Monday, October 31, 2011

A Call to Action -- Let's Design Resilient Electric Power Grids and Get Out of the Dark Ages

I am sitting in my Isenberg School of Management office, which, luckily, has power, heat, lights, and Internet, as does our building.

The messages of concern have been arriving from as far away as Italy and China, since the news about the devastating impacts of the huge, freaky snowstorm and the electric power outages with over 3 million without power in the Northeast of the US, has been spreading.

One of my Finance colleagues just heard that her home is not expected to have power restored until Friday (that would make it almost a week w/o power) and our neighborhood is also still without power and has been for over 36 hours (and the Amherst Town Manager lives on our street).

I had organized a tour of ISO -- New England for this Friday, which the students and I were very much looking forward to since we wanted to see the control room and hear about the latest initiatives in managing the reliability of electric power for all of New England.

Well, I just received an email that the tour is off (but we hope to reschedule), and the message from the ISO-NE University Relations Specialist said:

Good Morning Anna,

In light of this past weekend, I have been asked to reschedule the ISO tour to a later date, as members of our control room will be very busy this week dealing with the aftermath of the storm. Are you and your students available at a later date? If so, please advise, and I will work to coordinate another tour.

I apologize for any inconvenience!

Clearly, this devastating snowstorm in October, which has resulted in tree damage of a magnitude never seen before (and associated downed power lines), has created great pressures for demand and supply management of electric power and for restoration of electric power to the Northeast.

The impacts are huge to our economy and even educational institutions with the universities and colleges (and there are many of them) in western Massachusetts and even in Connecticut closed.

It is time that we focus seriously on making our infrastructure networks more resilient, beginning with out electric power grids, our transportation networks, as well as our telecommunication networks.

There has never been a time in which the skills of operations researchers, engineers, management scientists, and economists have been more needed but we also need the legislators and policy-makers to move forward on our critical infrastructure.

Perhaps, they can start by reading some of the books that we have written on networks, their sustainability, and fragility.

Time to move out of the Dark Middle Ages!