The Wall Street Journal published a sobering article this week detailing the fragility of the U.S. power grid. A recent report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimates that coordinated attacks on just nine of the nation’s 55,000 electric-transmission substations could effectively bring down our entire energy network. In short, there are about 30 substations that play a disproportionately important role in sustaining the nation’s power grid. If a critical mass of these substations goes down, so does the grid.
The report is not without its dissenters—some question the susceptibility of substations to an attack and take issue with FERC’s conclusion that only nine substations would have to go down to compromise the entire system. Still, there appears to be a general consensus that the U.S. power grid is overly reliant on a small number of substations.
This report serves to underscore the primary advantage of “distributed generation” (i.e., on-site or local energy generation through renewable or other sources): its decentralized nature. Distributed generation is characterized by smaller, local or on-site power stations providing users with valuable “off-grid” energy. Instead of routing energy through the domestic power grid, facilities that comprise a distributed generation system will distribute energy to more localized “microgrids” or directly to end users. For this reason, the military has been one of the early adopters of distributed generation and microgrid technology.