Outage in India could be a harbinger for the rest of the world

August 3, 2012

National power grid, India (credit: Surya Prakash.S.A./Wikimedia Commons)

An estimated 670 million Indians were affected by this week’s grid outage (see “How Power Outages in India May One Day Be Avoided“). But it would be a mistake to think that India is uniquely vulnerable to large-scale grid failures, Technology Review reports.

The growing complexity and reliance on the electric grid in both developed and fast-growing countries is making stability tougher to achieve.

India, in particular, operates its grid with one very large handicap: insufficient power. With demand for electricity regularly outstripping supply, grid operators ration out power by periodically cutting service in some areas. The situation has been made worse this year by a drier monsoon season, which has prompted northern farmers to run pumps and draw more power than usual.

India’s disaster illustrates the perils of relying on manual control of the grid as these systems get overtaxed and more complicated. To make grids around the world more reliable, operators need to incorporate more advanced control technology, which can help grids recover gracefully from disruptions.

Grid operators in the United States are increasingly using automation to manage demand-response programs that lower consumption at big power users at peak times. These types of technologies as well as microgrids (see “Microgrids Keeps the Power Local, Cheap, and Reliable“) stand to make electricity grids more reliable as more renewable resources come online and weather-related events, such as heat waves, strain generating resources.