Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Sunday, August 17, 2003

The Question We Should Be Asking about the Blackout…

… isn't how it started, but rather why did it propagate so much instead of staying a local problem? In particular, why is the internet so much more robust than the power grid?

It isn't a matter of deregulation. We had these blackouts even with regulation. Besides. the example of the internet (or even the telephone network) shows that a deregulated system can be robust. The phones were back last Thursday after just a couple of hours. If we take the analysis of the notorious idiot Robert Kuttner:

Electricity can't be stored in large quantities, and the system needs a lot of spare generating and transmission capacity for periods of peak demand like hot days in August. The power system also requires a great deal of planning and coordination, and it needs incentives for somebody to maintain and upgrade transmission lines.
The above is true of telephone and data networks as well. Come to think of it, it's probably easier to store energy than data.

What is the difference between power and data networks? Is it a matter of multiple transmission paths? Is it a matter of excess capacity?

To return to Robert Kuttner, he also said:

The Enron scandal, which soaked Californians for tens of billions of dollars, was only the most extreme example.
I thought the real Enron scandal was that it pretended to be making profits. It couldn't have been much of a profiteer

Kuttner also said,

Much of the Southeast, by contrast, has retained traditional regulation — and cheap, reliable electricity.
Hmmm… If it were the other way around, you can be sure he would have gloated about the difference between red states and blue states.


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