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Henry Grabar's Posts

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Why blackouts are more common than ever, in two charts

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Northeast blackout of 2003, the largest power outage in North American history.

For a while, this colossal disaster was a shared reference point for millions. We salvaged a tub of ice cream on the roof, hitched a ride home with strangers, directed traffic at a darkened intersection, and so on. Everyone had a story.

But a decade later, it seems a faded memory. For those in the affected area, recollections have been supplanted by disaster stories of Superstorm Sandy, and then some. Despite regulations tightened in response to the 2003 blackout, power outages -- particularly those caused by the weather -- are more common than ever.

New York City after Superstorm Sandy.
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New York City after Superstorm Sandy.

According to a new report released by the Department of Energy this month [PDF], there were 679 widespread (affecting at least 50,000 people) power outages due to severe weather between 2003 and 2012. The cost of these incidents has been calculated to be anywhere between $18 and $70 billion per year.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

There are two explanations for this spike. First, the grid is getting older. Second, the weather is getting (or at least has gotten, in the last 10 years) worse.

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Invention of the day: A bladeless wind turbine

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Mecanoo Architects

It may look like a giant airplane window strung with Venetian blinds, but this structure, designed by Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo and installed at the Delft University of Technology in March, is a model of a machine that would convert wind to energy without any moving parts.

Any mechanical moving parts, at least: The technology, developed by the Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science faculty at Delft, uses the movement of electrically charged water droplets to generate power. How does this work? A handy video explains: