From the New York Times2nd Day of Power Failures Cripple Wide Swath of India

It had all the makings of a disaster movie: More than half a billion people without power. Trains motionless on the tracks. Miners trapped underground. Subway lines paralyzed. Traffic snarled in much of the national capital.

On Tuesday, India suffered the largest electrical blackout in history, affecting an area encompassing about 670 million people, or roughly 10 percent of the world’s population. Three of the country’s interconnected northern power grids collapsed for several hours, as blackouts extended almost 2,000 miles, from India’s eastern border with Myanmar to its western border with Pakistan.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, India’s largest electrical blackout in history shows how much it has grown. Such a widespread outage means the Indian electrical system has grown large and has become thoroughly interconnected. Not so many years ago the system had too many locally unreliable parts to have brought about such a widespread failure. (And even now, as the article pointed out, “many people in major cities barely noticed the disruption because localized blackouts are so common that many businesses, hospitals, offices and middle-class homes have backup diesel fuel generators.”)

The article highlights some of problems that emerge with local political involvement in interconnected power system operations. Regional dispatch areas may have been able to avoid the blackout through coordinated use of rolling blackouts, but regional power system managers are appointed by local political authorities and are loathe to cut off their area’s customers for the benefit of power consumers elsewhere.

It is easy to say that they should have better procedures in place, but the United States power system has had its share of large-scale blackouts. Here, as elsewhere, experience provides the lesson and motivates improvements.