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Whys and wlierefares’ Of
power s)iskm blackouts
An examinatioti of the factors that increase the
likelihood and ihe frequency of system failure
Serious power interruptions or blackouts occur at the rate 15 minutes or longer and are caused by the outage of
of about 35 .per year in the United States, or about once facilities operated at 69 kV or more. Less severe outages
every ten days somewhere in the country. And about half must be reported if they exceed half the annual peak load
of these, on the average, exceed 100 MW and involve of an affected system.
45 Ooo customers at a time. In fact, the number of Table 1 summarizes these reported outages for the years
reported outages appears to be increasing tit a rate of 6 1971 through 1976, and Fig. 1 illustrates the increasing
percent per year. On the other hand, that rate is about number of reported outages. By grouping the data, it is
equal to the average growth in served load over the same possible to gain further quantification of their severity.
period. Further, despite all the publicity, and the damage Among the data shown are the amount of load inter-
that has been caused by individual incidents, the major rupted by each outage, and the length of time before all or
rep.orted interruptions represent only about 100 GWh per most service was restored. The least load interrupted was
year of unserved energy. Compared with the 2 miltion 2.4 MW and the most was 3632 MW.
GWh generated in the U.S. during 1976, this loss amounts If the 211 outages are plotted graphically, the data seem
to just 50 parts per million-a remarkable record. to be distributed in a Gaussian or normal fashion (Fig. 2).
What causes blackouts? In general, a combination of Finding a set of ccordinates that permits a straight line to
circumstances that stresses the network beyond its represent the data, as was done here, is helpful because
capability. Stressful events-including natural then it is possible to interpolate readily between points,
phenomena (such as severe storms), human error and and to venture a modest degree of extrapolation. Based
associated equipment malfunction-combine with on Fig. 2, the following statements can be made with
predisposing factors such as inadequate design, some certainty.
weaknesses in maintenace or testing procedures, and defi- l Ten percent of the reported outages, between three
cient system-protection schemes to ieaken the bulk- and four per year, exceeded 2900 MW. Each involved
power system and lead to its eventual bteakdown. Uncon- over 300 000 customers.
trolled cascading results and causes a failure that must be l One percent of the reported outages, or one every
contained in a portion of the.system so that it does not ex- three years, exceeded 2900 MW. Each of these involved
pand to unmanageable proportions. , over 1 300 000 customers.
Can blackouts be avoided? Probably not entirely. But it l One-third percent of the reported interruptions, or one
is encouraging to note that New York City experienced an every ten years, can, be expected to exceed 5500 MW and
initiating event on September 26, 1977, that may have involve over 2 500 000 customers.
been more severe than the one that precipitated the July The New York City blackout of July 13, 1977, which
13 blackout two months earlier, yet the system coped by occurred after the period covered by these statistics, inter-
shedding only 200 MW of load for one hour. No uncon- rupted 6000 MW of load and involved about 2 725 000
trolled cascading took place. customers. Note that New York City was also affected in
Careful analysis and reports of each interruption can the 1965 blackout that involved much of the Northeast.
determine and correct, to’some extent, the root causes, A similar analysis uses the length of time required to
such as component or system desigri deficiencies, opera- restore service to customers. These data do not follow a
tion and maintenance deficiencies, or inadequate infor- normal distribution, but rattier appear to be well fitted to
mation and display. Action can then be taken to assure a compound exponential distribution (Fig. 2). Again us-
that these and similar generically related conditions are ing interpolation or extrapolation, the following
corrected. Thus, once the contributing factors are iden- statements can be made.
tified and corrected, tomorrow’s power systems will be l Ninety percent of the reported outages, or on average
even less subject to load interruptions than today’s 31 per year, required more than one hour to restore all
systems are. service.
l Sixty percent of the reported outages, or on average 21
Power interruptions per year, required more than one hour to restore all ser-
For the past several years, most power companies in the vice.
United States have been required by the Federal Power l Ten percent of the reported outages, or between three
Commission (now the Federal Energy Regulatory Com- and four per year, required more than eight hours to
mission) to report outages of 100 MW or greater that last restore all service.
l One percent of the reported outages, or one every
three years, required more than a week to restore all ser-
D. N. Ewart General Electric Company vice.

0018-9200/78/0400-036$00.7501978 IEEE IEFE spectrum APRlt 197R

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given to security rather than economics. for example) when Federal Power c! ommlsslon 8urlng 1971. or more levels of alert volved an estimated 1500 MW. state of restoration. and alert level is entered. The stralght line representi a log+ompdund exponentlal probablllty function. Economic operation has been abandoned. There are obvious hazards in measured against the total load served. or equipment malfunction-perhaps an overstressed generating plant triping off after its response 1971 31 7 664 t to the initial state of alert. 1978. for Over the years. I. 0 Extrapolating to l/3 of 1 percent of reported outages. tions-and blackouts in particular-are very significant Usually. customers. The integrity of the bulk-power system was main. Summary of ower lnterru tlons reported to the itiating event (a first lightning stroke. Almost simultaneously. vice for 211 reported lnterruptlons (Table I). would lead back to a state of alert.1976 the system has been weakened by the loss of transmission lines and/or generation plants. Although the loss is infinitesimal when of response at all times. but overresponse also can be damaging. 48). bablllty dlstrlbutlon. back to a state of normali- minimizing their frequency and severity. of avoiding an emergency diminishes sharply as each new Thus. power interruptions do occur frequently. progression is from the initial alert stage to a when measured in terms of their social and political im. was due to a massive ice may be passed through in succession as increased weight is storm. a state of alert exists following an in. In general terms. as the ordlnate because of the wide range of magnltudes The number 01 lndivlduels effected Is ssvsral times larger than the number Of Involved. emergency. There is no doubt that the initial probably more often than most people realize. 100 ooo- 10 ooo- B 2 E looO- z- 9 i g loo- z E! I-2 f log r= l- 100 ! Percentage of occurrences greater than ordmate Percentage of occurrences greater than ordinate Ewarl-Whys and wherclores of power syrtem blackouts . the formalism is helpful because it results in is shed under controlled conditions and all efforts are more structured thinking. by taking into account both the security of the network The longest outage shown. The stralght line represents a log. Increased attention is being applied to ways of tion that quickly leads. operators must provide an appropriate measure interrupted.normal pro. [2] Cumulative probablllty of tlme to restore nearly all ser. Although there has operator has separated (islanded) the stressed parts from not been a concerted effort to develop exact definitions of the rest of the system. and. some load these states. underresponding. restoration. various authors have described the example. tNo( reoorled prior to 1072. In the face of limited and often conflic- amount of power involved. Two. The probability tained over this period. power system may experience a transition from the so. 1972 26 4 206 1 450 000 1973 37 14 551 9 419 000 1974 32 9 455 2 694 000 1975 40 5 730 2 432 000 [l] Cumulatlve~probablllty function of magnltude 01 load 1976 35 9 632 3 602 000 dlsconnected In 211 reported Interruptions durlng the years 1971-1978. either in the form of in. and economic factors. a directed toward preventing a widespread blackout. the human operators. in turn. operators would make judgments to restore all service. established and called normal state into states of alert. and depending upon its perceived once every ten years an outage might require a full month degree of seriousness. and the number of customers ting data. Customers Interruptlons Involved dependent natural events (such as a second lightning Year Reported Involved W4 stroke). They can alert states are the most difficult and demanding for be severe when considered in terms of their duration. The system is thus exposed Total’ Number of Total Load Number of and vulnerable to further stress. During this stage. p. which lasted I6 days and in. The logarlthm of the magnltude Is used ‘A customer Is s bllllng center such 8s a residence or an lnduslrlal Complex. ty. three. states that a power system passes through following a Progression to a state of emergency can occur when the disturbance (see Mar. Sometimes progression from the restoration state leads back to an alert state when restorative steps do not suc- Sequence of steps ceed. in a few cases. in extremis. power interrup. Under emergency conditions. leading promptly back to a restora- pact. An unsuccessful attempt at resynchronization.

Geography A power system bound by geographic features such as water or mountains. In these until more orderly restoration procedures can begin. a dearth of formal.percent imbalance between generatfon and loaB will result In a frequency change of about 1 Hz. Cigarette smoking and obesity are con. and thus unable to interconnect with neighbors on all sides. there is only a IO-percent chance that 12 or more would occur in this geographical area. outage rates. and a greater-than- average frequency of lightning storms. for ex. and we have to rely on our own observation and conjecture at this point. uence Is usually interru ted by automatic or manual ac- A predisposing factor is not to be confused with an in. in order to maximize the power densi- ty of the system. courses and materials available from the outside. restore transmission. and. was in- volved in 12 of the 211 interruptions summarized in Table I. All these factors contribute to higher If generation cannot be made equal to the load that re. This practice. Georgia. and earthquakes.S. system capacity as a measure. for example. tornadoes. adverse predisposing factors increase the blackout occurs in an electrical Island only when the re- likelihood that the initiating event will lead to power inter. terrain not suitable for other purposes (such as over rocky and generally work toward relieving overloaded facilities ground or ravines) is another predisposing factor. malning generation Is not equal to at least the load re- malnlng after all load-shedding steps have been com- ruptions and blackouts rather than to a normal sequence pleted. exposure to lightning stroke increases. such as fires.3 percent of the installed capacity in the United States. and Canada) contains about 3. A outage. hurricanes. the danger successful and uncontrolled separation and/or loss of of fires or rock slides is increased. There are many events. is considered to be a strong predisposing factor to and operators. Peninsular Florida. and others than can be changed. tower- In a small percentage of cases. There is tor for diabetes. more difficult. mains following automatic load shedding. The system can then be said to be in extremis. Rather. no formal studies have been made to identify predisposing factors for power initiating event blackouts. This portion of the Eastern Interconnection (which links approximately the eastern two thirds of the U. must be considered a predisposing factor. on in-house and on-the-job training for its dispatchers ample. and visual inspection is load occurs. An IEEE Power Engineer- When one looks for causes of power interruption and ing Society Task Force on Operator Training has found blackouts. Pressure to locate transmission corridors on generation. Heredity is a predisposing fac. The fact that interconnections can be made only into northern Florida. Upon separation itiating event. the electrical island will shut down. that can remove all lines in a right-of-way for extended periods and thus expose the remaining network to increased . these measures are not footing resistances may be higher than normal. it is helpful to draw a parallel with the medical that training practices and standards vary widely from profession. par- sidered to be predisposing factors for heart disease. Of course. other factors would also be active here. intensive training available. Demography In densely populated areas transmission corridors often have to be compressed. The se- little or no control. Note that there are some factors over which an individual has [3j Sequence of events leading to a blackout. cases. and Alabama must be con- sidered a predisposing factor. Statistically. with several lines installed on the same right-of-way. supplemented where possible by training the occurrence of hoc procedures are being implemented to increase vulnerability. using total U. a 12. shed load if required.S. where the concept of “predisposing factors” utility to utility and that management largely has to rely has found use. or to be interpreted as the cause of an ( s t e 4). A history of high blood pressure. although unavoidable. even though compensating measures have been taken in system design and operation. would tend to have less inherent ability to withstand disturbances than a system not so constrained. of protective actions designed to contain the disturbance. To the author’s knowledge. it turns out that seven out of I I is the most likely number of reportable interruptions that will occur within that six-year period. Operator training One area that has been receiving increased attention is Predisposing factors the state of operator training. such as a salty atmosphere. t9 on before a complete b P ackout occurs.

or hydro turbines. that of the underlying system. Generating sources consist mostly of individual synchronous generators driven by steam. The transmlsslon network also serves to integrate neighboring power systems with the underlying system by forming an intercon- nection between them. gas. In radial systems.1 --Tielinetoneighbor +-I Load bus ferent voltages. The voltage level of each successive network Generating plant Large drstribution network is generally of the order of two times. these networks operate at dif. and their functional structure. The combination of multiple generating sources and several layers of transmission and distribution (B) Functional structure networks provides a high degree of engineered structural redundancy that enables the system to withstand single and most multiple contingencies without loss of service to any user. The primary function of the human operator. transmission substations. and ad- justing control parameters to maintain the desired quantity and quality of electrical supply over a long term. Network systems. Electric-energy supply must be provided continuously 24 hours a day. direct one-step reduc- tion all the way down from the transmission voltage L&L Transformer to the low-voltage-utilization level is common in large metropolitan areas. At the generating plants. The distribution system is similar in structure to the transmission system but any one network covers a much smaller geographlcal area. in which the voltage is stepped down in stages by several substations. energy is delivered directly to the transmis- sion system through a step-up transformer. and are tied together at substa- tions. is one of managing resources. and which is designed to provide redundancy in a man- ner similar to that provided by the power system. whether in a power plant or the central system’s control center. 365 days a year. larger and newer generating units are frequently tied to the hlgher-voltage networks. Distribu- tion networks may be fed from the transmission system. Automatic control systems require periodic maintenance and sometimes fail. and the resulting capacity of transmission circuits of the (A) One-line diagram order of four times. alternative sources may be available through switching arrangements to provide in- creased reliability. The human operator is particularly adept at respon- ding to abnormal situations where information from diverse but related sources must be integrated quickly to form a corrective strategy and to move toward a more secure operating condition. so the human operator is trained to take over some of Distribution centers Generating units Generating units these slower control functions and enhance overall system reliability. The illustration shows the way these elements are interconnected. For industrial the remaining levels. Although generation and load substations may connect to the transmission system at the highest voltage level or at any of the lower levels. The transmission system consists of several separate successive networks servicing the same geographical area.Power-system structure A bulk-power system consists of generating sources. However. radial systems are common. generally are used for all higher voltage levels. Superimposed on this physical structure Is a control and automa- tion system that is also highly distributed. He is thus an important and indispensable link at various levels and key points in the system. . (C) Automation and control hierarchy . at two steps above the utiliza- tion voltage. Another important function of the human operator is to provide a backup to some of the automatrc control systems. and a network of high-voltage transmission lines integrating the two. Most generating plants contain more than one generating unit. monitoring performance and reliability.

kV transmis- Islands. the second had gone above Elther the fault or the attempts at automatic Its operating range and was also backed off reclosure apparently created an electrlcal translent manually. over 90 s l o n Ilne. occurred on another unlt. At the tlme of the incl. voltage dc transmlsslon line llnklng the Pacific tent of thls disturbance. a 345/138-kV autotransformer trlpped on companled by severe voltage swings In Idaho and dlfferentlal and a runback from 450 MW to IO MW Montana. swlngs were experienced In Idaho durlng the period cess of generatlon over load In the area was now of hlgh frequency and a high-voltage dc tie to Van- flowing out over one 230. the system was almost back to normal wlth frequency oscillated between 59. One generatlng loaded 345kV transmission line when It sagged In. Breaker tripping results in the formation of from 59. The loss of the transmission circuits resulted ( s w i n g s ) a n d s u b s e q u e n t g e n e r a t o r u n i t shut- in 160 MW of load being cut off. t h e F o u r C o r n e r s lslandlng resulting rapld changes In generatlon also resulted scheme was not automatlcally lnltlated and separa- In coal pulverizer trlps and other mlnor problems.kV and two 69.4 Hz. About 40 per. The system operator autotransformer resulted In the . Automatic reclosure was unsuccessful. T h r e e m o r e 230. could not reopen the turblne valves fast enough to Case 5: In this case the high-voltage ac and dc recover. c o m p o u n d e d b y a d d l t l o n a l f a u l t s o f U. resulting In a frequency overshoot to 62. In the Northwest. Frequency valve at a nearby generatlng unit. Frequency lmmedlately rose to 62. A fault occurred on a parallel over. dent. The dc line remalned In service. Thls unit trlpped was back to normal within approximately 13 on low water level 20 seconds after the lnltlal fault. automatic lnsertlon of series capacitors on the ac tlng power.kV Ilne. between Utah and Montana.25 Hz Large voltage The clrcults falled to reclose successfully. related trlpplngs resulted In the formation of three connection that normally operates In Isolation.7 Hz Generatlon dropplng In the Northwest failed to and finally stabilization to 60. Three Islands were formed around the western cond later another false signal was received. Due relay protectlon system had been rerouted due to to an error In connecting generators to a generatlon nolsy transmlsslon. In the generatlon-deflclent Island wlth generatlon exceeding load by 30 per. load frequency rose to 61. Frequency rose downs. The rapld frequency were relatively heavlly loaded at the time. A number of other Case 3: This power system Is part of a small lnter. An ex. then 650 MW of load was automatlcally shed.3 Hz. operate because two relays had been Inadvertently cent of the system load was shed durlng the violent Interchanged.98 to 60.5 Hz.2 Hz. load. because of an error. However. 600 MW A false transfer trlp slgnal developed In the less generatlon than antlclpated was dropped. resulted In the formatlon of flve While deenerglzlng a section of 230. the power surge caused a swlng sufficient on some 230. of low boiler pressure.S.. to cause loss of the 500-kV ac Ilnes. which loop.kV tines Also. lines. minutes of the disturbance. frequency dropped to 59.13 Hz and splnning reserves levels slightly low but not critical. Despite Case 2: In thls case the power system was expor. a protective r o d .2 Hz. reconnected wlthln four minutes and most load An out-of-step relay In Utah Initiated separation was restored within 40 mlnutes. Southwest. frequency dropped to 59 Hz and about cent. A electrical Islands. An In- decline operated frequency trend relays that shed * advertent relay operatlon tripped both 500.kV demand) leads to sudden frequency variations Ilnes.8 Hz. In the eastern island. tlon exceededd load. 140 MW of load was lost. automatically wlthln three seconds but one-half se. where generatlon exceeded agaln cleared SIX clrcults. which also con Mlcrowave clrcults normally used as part of the nect the Paclflc Northwest to the Southwest. All but one line were restored of-power relay. the Increased electrical Islands and the isolation of entire sec- loading on the 138-kV transmlsslon lines and an tions from the overall system. sudden loss of the balance between ground wires on a transmission rlght-of-way generation (electrlcal supply) and load (electrical resulting In the loss of five 138.8 and 60. The frequency swlngs and t e r c h a n g e d r e l a y s . In the Northwest. malfunctions.kV lines dlng scheme dld not work as planned and separa- tripped 90 cycles later on receipt of another false tlon was accomplished on a backup rate-of-change- transfer trlp slgnal.kV line was out of service for of two generating units to hold the generation maintenance. plcked up under governor actlon. Trouble started when an airplane cut the static In summary. unit was backed off manually to relieve a condition to a tree. Over. tlon In the Four Corners area was accomplished by which delayed restoratlon. The power system was a backup rate-of-change-of-power relay. A total of 1650 MW of load was lost. dropplng scheme In the Paclflc Northwest. causing a loss of 510 MW to the system. Northwest to the Paclflc Southwest. In the generatlon-deflclent Southwest. the inltlal event. About 475 MW of load was Inverse tlme overcurrent thus formlng an electrlcal lost In the Northwest. which was followed by an undershoot to 56. which was operatlng under normal condltlons. which trlpped on couver Island was lost.g a p f l a s h e d o v e r t o percent of which was restored wlthln 30 minutes of ground. Case 4: This case Involved the western part of the loadlng. microwave system. One plant trlpped off due to Inadvertent lines between the Paclflc Northwest and Southwest clrcult-breaker operatlon.75 Hz. Presumably also because of the in- frequency swings. the Four Corners Islan- t o t r i p simultaneously. where genera- generatlng unit had tripped because of boiler pro. No further transmlsslon disturbances oc- that contributed to closure of a feed-water control curred and no addltlonal load was lost.kV lines because of constructlon.kV ac load. frequency rose to 61.Power interruptions: an outllne of case hlstorles Case 1: One 345. In the fell to 59 Hz because governors overreacted and eastern Island. which caused three 230. Temporary connections were In place system. then settled out to 60. ac- blems. Automatic load sheddlng was Clearlng the fault resulted In the loss of the hlgh- believed to be an Important factor In llmltlng the ex.

due to a faulty con- growth and change over the years. Electric Utility Systems Engineering events. rather than from the evitable interruptions in service. A 12-percent imbalance failure of the components.2 Hz. the erroneous indication on a supervisory control panel led an quality of power-plant control and performance. The operator may have networks. the ~ypr and sequence of events that might lead to and trinate new personnel and maintain the skills of experi. A crane Other factors boom made contact with a 138-kV transmission line. operation. sients. Ewart (F). of the initial incident with the crane all systems were final- tions are based on research on the mechanisms of power ly reconnected. frequency rose to By examining each interruption in detail valuable infor. generation is tirely. bear fruit in future years. generation at 60 Hz and the system load and power de- of the cases described. Such stress can come from unusually severe Donald N. alone or accompanied by an unfortunate com. load balance within this new island was restored and the lustrate how complex and varied cascading failures are. enced operators. System Performance Engineering. with the result that two more sec- Learning from history tions were isolated accidentally. Frequency in this new island dropped future outages. Within 25 minutes and how difficult their prevention will be. quency finally is restabilized at 60 Hz. (These descrip. Schenec- bination of unfavorable circumstances. Each of the complex systems that make up a bulk. island was reconnected to the system. the breaker closed into the tine three times before testing programs. 62.40) to il. lightning did not initiate this interruption. zero even if component failures were to be eliminated en.E. He modes of operation under conditions of extreme stress has been involved in studies of power system may be difficult to predict. perienced a frequency fluctuation. Hz and more than 2000 MW of load was shed. The crane boom degree to which protective systems can accommodate was still in contact with the line and. the generation- are included in the following (and in box on p. Apparently the rate of occur. restored to its previous operating level. and data col- lection and display systems-can be stressed beyond its design limit. and trip. Brief descriptions of typical interruptions to 58. and rhe Low voltage resulting from the severity and duration of political and economic environment. frequency declined to 59 Hz. protective relay.tisulai-ly simulator training that can be used 10 indoc. perhaps too heavily. resulted in the formation of an electrical island having jects. substation design practices. The human operator is ting advanced analysis and research on power relied upon. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is units wer-e taken out of service. and at the other. The balance between genera- leading to power blackouts is a fruitful area for study at tion and load was then lost when these two generating this time. RP 764. and the analysis of low-frequency and remain over 60 Hz for five minutes. 3).95 Hz. the operator to reclose the line manually. reestablished between power supply and demand. it is seldom feasible dynamics and control and in the application of pro- cess control computers for improving the security to carry design studies far enough to explore all of the and economics of power system and power pool consequences of a severe disturbance-even if these con.“) the subsequent electrical stresses lead to intolerable devia- Each case shows a progression from an initiating event tions from the standard 60-Hz synchronous frequency. Department. to intercede when these system performance. Although there was a violent lightning storm in pro- gress. from Union College. mation can be gained about conditions prior to the event The two islands were tied back to the interconnection two so that it may be possible to determine why the system as minutes later. addition. the aggressiveness of trol. tady. Resumption of service occurs when the fre-. including long-term power-system dynamics. In a series of successive steps.2 dynamic behavior of loads under conditions of off. manager. “Long-Term Power System Dynamics. failures sponsored by EPRI under Projects RP90-7 and When a severe fault condition develops in the system. In one.E. Power swings then currently sponsoring research on a broad range of sub. the locking out. develop during a severe power interruption. He is currently responsible for conduc- sequeuces could be predicted. but in another minute a large unit ex- designed failed to prevent loss of load. + iliaries. the more load than generation. N. and for studies of generator and excita- too little information or too little knowledge to act always tion system dynamics and power system tran- in the most effective way. General Electric Company.. III several. thoroughness and accuracy of design studies. the repeated short circuits caused two generating units The identification of specific predisposing factors carrying 750 MW to trip off.Y. if not most. The Department of Energy is sponsoring high frequency caused six generating units to go to zero Emergency State Control research that can be expected to load. communications. degree from Cornell These systems usually have many variables. advanced techniques in amont of shedding caused the frequency to rise to 62 Hz stability analysis. so their University and an M.S. The resulting in. The following account provides a realistic example of . An unsuccessful attempt was made to iesynchronize the island during this time. Further. In through various stages ultimately leading to an interrup. the imbalance between the reduced available tion of customer load (see Fig. Frequency dropped to 58. This nominal voltage and frequency. the state of operator training. and the balance is power supply-including power-plant control and aux. The Other predisposing factors fall into such categories as line opened normally under protective relay action but an maintenance procedures. encompassing power flow and stability of large-scale high-voltage ac and dc systems fait to respond correctly.E. thereby causing yet formation can be applied to reduce the likelihood of another separation. It is fair to say that operator training Prolonged short circuit deserves and will receive a great deal of attention in the future. between generation and toad results in a frequency change rencr of major power interruptions would not approach of about 1 Hz. load interruptions resulted from mand leads to consecutive generator shutdowns and in- the failure of the system to cope. The resulting oscillations. holds a B.