Work needed to secure power grid, experts tell House committee

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Work needed to secure power grid, experts tell House committee

September 11, 2015

More should be done to address vulnerabilities in the nation’s power grid and reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic outage, a panel of academic and industry experts told members of Congress at a hearing Thursday.

The power grid faces threats ranging from natural hazards like solar flares and ice storms, to the risk of potential physical or cyber-attacks, the witnesses told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s oversight and energy subcommittees at the hearing.

“Because the power system is spread out across the landscape, it’s inherently vulnerable to both natural and intentional physical damage,” said M. Granger Morgan, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Physical vulnerabilities include the lack of protection around high-voltage power transformers, Morgan said. The critical equipment is often left in plain sight behind chain-link fencing, open to acts of sabotage like the attack on Pacific Gas & Electric's Metcalf substation in northern California in 2013, when unidentified shooters fired more than 100 rounds of ammunition at the facility.

Among the natural threats are solar flares in which an explosion on the sun causes a release of electromagnetic energy, said Daniel Baker, professor of planetary and space physics at the University of Colorado Boulder.

A solar flare could cause a disturbance resulting in widespread power blackouts that would disable everything that uses electricity, he said, and the total economic impact of such an event has been estimate to exceed $2 trillion.


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