Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Arlington transformer fire illustrates vulnerability of power grids to legitimate accidents and nature as well as terror


I’ve written a lot about infrastructure, and noted that the power grid stability issue is centered around the ease with which transformers are overloaded and the difficulty of replacing them  (with insufficient local manufacturing).

The underground transformer fire in Arlington VA near a modern apartment complex on June 21 is case in point, Arlington Now story.  It does appear from looking at the Dominion Power outage map that the power is back now (36 hours later).  But look at the expense residents had to go to on their own dime because a utility couldn’t maintain its underground infrastructure. I "own" some DOM stock, so I care.

There was a serious weekend manhole fire in the Dupont Circle area of Washington DC about a month before 9/11, when I was back “home”.  Power to businesses was out about two days.
 
Underground power infrastructure is usually safer from storms, but harder to repair.  Hurricane Sandy caused outages for a week or more in lower Manhattan because Con-Ed’s transformers were not at high enough elevation to escape the flooding.  If I lived in NYC, I’d want to be 200 feet above sea level (34th St or north).  You don’t realize how low the elevation is when you’re there.  DC, as a whole, is higher in most areas.

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