The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes. ... Most substations are unmanned and often protected chiefly by chain-link fences. Many have no electronic security, leaving attacks unnoticed until after the damage is done. Even if there are security cameras, they often prove worthless. In some cases, alarms are simply ignored. ... the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the country’s interstate power system, began requiring that utilities better protect any substation that could disable parts of the U.S. grid if attacked. ... FERC’s new rule, however, doesn’t extend to tens of thousands of smaller substations ... The grid was cobbled together during the electrification of the U.S. over the past 125 years. It is a fragile, interdependent system generally more vulnerable in summer when it is running closer to its limits. It is also at risk during low-demand periods, when power-plant operators and linemen perform maintenance. Fewer plants and transmission lines operating mean fewer options for delivering electricity during emergencies.
In the industrialized world, the power grid is so reliable that we take it for granted. But in India, where blackouts are a sad fact of daily life, being connected to the grid is no guarantee of reliable electricity. In a 2015 study of villages in six Indian states [PDF], for example, the vast majority reported having fewer than 4 hours of electricity per day; nearly half of the households that reported having a grid connection nevertheless had effectively no electricity. Chief among the reasons they cited were poor reliability, quality, and affordability. In many parts of the country, even middle-income households still find themselves held hostage to frequent power cuts that can last anywhere from a few hours a day to most of the day. Those who can afford to often install diesel generators, an expensive and polluting option. ... Then, too, roughly a quarter of a billion Indians, or one-fifth of the population, live without access to any electricity at all ... The Indian government has taken a traditional approach to electrification, which focuses on building up generation, transmission, and distribution. But there’s a better way that’s more affordable, more efficient, and much faster and easier to deploy.