King: What if our electric grid went down?

I woke this morning, rolled over in bed, and glanced at the illuminated numbers on my clock. After 6, still black outside, but time to get up. I stumbled toward the door, flipped the light switch in the hall, and turned up the thermostat to take the chill out the house.

In the bathroom, I used the flush toilet and filled the sink with hot water to splash sleep out of my eyes, then to the kitchen to put the kettle on for coffee and take eggs out of the fridge.

Each act drew power from the electrical grid.

Later in the day, I cashed a check at the bank, picked up a prescription at the pharmacy and put gas in the car. If the grid had been down, the bank and the pharmacy would have locked their doors and the gas pumps would have been inoperable.

We’ve all experienced temporary blackouts when a storm or car accident takes out a power line. Usually electricity is restored in less than an hour. When the power outage covers a large area, it becomes news. But even then, in a day or so, the lights are back on.

The U.S. electrical grid is a complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines. There’s a huge amount of redundancy built into the system. Knock out one part and another takes over. But the interlocking web of power plants, transformers and transmission lines that provides us with reliable electricity has an inherent flaw.

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