulations regarding solar consumption with our article “Do We Have the Energy To Run Future Technologies?”
The U.S. power grid is robust, but it is also vulnerable. There are cyber-attacks, natural disasters, overuse, and physical attacks to consider when considering threats. Overall, we should be aware of many risks regarding our power grid.
Risks to the US power grid can significantly impact people living in the U.S., as we understand from the incident in Texas, and can severely affect our lives. So, it is crucial to understand these risks and work toward a safer power grid.
- The Washington Post: Why US Power Stations Are Vulnerable Targets for Attacks
- US Environmental Protection Agency: US Electricity Grid and Markets
- US Government Accountability Office: Securing the US Electricity Grid from Cyber Attacks
- USA Facts: Is the Number of Major Natural Disasters Increasing?
- University of Texas At Austin Energy Institute: The TImeline and Events of the February 2021 Texas Electric Grid Blackouts