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Environment & Energy

10 Years After Blackout, Power Grid Still Needs Updating

As the weather warms, the chances increase for strong storms triggering power outages. 

The last U.S. blackout was nearly a decade ago, when a portion of the nation's power grid was overloaded by re-routed electricity. It impacted 50 million people over two days in the northeast portion of the nation, and a small portion of Canada.

Recent storms, like Hurricane Sandy, have also caused extended power outages. 

Gregory Reed, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh,  said the need to expand and modernize the grid is more necessary than ever.

"We're starting to see a lot more activities and occurrences that are affecting our power grid," Reed said.  "Things like what seems to be a heightened frequency of intense storms, other occurrences, and as the grid ages, its reliability is not as good as it once was." 

Reed suggested replacing outdated equipment and using a more advanced power grid operation system, but it's not cheap. He said modernizing the power grid could cost several hundred million dollars.

"It's a pretty big expense," Reed said. "But if you look at the economic loss that we incur every time we have a major outage or a severe blackout, or extended outages from storms, you start to see that there is a need to begin to counter this with improved infrastructure."

Reed said expanding and modernizing the power grid could also help in modernizing the way in which energy is produced. He said a better power grid would allow room for a more diverse energy portfolio.

"Most of our grid today, it was built decades ago," Reed said.  "The majority of our energy resources were local to where the electricity was used, and it was primarily fossil-based."