San Francisco has seen power outages over the past few days that ended up knocking out a good chunk of the internet. Craigslist, AdBrite, Yelp, Technorati, and even the USAToday blog were unavailable for hours while PG&E scrambled to restore service.
Om Malik writes it spot on- the “dumb” power grid is the weakest link on the web. If there is no power, there’s no net.
According to North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) there has been a 50% decline in the capital expenditures by utilities over the last 15 years. The underground cables are crumbling. This report in Fresno Bee takes PG&E to task.
… San Francisco consulting firm KEMA Inc., which wrote in a report two years ago that PG&E distribution equipment “is getting older both in terms of average age and the percentage of very old equipment. … PG&E increasingly will have to become more proactive in addressing issues related to aging equipment.”
This is not just a problem with PG&E. Power grid across the country is aging. It is ironic because data centers/hosting business is one where US companies still dominate. Thanks to an abundance of long haul bandwidth and ample data center capacity, many overseas companies find it more secure to host their digital infrastructure in the US. Bebo might be big in Britain, but its websites are served up from 365 Main.
We need to obviously maintain the current power infrastructure, but we also need to move towards building a Smart Grid. Houses and appliances should be able to tap into the internet to check power prices and post and share usage data. Large regional power plants need to be augmented (and eventually replaced) by locally created power. Every building on the planet should have a solar panel on top and whatever extra power is needed should come from renewable sources like wind turbines, biomass, and geothermal.
A smart green grid is naturally immune to large scale disruptions like the one we saw in San Francisco and should appeal to the Homeland Security crowd for how much safer it is from terrorist attacks.