Episode-1443- Jeff Yago on the Vulnerability of our Electrical Grid

Author and Consultant Jeff Yago

Author and Consultant Jeff Yago

Jeff Yago has over 30 years experience in the solar and alternative energy field and has appeared on this show before. His hundreds of solar and emergency preparedness articles have been published by Backwoods Home, Home Power, Energy Users News, and Mother Earth News.

In addition to Jeff being a licensed professional engineer, and certified energy manager, he is also NABCEP certified as a solar professional and a licensed electrician. Jeff lives with his wife Sharon in a solar hoem they designed and built in 1994 near Richmond Virginia.

The current Sept issue of Backwoods Home Magazine features his article about the concerns for national electric grid reliability and why we should not rely on emergency generators.

Jeff feels that there are far more problems related to grid reliability than the public is being told, and few electric utilities are doing anything to harden their systems even though they are well aware of the increased risks.

Join Jeff and I Today as we Discuss…

  • What has changed that has increased  concerns over grid reliability
  • How is the U.S. grid organized and administrated – who is in charge
  • What have recent congressional committees done to address this issue
  • What types of risks are there these days have there been any attacks already
  • What can we do, why should we not relay on just a generator

Resources for today’s show…

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23 Responses to Episode-1443- Jeff Yago on the Vulnerability of our Electrical Grid

  1. Chris Laszlo

    Listened to last weeks podcast and a call for figs. This site has a swap board with more kinds of figs than you’ll ever want. I’m growing Chicago Hardy in Evansville IN and even after last years cold, they are still producing this year.

    http://figs4funforum.websitetoolbox.com

    • BonnieBlue2A

      @Chris Lazlo, I too have the Chicago Hardy planted in NW Missouri. It froze back to the ground following the -41F last winter but still managed to come back and produce late this Summer and early Fall. A protected southern exposure no doubt helped.

  2. This was a kick in the butt for me. Really need to get our act together have slacked off way to much.

    And ya know it’s really important to keep up on things like laundry dishes and regular things. I tend to let things slide because I’m so busy working and building the homestead.

  3. I’m still catching up on episodes but funnily enough this morning I decided to run all my morning lighting off SLA’s, DC lights and small inverters. I also checked the water in my flooded cells, fired up the generator(s). Winter has a way of waking you up.

  4. Richard Hauser

    Question for Jack and others in southern locations where extreme heat is an issue, during these times, how warm is your pool and or well water? i.e. could you use those sources to cool your house during extreme circumstances?

    Per Jack’s mention that heat is easier to make than cool, is anyone using absorption cycle refrigerators or AC? I think that is what the Amish use for refrigeration besides ice houses also I know they are popular in campers.

    • Pool water is going to be very warm. Upper 70s low 80s for sure. Even the lake waters around here are quite warm. There are a few man made lakes down the road from here that we went swimming in back in I think June or something like that, and it wasn’t remotely “cold”, but just darn good to be in.

      I can’t speak about well water, we aren’t on well but rather a co-op well water source. The water coming out the tap is quite cool (mid 60s is my guess).

      • Richard Hauser

        So if the pool is in the low 80s, and the weather is in the 100s, you could use a radiator, a low power pump and fan to cool a room down to near that temperature. Obviously easier and more wasteful to use well water to do the same, but possible for a single room.
        I do something similar, in that in the summer, I have an exhaust fan, but only allow inlet air thru my basement which cools it down to the 60s before coming upstairs to displace my existing hot air.
        Akin to one of Jack’s early podcast suggestions of preheating water before a water heater by running a good black hose onto a rooftop, in the summer you could run well water though a radiator in one room to cool that room mostly for free. Then when the power goes down that system would act as a backup.
        The question is about running the numbers to examine your well water temp and your water usage to see if it makes sense. If the well water is in the 60s, and you AC your house down to the 70s then it should be a net gain. If you pump a lot of water for irrigation or something then the gains could be significant and as a second side benefit, it would raise the water temp up a couple of degrees before entering your water heater, so no downside other than some initial expense and space requirements.

      • Where I live it doesn’t work like that. Maybe where jack is. More like upper 80s for temperature.

  5. A problem with landlines is that in most cases they do not go back to the Central Office(CO) anymore which has full battery and generator backup. They mostly go to a fiber or copper neighborhood hut or in the gound man hole which only have battery as a backup for 8 hours. If it is an extended outage then the telephone companies will dispatch techs to run small portable generators to charge the huts. In a long or wide extended outage there would not be enough fuel or enough generators to charge the whole telephone network.

  6. It only took a couple of near misses from hurricanes for us to be two weeks without power, then a few weeks later another ten days without power. I believe Jack lived here in Jacksonville FL and he knows just how stinking hot it gets here especially after a hurricane passes and a high pressure weather system always moves in afterwards. I have a generator and learned its main use was like a big version of a battery backup for your computer – it buys you some time to get your affairs in order before everything goes dark. Also, because it’s so quiet (nothing is quite like the silence of a major power outage) your neighbors will loathe you for the noise your generator makes at night so it’s best to leave it off if you can. While not much could be done to handle the humidity, we appreciated having a house built before the air conditioning era. And like that era, we just had to slow down and pace ourselves from daybreak and going to bed at sundown. I have a Petromax and a few Aladdin mantle lamps but they run so hot they only got used when a lot of light was needed. Invariably it would bring passers-by to my porch inquiring how I got my power back. Fortunately it was all friendly. The people around me were great and there was some epic barbecuing going on to save what food they could. after that was no longer possible, local dumpsters filled up and stank really bad. After that it was packaged not so healthy pre made foods but we burned a lot of calories clearing debris. Cold showers were actually welcome but I learned to obtain good castile soap since most soaps, shampoos, and detergents don’t work as well without hot water. Those little battery powered spray bottle fans were treasured. No one around me has a pool but even though the hurricanes never technically hit us the tons of debris everywhere made pools a mess so relying on that for water or cooling is probably not a good idea. Here’s something that proves the thing about whole house generators. A relative had one for a large house on the river. It worked long enough to roll down the motorized storm shutters but failed long before those heavy things had to be rolled back up. That had to be done manually. Long story short, it gave me a real appreciation for how people first lived in this old 1925 house. It had no AC before I had it installed when I got the house back in the 90s. Those storms also prepared me for when that cheap unit burnt out awhile later and it took me years to save for a new one. Living without AC or heat for that long is a real eye opener too. It’s not fun but it’s doable and I learned to deal with it.

  7. SCADA: I was in IT in the power industry up until recently. Everything reported in this podcast about SCADA and its vulnerabilities is absolutely true. While I have only had insight to a few SCADA implementations I can tell you Security was absolutely ignored in one case and an after thought in another case. And even when vulnerabilities are acknowledged the cost to mitigate them is staggering. I agree with Jeff when he says we will have to suffer a few system attacks before anyone takes action.

    Battery inverter / Charger: I am looking on Steven Harris’ solar1234.com site for a SH approved device like Jack mentioned he has in his closet. I can not find one. Is it somewhere else in the SH eco system? I have a 4 battery system with a 1200 watt inverter to use just as described on the show. The inverter has no built in charger at all. I use a separate battery tender but I don’t leave it on all the time as its so simple I doubt its ability to not over charge. Any info on a good inverter with built in charger would be most appreciated.

    As always love the show and keep up the good work Jack.

  8. You have to get a computer controlled charger that cuts back charging to off when the battery is fully charged. You need to go to Steve’s site battery1234.com and I imagine he would say don’t get the inverter and the charger combined because if you loose one you loose both.

  9. I have been a utility SCADA(system control and data Aquisition) engineer for the last 9 years. A lot is being pushed now by the regulators to increase security. My company is heavily involved with meeting these standards and I would say we are not all quite as vulnerable as Jeff made it out. To be fair, this varies by control area, and if your local system operator does not want to enforce the fed’s criteria, well, then there is no teeth to the rules. Also, they have some power to make their own rules.

    Here is a quick and somewhat simplistic explanation of the hierarchy, if Jeff covered this forgive me but I missed it:

    When you are a utility company you own certain assets such as generation or lines. These need to be managed and dispatched to meet customer load while accommodating maintanence. Sooo, you pay money to joint the local power pool run by a system operator. You then pay to run a communications channel from every substation (power line switching station) and power plant back to that system operator.

    The system operator has a big fancy control room where they manage and balance the output from the plants, across the available transmission lines owned by a number of member utilities and through the substations to the load centers. They also do things like when a line needs to be taken out for repair, they adjust generation so power does not need to flow across it before switching it out of service. They are also the main body that enforced(or not) whether member utilities comply with a whole variety of security standards.

    I do not mean to contradict anything Jeff said, just clarify. Also, we are talking about the big power lines, not the little ones that run along the street.

    • To expound on the hierarchy of the electrical system: FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) empowers NERC (North American Reliability Corporation) to enforce standards on all participants in the Bulk Electric System (BES). NERC sets standards for Reliability Coordinators (RC’s such as the TVA, NYISO, ERCOT, PJM, SPP etc…) who are responsible for a wide area view of the BES to help mitigate issues before they become problems. Standards are also set for Balancing Authorities (BA) who have a narrower view but must comply with directives from the RC and monitor Transmission Operators (TO) within their footprint. All BAs & TOs must comply with the RC’s directives and guidlines.

  10. I’ve read Yago’s work for some years – thanks for having him on. Right now I and another long time listener are building a homestead and definitely are working to mitigate the electric grid instability by going off grid. Of course my land is so rural when the power goes out it tends to stay off…. Thanks again for the great show.

  11. I work for a small municipal utility company that also has its own generating plant. Since we sell power to the market I have to be a certified Transmission Operator System Operator. I initially disagreed with Mr. Yago about the vulnerability of SCADA since our SCADA is isolated from the internet and our other servers. However, after talking to our engineer discovered that this is not the case for most larger utilities though it would not be too terribly hard to implement. The real threat to SCADA systems would seem to come from international states that can sponsor a custom hack. However, what people should really consider is that 6 guys with shotguns and synchronized watches could take out the grid if they had the correct substations & targets.

    • When you say take out the grid Mark. How big of an area is that?

      • Potentially most or all of the grid. It depends on various factors but if a certain number of transformers are taken out (as simple as shooting the insulators) it can cause a cascade effect of protective relays taking out transmission lines and generators tripping offline. Now ERCOT and the Western Interconnection are separated by HVDC (high voltage direct current) lines so they could withstand something happening in the Eastern Interconnection but they depend on the HVDC ties because they do not generally have enough generation to cover load. After the event blackstart generation is brought online and ‘islands’ established then under direction of the RC and in coordination with other RCs the islands are tied together rebuilding the BES. Of course, that is after the damaged equipment is replaced or repaired. So power could be re-established in the islanded areas within a few hours of the event but could take quite a long time (weeks) in other areas.

  12. Curious, can you run off your inverter circuit / battery bank WHILE the charger is on and connected?

    Meaning right now I have my charger hooked to my 4 Interstate SRM-29 Deep cycle batteries and plugged into an outlet so it keeps them charged all the time. My Whistler Pro-2000W inverter is also wired up to the batteries.
    When the power goes out, I unplug the charger and switch on the inverter and connect things to the inverter that need power.
    What I’m wondering, is what happens if I leave the inverter powered on things running though it, while the grid power is up? Is that safe or practical to do that, or should I continue to disconnect and switch off as I have?

    Thanks for any input!

    Mick

    • Richard Hauser

      That shouldn’t be a problem and is actually the way that many better UPSs work. The only downside is inefficiencies of converting and then inverting. The upside is you have really good isolation from the mains current. This is really nice if you ever get over voltage spikes which regular UPSs just pass through. I wonder if someone (or me) should do a video on converting old UPSs to use external batteries for home use. I was thinking about this as Jack was talking about using golf cart batteries as big UPSs often run on 48V, put out 3000W and can be picked up cheap on the used market. I justed checked and saw one for $250 on eBay with no batteries that I think would plug right onto a golf cart and both charge the batteries and give you perfect 110V. Others may do both 110 and 220V. Some of the large UPSs actually have plug points to add external battery packs on. If you got one of those you could leave it in your garage and use it as a charging station for the golf cart and then when the power dropped it would just start pulling the power back out to run whatever you had plugged in to the 110V side.

    • Great info. So the point I never really got around to, if I need to break out the generator to get the batteries topped off again, I can hook up the charger to that 120v power to charge the batteries, while I’m still running lights off the inverter?

      Thanks again!