Think an attack on our power grid is no big deal? Think again!

While engaged in my usual pastime of surfing the net for interesting news stories, I ran across an article in the Daily Caller titled, “Lawmakers, Experts Say Texas Power Grid Vulnerable to Nuclear EMP Attack.”

As it happens, EMP’s are a particular interest of mine and I live in Texas, so I had to read it.

I’ve been reading and writing about EMP’s for several years and knowing that Texas has its own grid and has been considered the least vulnerable among the regional grids, this came as a surprise.

It’s not that I thought that our Texas grid was safe from targeting; it’s that most experts had considered the Northeast region (including D.C. and New York City) to be the most likely target for an enemy. Of course, that’s only when considering a single target. There’s no reason to believe that an enemy wouldn’t target multiple regions simultaneously to guarantee the most serious damage to the country.

The article notes that “Six members of the Texas state Senate, including members of both parties, are co-sponsoring legislation that — if passed — would begin taking steps to secure the state’s electric power grid from an EMP attack.

State Sen. Bob Hall, a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 83, said that An EMP attack would be the “most debilitating to critical infrastructure because it has the ability to disrupt, disable and irreparably destroy electronics over a wide geographic area.” The bill was introduced on November 14, 2016, and as of April 11, 2017, is “pending in committee.”

But some are still skeptical. I read the comments following the article and found the usual responses to the subject of an EMP threat to the U.S. Many people either don’t believe the catastrophic effects that a high-level enhanced EMP could have on the country, or they choose to underestimate how long it would take to recover.

One commenter stated (several times) that his generator and stash of gasoline would power him through the blackout. That statement alone displays his ignorance of what he may be facing.

Depending on the generator, the load it supports, and how long it ran each day, you might get a month of operation before you run out of gas. And don’t forget that the gas stations won’t be pumping fuel since their supply trucks won’t be running. In a month, pretty much everything will be out of fuel. Even backup generators for government and hospitals will eventually run out of fuel and without water and waste pumping, things will be getting dicey.

The problem is that a month isn’t what we’re worried about. What worries experts are many months before some semblance of normalcy can return.

But wait, you say, we are more resilient than that, we can attack the problem immediately and with our usual American grit and toughness, we can quickly return power (even partial power) to our citizens.

Before you relegate my rantings to “Chicken Little” level, you might want to read this report by the U.S. Department of Energy, titled,” Joint Electromagnetic Pulse Resilience Strategy (July 2016).” You’ll note that the report is less than a year old – this is not old news.

This is only one of several studies that have been instituted to assess the damage that could result from a high altitude EMP-enhanced (HEMP) nuclear device. They are not discussing science fiction; our enemies, including Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are known to have the capability to strike us with one or more HEMP devices.

As noted earlier, we aren’t worried about a few weeks; we’re concerned about many months.

What could force a long term episode without power is damage done to our large power transformers (LPTs).

Here’s a portion of what they’re saying, “The primary threat of EMP is damage to unshielded digital equipment, including Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, control systems, protection relays and systems, communication systems, smart meters, intelligent switches, etc. EMP can induce damaging voltages on electronics that create rapid and total failure. Internal and external insulation may also be at risk, particularly at voltages below 69kV. Although distribution transformer testing indicates that EMP is not likely to fail distribution equipment protected by surge arresters, unclassified data on the impacts on large power transformers is limited. This is of particular concern given the long lead time for construction, transport, and replacement of these larger units.

Those large power transformers are what I’m referring to.

The following is from a Department of Energy study titled, “Large Power Transformers and the U.S. Electrical Grid.”

“Power transformers have long been a major concern for the U.S. electric power sector. Failure of a single unit could result in temporary service interruption and considerable revenue loss, as well as incur replacement and other collateral costs. Should several of these units fail catastrophically, it will be challenging to replace them.”

“LPTs are special-ordered machineries that require highly-skilled workforces and state-of-the-art facilities. Installation of LPTs entails not only significant capital expenditures but also a long lead time due to intricate manufacturing processes, including securing raw materials. As a result, asset owners and operators invest considerable resources to monitor and maintain LPTs, as failure to replace aging LPTS could present potential concerns including mounting maintenance costs and unexpected power failure.”

Another complication that makes timely replacement difficult is that there is little standardization in these large transformers. Each is built to specific power company specifications and those specs depend on the unit’s placement within that company’s power scheme, thus LPTs are built to specs, and can’t be “pulled from inventory.”

And the following is also taken from the same document:

“Large power transformers are essential critical infrastructure to the electric grid, and are huge, weighing up to 820,000 pounds.” 

“If large power transformers are destroyed by a geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) electromagnetic pulse (EMP), cyber-attack, sabotage, severe weather, floods, or simply old age, parts or all of the electric grid could be down in a region for 6 months to 2 years.”

“This is because the USA imports 85% of them, there is competition with other nations for limited production and raw materials such as special grade electrical steel, a high cost ranging from $2.5 to $10 million dollars (including transport/installation), and they are custom built, with long lead times to design, bid, manufacture, and deliver, with components depending on long foreign production and supply chains.” 

“The United States large power transformers are aging faster than they’re being replaced, and even more are needed for new intermittent renewable generation, which has the potential to damage them if not integrated carefully into the existing electric grid. There are possibly tens of thousands of LPT’s in America, mostly built between 1954 and 1978, so an increasing percentage of these aging LPTs will need to be replaced within the next few decades.”

And these aging LPTs are the ones most vulnerable to a HEMP attack.

The United States has limited production capability to manufacture LPTs. In 2010, only 15 percent of the Nation’s demand for power transformers (with a capacity rating of 60 MVA and above) was met through domestic production. Even though domestic production of LPTs is expected to improve in the near future, we’ll still be dependent on foreign equipment for the bulk of our needs.

This essay is directed to LPTs and damage to them results primarily from one specific type of electromagnetic radiation. Here’s a brief primer on EMP radiation:

EMPs come in three forms, classified as E1, E2, and E3 and they propagate instantaneously – at the speed of light.

E1 pulses are the most devastating and the ones affecting automobiles, planes, cell phones, computers, and anything containing an IC (integrated circuit) chip. I’m intentionally excluding that type of radiation in this piece; it can easily justify an entire essay on the E1 pulse damage alone.

E2 are almost benign compared to the other two. It is most like typical lightening. Typical surge protectors will protect from E2 pulses.

E3 are the pulses that directly threaten the long-line power industry and the ones most likely to damage LPTs. E3 pulses are the only type generated during CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) solar storms. This is the one that this essay concentrates on since it is the one that attacks transformers integral to the power grid.

Let’s all hope and pray that we’re never hit with a HEMP attack. Life, as we know it, will change dramatically and we’ll be lucky if some normalcy is returned in months and not years.

It’s deadly serious, don’t take it too lightly.

You can read the four-part series I wrote on the catastrophe that could be caused by EMPs HERE.

Garnet92.



Categories: General

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8 replies

  1. Great post, Garnet. Once again I applaud you for your efforts to make people aware of the danger that looms.

    For those who are doubtful, just remember the chaos that reigned after hurricane Katrina happened even though there was fair warning it was coming and it was an isolated event. People became helpless and thousands would have starved had it not been for the abundance of rescue efforts and donations that poured in. But what happens when we’re all pretty much in the same boat? Who will be the rescuers and donors then? We can disagree on the extent to which it will be a catastrophe but we should all be working to prevent it, just in case.

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    • You’re right to note that the devastation was limited to a relatively small geographical area. Help was immediately streaming in from surrounding parishes and states. To get a better picture of what a grid collapse covering several states would be like, you’d have to multiply New Orleans’ troubles by 100 times easily.

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  2. Garnet, that guy with the generator might be worse off than he thinks. Does his generator have a computer chip in it? If so it might just be worthless if the chip fries.

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    • Absolutely right, VM. Glad to hear from you – you doin’ ok?

      Yeah, I didn’t go into the devastation that will be caused by the E1 pulses since this bit was primarily about the E3 effects on our power grid, but you’re right, most everything with IC chips will likely be fried by E1 pulses – including his generator.

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      • Doing pretty good. Married life agrees with me after 5 years of widowhood. Both daughters doing fine. Cannon still shoots well and mg34 still costs too much to shoot often. And my generator does not have a chip. It has a flywheel and can be run with wind or water if necessary by disconnecting the motor.

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      • Glad you’re keeping it together, VM and glad that married life is treating you well. Say hello to your lovely wife for me.

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  3. Because electricity is, for the most part, quite reliable, most people don’t give a second thought to being without it. It’s simply too catastrophic to comprehend, so they dismiss it as tin foil hat nonsense, when it definitely is not.

    After the power’s been out for a few hours, people start to get antsy; after a few days, they’re going to get hungry because they don’t have much food stocked in the pantry. What they do have in the fridge and freezer are going to ruin, so now they’re angry at the waste and hungry. After a month of no power, it will be like Mad Max and the battles will rage.

    Nobody is prepared, nor is it very practical to overly prepare when we have no way of knowing how long it will last if it does happen – either by solar or enemy. So what do we do? We rely on our government to prevent it. Not the greatest plan, since they’re clearly not prepared either, but what else have we got?

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    • It’s not really something that we can completely prepare for – the best we can hope for is that we can survive for a month or so. Past that, as you say, it’ll be like Mad Max.

      The guy with the generator I mentioned hasn’t considered that if he’s still running it after a couple of months, it’ll be heard and that will when the gangs of foragers hear that it’ll be like a dinner bell, they’ll descend on the sound of the generator ’cause they’ll know that he still has “stuff.”

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