WASHINGTON – Six hundred million people lost power in India last week. Could it happen here?
“Blackouts are inevitable,” says former astronaut and physicist Jay Apt, who is currently the director of Carnegie Mellon’s Electricity Industry Center.
There will always be a severe enough hurricane, earthquake or wildfire to knock out power in large numbers, but Apt says the U.S. is already doing everything possible to improve, inspect and maintain the power grid.
“Running the grid is a little like being an airline pilot,” he says. “There are years of boredom interspersed with moments of stark terror.”
Despite big improvements since the 2003 Northeast blackout, which affected an estimated 45 million Americans, some critics say the U.S. isn’t paying enough attention or funding to bolster the grid. Apt disagrees.
“There is no cost-effective benefit for making the grid invulnerable,”he says.
Other experts say the U.S. power grid is aging and stretched to capacity. Apt doesn’t buy into that either.
He says there are older parts on the grid, but nothing that can’t be addressed through inspections and routine maintenance.
Plus, the U.S. has an excess of power while demand is relatively flat. In India, the exact is true.
So what happens if supply increases?
Apt says there’s “a ways to go before we bump up against resource limits even in places like Arizona and Texas,” which has greater demand in the U.S.