Losing The Grid
(A realistic timeline)
I've posted my fears and thoughts about loosing the grid either through Cyber attack or EMP (natural and man made). I made the statement that if we lose the grid we could be looking at years to get our power infrastructure back up and functioning like we need it to function. Depending of the reason that we've lost it in the first place would drastically effect how long it takes to get it back up and running. The largest and most costly component is what is known as a Large Power Transformer (LPT). LPT's are custom made to specific design specifications and require 7 basic steps to build.
1. Engineering and design: LPT design is complex, balancing the costs of raw materials (copper, steel, and cooling oil), electrical losses, manufacturing labor hours, plant capability constraints, and shipping constraints.
2. Core building: Core is the most critical component of an LPT which requires highlyskilled work force and cold-rolled grain-oriented (CRGO) laminated electrical steel.
3. Windings production and assembly of core and windings: Windings are predominantly copper and have an insulating material.
4. Drying operations: Excess moisture must be removed from the core and windings, because moisture can degrade the dielectric strength of the insulation.
5. Tank production: A tank must be completed before the winding and core assembly finish the drying phase so that the core and windings do not start to reabsorb moisture.
6. Final assembly of the LPT: The final assembly must be done in a clean environment; even a tiny amount of dust or moisture can deteriorate the performance of an LPT.
7. Testing: Testing is performed to ensure the accuracy of voltage ratios, verify power ratings, and determine electrical impedances.
30 “Large Power Transformers from Korea,” USITC, Preliminary Investigation, September 2011, pp. I-9–I-10.
As you can see, even under normal circumstances, building a LPT is complex and costly. The cost of an LPT in 2010 ranged from 2 - 7.5 million dollars. That cost is just to get in on a ship for transport. Transporting can add another 25 - 30%.
Now that we have determined that these units are expensive let's take into consideration the availability of the raw materials needed to replace 2000 of these units. Currently developing countries such as China and India are the largest consumers of the raw materials needed. Would these developing countries stop their development in order to let the US get it's grid back up quicker? Maybe if we paid them enough. Transporting these heavy and physically large components might also become a challenge in and of itself. If we were hit with a direct attack using a Nuclear bomb to create an EMP, we might not just lose our grid. We might also lose our ability to transport them because we don't have operational vehicles to do the job.
Something that I don't hear a lot about when people talk about losing the grid is the need to rebuild the power plants themselves. They run using electronics that would be knocked out as well. You have to be able to generate power before you can distribute it. How many years would it take to get these back up and running? It might just be that we could have transformers in place with no way to generate power. It might in fact take longer. Who knows but the government has done studies about losing the grid and you can read one of their reports here.
What if all of our roads were blocked with disabled vehicles? How long would it take to clear them in order to get a LPT to it's destination? I'm only talking about the very largest transformers, but we might also have to replace the tens of thousands smaller ones as well. I believe that what our government considers to be the most important centers of commerce would get up and running first. I'm pretty sure that Washington D.C. would be among the first if not the first to get power. After all, how could we possibly function without our Government leading us? It would just be wrong to have our illustrious leaders suffering along with the rest of us lowly peons.
It's entirely possible that even with the co-operation of other countries and their willingness to assist, we could be looking at in excess of 5 years to get a fully operational power grid. Could you hold out for 5 years? Some areas might get power back pretty quickly. Would a mass migration happen with people that don't have power moving to the areas that do? What kind of problems would that present? A large center built for 5 million people suddenly having to deal with a population of 20 million would all of a sudden become just another refugee camp. Would you be willing to have your family live in those conditions? I don't think that any of our options would be good options if we ever lose the grid. It will be chaos at best and most likely a very dangerous place to live. There will be massive loss of life which is a topic for another article.