(August 14, 2013) The 2003 Blackout ten years after — what have we learned from that experience and are we better off now?
Energy Probe’s Norman Rubin featured in three media interviews on August 14, 2013, the 10th anniversary of the massive power blackout in northeastern North America. ‘Could it happen again?’ was the topic of these conversations aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Highlights from the combined interviews follow below in the voice of Norman Rubin:
- My most vivid memory of the whole experience is watching then-Premier Ernie Eves field a tough question several days after the initial blackout: Why was the New York City subway running fine for days, but Toronto’s TTC subways were still on hold? He explained that Ontario was much more dependent on nuclear reactors than NY or most other places, and that they were quick to shut down and difficult and tricky to restart, so we had to be patient. I can’t recall ever hearing an Ontario official explain the true relationship between Ontario’s reactors and our operational flexibility before.
- It was well known before 2003 that the inter-ties that connect utilities could cause cascading failures like those of 2003, and the system already had a number of fail-safe “break-away” systems that should have prevented the cascading failures, but did not. After the blackout, a number of hardware and institutional improvements were made, which should make recurrences less likely — except that the earlier ones were also expected to work, and did not.
- One important change since 2003: At the time, we were big net importers of electricity, and now we’ve got a pretty big surplus. In fact, we have such a large surplus of inflexible and capricious “baseload” power (including nuclear and wind) that today’s grid is more challenged by those sources than by shortages. (One large blackout in Europe is already widely attributed to a sudden large fluctuation in surplus wind generation during a period of low demand.)
- In principle, changing from a grid with few huge suppliers to one with many smaller suppliers should improve reliability, though many of these changes are simpler to imagine than to implement.
- The best innovation we have NOT made is the one that’s been instituted in London (UK) and some other places: There, every time there’s a significant power outage, customers are entitled to compensation from their utility company. Since that was instituted in London — by the power utility’s regulator — the number of power outages has decreased dramatically.
Norman Rubin’s interview with Wei Chen on CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning. The interview begins just after the halfway point.
Norman Rubin’s interview with Matt Galloway On CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.
Norman Rubin’s appearance on CBC-TV The National — begins around 2:14.