20th Anniversary of the 2003 Electrical Grid Blackout

20th Anniversary of the 2003 Electrical Grid Blackout

It’s the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Northeast blackout. On August 14, 2003, the largest blackout in North American history occurred. It impacted 50 million people – 40 million in eight U.S. states and 10 million in Ontario. Areas affected extended from New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey west to Michigan and from Ohio north into Ontario.

How did it happen? The task force investigating the blackout identified three causes:

  1. Inadequate understanding of the system: the utility where the failure began did not conduct necessary studies and used operational voltage criteria that did not reflect actual system behavior and needs.
  2. Inadequate level of situational awareness: the local utility and Reliability Coordinator failed to ensure the security of its system after significant unforeseen contingencies caused by the failure of monitoring and alarm systems.
  3. Failure to trim trees: because trees weren’t adequately trimmed, transmission lines made contact as they sagged from overloading, causing them to trip.

These causes can be summarized as the 3 T’s – training, tools, and tree-trimming.

The blackout drove a change to the country’s energy policy, resulting in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This legislation created NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation) and the Regional Entities to act as regulating bodies for the electric grid. They collectively developed standards for utilities to maintain reliability.

These standards have helped the power industry meet the 2005 goal for day-to-day reliability.

This inspiring video from NERC describes how far the industry has come since that day in August 2003.

HSI is proud to have been a part of the process by providing one of the 3 T’s – training – to system operations, distribution operations, power plant operations, and other organizations that provide power. Our Emergency Operations and NERC standards programs pioneered training in the industry.

Our NERC certification training program has helped certify thousands of operators and remains the leading certification program in the industry.

From our start as a small training and compliance company in 2002 to our current position as an organization providing comprehensive training to all areas of a utility or power organization, HSI continues to drive employee development for our clients.

We know the story of the power grid is not over – it’s recreating itself with renewables, distributed energy resources, security, battery storage, and more. At HSI, we’re excited to help “KEEP THE LIGHTS ON”!

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