Depending on what level you are looking at them, electrical systems can either seem incredibly complex or almost shockingly simple. On a macro level, the organization of the power grid looks very basic. Essentially, it is just a set of major power plants, connected by powerlines to all the cities and towns of America, big and small. Some power grids can be massive, spanning almost half the length of the United States. On a smaller city level, the power grid looks a little more complex as powerlines dance and hang between buildings, residences, dart underground, connecting to power boxes and more.
So, when a blackout happens, where is the problem? What exactly is going wrong? Well, as it turns out, it all depends!
Every Blackout is Different
There is no universal cause for blackouts. They are all different! Usually, identifying the cause of a blackout is a simple matter for the power companies. However, there are cases when the cause is a little more elusive. In 2003, America was struck by the largest blackout in the country’s history. Homes from Cape Cod to Michigan to Canada lost power for over two days! Some remote locations went powerless for almost a full week. Tracking down the source of the outage was no easy task. As it turns out, there were TWO causes.
An initially minor problem was caused when tree damaged an overload powerline in Ohio. This SHOULD have caused an alarm to go off, prompting FirstEnergy Corporation to re-distribute power, however, a software bug had disabled the alarm system. This cause the problem to worsen and spread. What should have been a minor local issue turned into a massive multi-state, international catastrophe!
And this is just one example of how complex and unique power outages can be! Next time your power goes out for a few minutes, just remember, it could be worse!