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Feeling the heat? It could get worse this summer — and the summer after

June 10, 2022

Two-thirds of US could experience rolling blackouts due to war, climate change; ASU expert shares answers

Summer is officially still a week away, but triple-digit heat is already here in the Valley of the Sun.

The season is usually associated with higher temperatures, pool parties and cookouts. But this year, it might also be associated with something more unpleasant — rolling blackouts.

Experts are pointing to three major factors why more blackouts are expected in the next few months: post-pandemic energy demand, climate change and war.

Summer is also when electricity use is at its peak. But this year might be more brutal than ever. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation recently alerted the public that two-thirds of the U.S. could experience summer blackouts due to demands on the power grid and higher-than-normal temperatures. That could translate to multiple wildfires, dry hydrological conditions and even, in some extreme cases, death.

Man with glasses and beard

Anamitra Pal

ASU News spoke to Anamitra Pal, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, for answers.

Pal’s research focuses on data analytics using time-synchronized measurements, artificial intelligence applications in power systems, energy modeling in smart grids, and critical infrastructure resilience. He believes the world will get through this summer, but long-term thinking is required for the future sustainability of electrical delivery.

Here’s what he had to say:

Question: Experts are predicting that this summer will be especially brutal and that the United States and the world will experience more blackouts than in the past because of three things: pandemic, climate change and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What’s your reaction to this prediction?

Answer: In my opinion, climate change and the war with Russia have a higher potential to disrupt power supply during the summer of 2022 in the United States. The society as a whole appears to have come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic, and unless something entirely unforeseen happens — which I am not ruling out completely — its effects on the power grid should be minimal.

Q: Why do these issues – pandemic, climate change and war – pose a potential threat to blackouts?

A: The pandemic has resulted in a shifting of the load from the commercial and industrial sectors to the residential sector; however, the net load has not changed drastically. Moreover, due to the closure of many commercial and industrial offices, the total load of the (power) system has even decreased in many states. The pandemic did result in load forecasts being thrown off and created issues with voltage regulation and challenges in scheduling maintenance. However, in the last two years, power system operators have become familiar with these problems, and so going forward, they should be able to plan around them.

Climate change has been and continues to be one of the major threats to the modern power system. Most power engineers run their systems considering extreme-but-expected operating conditions. However, as climate change causes the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as massive hurricanes and wildfires to rise, it is quite possible that the available resources will be insufficient to manage the system under such extreme-but-unexpected circumstances. For example, power utilities usually plan for the summer based on prior historical data. Consequently, if an unprecedented heat wave event occurs this year, the system may not have sufficient reserves to support the higher-than-expected demand.

The war between Russia and Ukraine is the most uncertain of the three threats, and the hardest to plan for. The most likely impact of this war on the power grid of the United States will be in the form of cyberattacks. Russia has been deemed responsible for cyberattacks in the past, including the one in Ukraine in 2015 that resulted in power outages lasting one to six hours for approximately 230,000 consumers. If something similar occurs in the United States during this summer, the consequences will be much more severe.

Q: Let’s focus on the United States for a minute. One would think that the nation has an excellent infrastructure in place to deal with issues like these. Do we have a problem with our infrastructure or power grid?

A: The North American power grid is not only the world’s largest machine but also one of the oldest continuously operating machines in existence. As such, many of its components are not designed to withstand the impacts of climate change and/or cyberattacks. A complete overhaul of the electric power infrastructure is also not possible due to its sheer size and the fact that all other critical infrastructures rely on it for their successful operation. This is the main problem that we are facing right now.

Q: What are some short- and long-term solutions to help address these issues?

A: The way forward would be to make strategic, targeted interventions that can fix the issues that arise without negatively impacting everything else. As an example, through a recent grant funded by the National Science Foundation, I am leading a multidisciplinary team that is studying the interactions between wildfires and the electric power infrastructure. The objective of this grant is to prevent/reduce wildfire damages and minimize power outages by improving wildfire risk assessment and management options beyond existing frameworks and paradigms.

Similarly, adding more renewables into the system will have the dual impact of reducing climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions while also increasing the nation’s total power supply. A judicious hardening of key segments of the power grid, such as at the grid entry points, can significantly minimize the negative impacts of a cyberattack.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: To solve problems that are outside the domain of normalcy, it is necessary to think of solutions that are out of the box as well. How successful we are, only time will tell.

Top photo illustration courtesy of Pixabay

Reporter , ASU News


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Juneteenth celebration to highlight Black history, excellence

June 10, 2022

ASU Library co-hosting June 19 event at Arizona Heritage Center

Juneteenth is a federal holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the June 19, 1865, announcement from a Union Army general proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas.

It’s much more personal than that, however, for Jessica Salow, Arizona State University’s assistant archivist of Black Collections.

“It’s a celebration of my ancestors, a celebration of being Black and a celebration of understanding my place and our place as Black people in this country,” Salow said.

The ASU Library, along with the Arizona Historical Society and the Black Family Genealogy and History Society, will present a Juneteenth celebration June 19 at the Arizona Heritage Center.

The free event, which will run from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., will feature live performances, speakers and educational tables.

ASU News spoke to Salow about the event, the meaning of Juneteenth, the commodification of the holiday and why President Joe Biden signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law is so important.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


Jessica Salow

Question: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like Juneteenth isn’t widely known outside the Black community.

Answer: That is absolutely true. In some of the circles I’m in, a lot of people are just like, “What is that? Why is that significant?” Growing up, I never learned about Juneteenth in any of my textbooks or lessons. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started hearing about it, that I started understanding why it was significant.

Q: Given that lack of knowledge, how significant was it for President Biden to make Juneteenth a recognized federal holiday?

A: Within our educational system, (President Abraham) Lincoln is talked about, his Emancipation Proclamation and stuff like that. And then they end it at that. But then people need to realize and understand that when we’re talking about Juneteenth, it was two whole years later after the Emancipation Proclamation and these people still didn’t realize and understand that they were free. So, yeah, I think it was really significant.

I hate to say this, but I really do think a lot of people didn’t understand or realize the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. until he got a holiday. So, I feel like when you shine a spotlight … and this is unfortunate that the federal government has to come in and do these types of things, but when it gets brought up by the government people pay more attention to it. But there also needs to be more education about why Juneteenth has always been significant for the Black community and for folks to understand why it was celebrated and continues to be celebrated and deserves to be respected by people outside of the Black community.

Q: Given the recent events in the country and in particular the shooting in Buffalo where 10 Black people were killed, how important is it that we take a moment not just to celebrate Juneteenth but think about what it means?

A: The whole situation in general, regarding Black people and their safety … there’s always going to be a contingency of folks in the country who feel like they have superiority over folks. And for us to break that, for us to have the ability to teach people a different way or have people understand that we’re not the enemy and we’ve never really been the enemy, I think is really significant. We continuously have these events happen year after year. This is around the same time that George Floyd was murdered. It feels like every year around this time something significant happens within white supremacist circles or these types of oppression circles that brings to light why we need to continue to fight, why we need to continue to have a seat at the table and a voice in understanding why white supremacy is the way that it is and how it infects not just our minds but our systems.

Q: How does the Juneteenth celebration fit into that?

A: It brings community together. It brings all of us together into an understanding that we’re human beings, too. We just have a different skin color. It’s easy for the winners to tell their story, but it’s even more significant for the people who are oppressed to tell their story. And it’s even more significant for people who are not in those circles to understand how oppression affects folks. So, to be able to highlight our history, highlight our people, is significant because it brings more attention to the events that are happening, why we need to be more critical about our thought process, our teaching, and understanding why we as a society need to come together in order to support one another.

Q: We’ve seen companies try to commodify the holiday with Juneteenth products like ice cream. What do you think about that?

A: For me, I don’t want it to be a commodity. Unfortunately, that stuff is out of my control because I don’t control capitalism. I don’t control those systems that are in place in order to make a profit. My intent and purpose for this event on the 19th is to bring people together and celebrate and highlight community.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the event?

A: Through our planning committee, we want to make sure that as many Black faces are at the table as possible to highlight this event. It’s important for us to make our voices heard. When we do this event, we are highlighting Black speakers and we’re highlighting Black businesses. We’re also highlighting the need to get out to vote and to understand the significance of your place, not just within your community or your family, but in this state as well.

We need to also realize and recognize our history. I think that’s what we’re doing first and foremost is to highlight and recognize our history, to bring folks in who can talk about and highlight that history and give it significance of why it’s important to us. We would like it to be a yearly event. We want to start doing a yearly celebration of Juneteenth in a way that would celebrate and highlight Black excellence, love, joy, and make sure Black people know they always have a place, and that we will do all that we can in order for them to tell their stories.

HOW TO HELP: For those interested in supporting the Community Driven Archives Initiative Fund, please visit the ASU Foundation webpage.

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News