This Miami Herald article discusses the large outage earlier this week in Florida, caused by the combination of a substation fire and a switch that was supposed to trip to isolate the substation, but did not. In particular, note the comments from Colorado State University engineering professor, and emeritus GridWise Architecture Council member Wade Troxell:
Tuesday’s outage also reflects the system’s complexity, said Wade Troxell, an engineering professor at Colorado State. “The electric power grid is like the world’s most complex machine. No one person or entity controls or operates it. It operates much like a living organism.” …
Troxell, the Colorado engineer, said some countries are now building a ”smart grid,” which is less centralized and a greater diversity of power makers, such as solar units in homes. “That helps manage the system to prevent cascading from happening.”
Of course, decentralized and diverse power generation is only one part of the smart grid story. Redundant electronic digital remote sensing can provide backup trips if, as happened here, the main switch fails to trip. I’d be curious to know if it was a mechanical failure or an electronic failure (but that’s just me being a smart grid geek …).
One thing the reporter missed in Wade’s comments is that the smart grid is here, right under our noses, and even in particular in this case. As I mentioned in my original post on the outage, Florida Power & Light has implemented Silver Spring’s smart grid technologies. None of the main media stories has been sufficiently detailed to indicate whether their digital remote sensing technologies are embedded in substations such as this one, and whether or not the presence of such technology (if installed) actually mitigated the harm and reduced the time it took for the power to be reinstated.
That’s an important thing to notice in this outage: for an outage of this magnitude, service was restored pretty quickly, in about five hours overall.