Sunday, July 07, 2013

Smithsonian American History Museum demonstrates the basic on electricity, hints at vulnerability

I did find a comprehensive exhibit Saturday afternoon about the history of the electric power grid in the lower level of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  There was a historical display of the controversies early in the history of the industry, as the development of AC, and there is an exhibit of the generators and transformers in NYC (some were flooded during Hurricane Sandy) and the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls.

There’s also a map showing how lit up the US is at night.

With all the talk from the right wing (Newt Gingrich, Roscoe Bartlett, Michael Maloof, some materials in the Washington Times), and papers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (TN)  about vulnerability to terrorism (EMP), which might occur with smaller local flux devices as well as nuclear blasts and even solar storms, one wonders just where the truth is on power grid vulnerability.

A quick check of the web finds some companies (Virginia Transformer, and Howard) that make the large transformers that some say are vulnerable.  Not much is written what the companies themselves say – that would deserve some research.  The companies have some plants domestically, particularly in the far West (Idaho) and south (Mississippi), but apparently there is a plant in Roanoke Virginia.  I seem to recall, after moving back to the DC area from Texas in 1988, a story about a major layoff in the Shenandoah Valley from one of these companies.  It appears that there are considerable manufacturing facilities in Mexico and India.  National security would seem to require that a lot of critical manufacturing be done in North America, at least.
Wikipedia has some good information on how Faraday Cages work – just look up the article for many examples (a microwave oven is one).  It would sound perhaps fairly straightforward for homeowners to protect a lot of critical electronics.  It protecting the big hardware items that sounds like serious business. 

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