Means Better Homeland Security
1-14-2003, by Whit Allen, Vice President,
Sure Power Corporatio
state, and Canadian authorities recently completed
the "Blue Cascades" project, a simulated terrorist
attack on the Pacific Northwest's power grid. The
study, which included companies such as Boeing, Pacific
Gas & Electric, Verizon and Qwest, showed that
such an attack, if successful, could wreak havoc on
the nation's economy, shutting down power and productivity
in a domino effect that would last weeks. The situation
is exacerbated by the almost total interdependence
of each of the three U.S. grid systems: East, West
And the threat isn't simply academic. U.S. occupation
forces in Afghanistan discovered Al Qaeda documentation
about the facility that controls power distribution
for the eastern U.S., fueling fears that an attack
on the power grid may one day become a reality. Moreover,
anyone can go on the Internet, and for less than $100,
buy a map of the electrical grid in this country,
according to Joel Slaughter, manager of corporate
security for American Electric Power.
One possible remedy to these threats? Distributed
generation, or "DG," which eliminates reliance on
the utility grid by locating power systems directly
at a government user's premises.
DG allows organizations to disconnect from the highly
vulnerable electricity grid and create their own power
directly at the point-of-use. If key facilities, especially
government operations and infrastructure businesses
like telecommunications centers, circumvent the grid,
they can ensure service to the public during acts
of sabotage, not to mention accidents and inadvertent
Why Distributed Generation?
DG offers a host of several national security benefits
that would otherwise be jeopardized by a reliance
on grid-based power.
For instance, DG eliminates dependency on the conventional
power transmission and distribution system, which
utilizes an extremely limited number of power delivery
paths to move electricity from central generating
plants to numerous end users. With a heavy dependence
on just these few critical links and nodes, the grid
is vulnerable to widespread failure, even if the power
plants themselves are not directly attacked.
DG also places power at the point of use; it's a
short-wire solution. The conventional electricity
grid, in contrast, utilizes hundreds of thousands
of miles of power lines and numerous substations -
all open to attack at any point.
In addition, multiple, small systems are less attractive
target for saboteurs seeking to quickly and dramatically
disable the nation's day-to-day operations.
But Isn't Back-Up Power Enough To Protect Major
Electricity Users? While large businesses have historically
installed power conditioning and back-up power solutions
to try and insulate themselves from the repercussions
of grid failure, they really haven't enhanced their
ability to stay up and running in the event of terrorist
sabotage. This is because the technologies that they
rely on were actually formulated in the days of punch
cards and batch processing. But the "7 x 24 x forever
capabilities" of today's digital equipment far surpass
the ability of these devices to continuously supply
computer-grade power for any length of time.
Current research and testing reveals that back-up
power devices (the core of any back-up infrastructure)
frequently fail. According to a risk analysis study
conducted by MTechnology Inc., even robust back-up
systems incorporating multiple devices (e.g., dual
power feeds from the electricity grid, batteries,
diesel generators, UPS devices, etc.) run a 67 percent
chance of failure over their lifetimes. And when they
do fail, it can take as much as sixteen hours or more
to get the host facility up and running again.
Of equal significance, conventional "utility grid
plus back-up" systems aren't designed to operate through
long power utility outages. This is because even the
latest technologies are meant to run for only a relatively
short period of time - a few days at most. A long-duration,
September 11th-type event is simply beyond most businesses'
ability to cope, making the concept of "back-up" merely
Only DG systems can be engineered to generate long-term,
high-availability, computer grade electricity. Through
an array of carefully configured generators - including
gas-reciprocating engines, fuel cells and turbines
- linked with rotary UPS systems and flywheels, uptime
can be raised to the much sought after six nines (99.9999
percent) availability level. Dual fuel engines can
be used and ample fuel stored onsite to protect against
pipeline and other transportation interruptions.
The First National Bank of Omaha (the nation's largest
privately owned bank and seventh largest credit card
transaction processor) installed such a system in
1999 as the primary critical power source for its
new 200,000-square foot Technology Center.
The system in Omaha generates 100 percent of the
"critical load" electricity for the bank's computers
and storage devices, which are used to process millions
of credit card and banking transactions every day.
The system has been running without interruption for
more than three years and has provided electricity
through numerous grid outages and other utility problems.
DG Offers Additional End User Benefits
Enhanced security is not the only benefit of DG. Such
systems are also far easier to implement than new
central generation plants - making DG an ideal solution
for the numerous areas plagued by power shortages.
Many DG applications can be sited under existing state
and federal air emission regulations in far less time
than central power plants. The Energy Competition
Strategy Report wrote in its June 2001 newsletter
that "regulators, by 9 to 1, favor Distributed Generation
in their jurisdictions."
Modern DG systems are also scalable so that they
can grow along with power needs and are far friendlier
to the environment than large central power plants.
Further, DG plants can be made to look just like the
buildings they serve or can be fitted inside an existing
facility. This means that residential communities
are far less likely to oppose DG than they would the
construction of new commercial plants or transmission
Another benefit of DG systems is that they can be
financed and owned directly by end-users, placing
no additional burden on utility ratepayers. Utilities
can even partner with businesses to install DG systems
as part of their own growth strategy. Utilities would
benefit from DG since it eliminates the need to add
central generating capacity and, even more importantly,
improves the overall reliability of the entire transmission
and distribution system. DG-based systems can also
be installed quickly, allowing for an immediate energy
fix while utility-level restructuring is planned and
A final benefit of DG is that many onsite generation
systems offer combined heat and power (known to energy
insiders as CHP). CHP uses the heat normally lost
during power generation to provide heating, air conditioning,
steam, and hot and cooled water for industrial processes.
Thus, DG is a clean and reliable alternative to conventional
electricity generation; it often means both financial
savings and increased energy efficiency for commercial
and manufacturing facilities.
The Time Is Now
Even before the tragic of events September 11th,
DG was beginning to make impressive in roads as an
energy solution. In this new age of ubiquitous terrorist
threat, not to mention widespread power shortages
and a strained transmission and distribution system,
the course of action seems clear: Build Even More
DG! After all, we can't cure 21st century power woes
with 20th century solutions.
Burroughs - 1.21.2003
This article addresses the hidden problem of our
current grid system. Mr. Allen makes a strong case
for the addition of DG to major installations. A
lot of major end users may not immediately recognize
the need for stand alone power (or island mode)
systems. They should reflect on the rolling blackouts
that took place in California two summers ago. While
the power outages were relatively short in nature,
they had a severe effect on the economy of the state.
With the loss of a portion of the power grid, the
downtime could be much longer and the effect could
be even worse.
A very timely article.
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