Superstorm Sandy, which hit the Northeast coast of the U.S. on October 30, 2012, caused unprecedented damage on the New Jersey shore, lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Island, and other coastal areas, Many of us were without electrical power for well over a week, some for several weeks. On Long Island, LIPA (Long Island Power Authority) struggled with highly-vulnerable distributed networks, relying in many cases on overhead cables, poor information gathering and sharing, and antiquated manual procedures, in order to bring back power to customers.
Former New York Governor Pataki came out with a host of recommended fixes to the electricity grid in his Opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal of November 26, 2012. He believes that all will be well if only the power cables are subterranean and the smart grid is implemented. He expounds on the benefits of DC (direct current) transmission lines, cogeneration, and distributed power generation.
With respect to the electrical power generation, transmission and distribution systems in the U.S., a particularly good presentation of the issues is given in Ted Lewis’s book Critical Infrastructure Protection in Homeland Security: Defending a Networked Nation (John Wiley, 2006). Lewis describes how, in 1902, there were 50,000 independent power generating plants in the U.S. and 3,624 central power plants. Today there are some 5,800 power plants in the U.S. with more than a megawatt of generating capacity, see http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=65&t=2
There were very good economic arguments for centralizing electricity production in the early 20th century, as Lewis points out, and those arguments still hold, except that the grid has become, in Lewis’s opinion, too complex and difficult to manage (and hence to secure). There is also the issue of the “tragedy of the commons,” which I discussed in my April 18, 2011 column, “The Economics of Safety and Security” … see http://www.bloginfosec.com/2011/04/18/the-economics-of-safety-and-security/ As described by Lewis, it is a matter of no individual person or body taking responsibility for the national transmission and distribution systems.