Power Outage Questions From A Newbie

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Hello, all. I'm fairly new to this forum, but spent all last year reading every authoritive source I could find on Y2K. So, as a layman, I understood that it was primarily a chronic complex system problem, in spite of my rollover amazement.

Are we now past any significant risk of failure in the power grids?

I understood predicted risks in that arena to be based on anticipated problems caused by: 1)embedded date sensitive chips; and 2) non-compliant systems interconnecting with compliant; and incompatibilities of interconnecting systems which had been made compliant thru different not-compatible 'fixes.'

Is the embedded chip issue now obsolete, or can there still be serious malfunctions in utilities caused by these chips at this, or a later, date?

Is it safe to assume that any power grid-related computer systems are now *generally* operating normally as they connect to other systems in their respective NERC grid(s)?

I know many of us are still watching for the effects of date-related problems in billing/accounting systems, etc. - but apparently (please correct me if I'm wrong) these are not likely to produce power outages...

As I say, I'm a layman, and may not have stated the questions in clear terms. Hopefully well enough to obtain answers from others who know more.

For what it's worth, I did prepare, and am sharing the mixed emotions that many of us are now feeling. I suppose it's a normal human process of downwinding from having invested money, time, work, and endless research in preparations for a specific threat which (so far) has not materialized.

Thank you. Best to all!

-- Jim Young (jyoung@famvid.com), January 04, 2000



There were never many date sensitive chips in utility embedded systems to begin with. Our testing showed less than 3% and almost all of them handled the date rollover without a problem. We only had to repair a few out of more than 7000 devices. This is one of the reasons other countries didn't have a power problem. They simply looked at our results, replaced the ones we proved to be bad, and didn't have to spend any money.

The power grid is amazingly resiliant. The major threat to the grid are the crews who work on it every day and make dumb mistakes. Everything is set up to avoid failures caused by humans - dates are a secondary consideration in any case.

The grid connections are mostly based on criteria that have nothing to do with dates. The intertie could care less about what year it is - the only thing it needs to know is current load information.

There will still be power failures as there are every day. There won't be any widespread failures due to Y2K. Anything bad that was going to happen to the grid would have already happened.

Regards, Jim

-- Jim Cooke (JJCooke@yahoo.com), January 04, 2000.

Try Rick Cowles' site--energyland.net--for his take on things. His position pre-rollover was that it might take a few weeks for bugs to reach critical mass. But check it out for yourself.

-- Thinman (thinman38@hotmail.com), January 04, 2000.

Thanks, Jim & Thinman (it's over there, too). Appreciate it!

-- Jim Young (jyoung@famvid.com), January 04, 2000.

I tend to agree with with Jim: as far as power itself: the grid failures that were likely (due to control problems) appear to have been avoided - Good!

Second level problems were a the power plants themselves: and might not have been immediately at 00-01-0000-00:01 GMT apparent. Losses and failures (lube oil sensors, control systems, valve position sensors, etc.) would have been local to each power plant - and might/or might not - have tripped off different plants at different times. By now, if they were going to fail, or could not be maintained manually, they would have tripped the plant.

Tertiary effects include delivery of natural gas, oil, coal, parts and supplies, etc if the troubles would have been long-term. They (the troubles) were certainly not long-lived as far as social breakdown goes, and with few disruptions, alternative ways are avialable, and so these level issues are minimized.

So power appears in good shape.

-- Robert A Cook, PE (Marietta, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), January 04, 2000.

Dear Mr Cook,

Thank you for an insightful response to Mr Young's question. Power generation is well out of my field as well (I am a chemist). By the way, I'm working on how to spell, too.

-- james hyde (hydesci@gte.net), January 04, 2000.


There have been a few secondary problems at our plants but they have been mostly monitoring systems rather than control systems. Most of these were solved by either rebooting or manually entering the date.

I've been somewhat amused at all the talk I've seen about running things on manual. The majority of our hydro plants are unmanned and run completely automatically. We don't have enough operators in the system to run these plants manually.

The one thing I was most concerned about was natural gas, which I thought had the greatest potential for failure given the complex upstream nature of gas pipelines. As it turns out, the system has worked very well.

Regards, Jim

-- Jim Cooke (JJCooke@yahoo.com), January 04, 2000.

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