Strategic Implications of a Vulnerable Electric Power Grid

  • Lieutenant Colonel James D. Willson

Electricity is the lifeblood of our economy and the assumption of near continuous flow is taken for granted because the industry has achieved a remarkable level of reliability. But market pressure to find efficiencies coupled with weak government oversight is making the grid and society more vulnerable to the consequences of long-term power failures than they should be. At the direction of Congress, the Department of Defense is taking steps to isolate military installations from the commercial power grid to protect the capability to project military power. But increasing vulnerabilities to blended cyber and physical attacks could force the Department to deal with the consequences of large scale civil unrest and chaos domestically. Just as the Federal Aviation Administration regulates nearly all aspects of the aviation industry to counter the temptation to increase profits at the expense of public safety, the Department of Energy should regulate the power utilities similarly to ensure baseline reliability. However, long-term reliability will be achieved when renewable energy micro-grids are installed in thousands of communities and networked together similar to the internet in terms of scope, scale and reliability.