Power Outage in Washington, DC Highlights Need for Microgrids

Many parts of Washington, DC, including the White House, Department of Energy, other federal buildings and subway lines lost power on April 7th due to an explosion at a power station in southern Maryland. Although the White House experienced only momentary darkness before backup generators for the US Capitol complex took over, visitors had to be evacuated from a number of the national museums nearby. The event underscores how microgrids can and should be employed for grid resilience.

The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative said that the outage occurred when a 230-kilovolt transmission conductor broke free from its support structure, resulting in a disruption in power to related service stations. Local utility companies estimate that 9,400 customers in the area lost power, but federal estimates claim much higher numbers (28,000).

Federal officials state that there is no reason to suspect that the disruption resulted from any acts of terrorism or other criminal intent. Nonetheless, the event highlights how vulnerable our current electrical grid is to “run-of-the-mill” causes, such as downed power lines, equipment failure, and the like. (Larger-scale events, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks, have the potential for much greater effect.)

“This was a nice reminder of why we need microgrids and a resilient energy infrastructure,” said Rima Oueid, a Department of Energy senior policy advisor, who spoke the next day at the Military and Government Microgrid Summit in nearby Arlington, Virginia.