We've seen the vulnerability of the power grid to a variety of potential disasters over the years. Kamikaze squirrels and raccoons attacking transformers, errant Mylar balloons hitting power lines, cars hitting poles for a variety of reasons, but it all adds up to one thing: no power. That's all bad enough for its sheer randomness, but what do you do when the power goes out...because the power company planned it that way?
That's just what's coming up in the latest case for power protection measures, as Consumers Energy told Grand Rapids-area residents about a planned power outage, slated to hit this Saturday at 2:30 a.m. The outage is expected to last no more than 30 minutes, and will allow Consumers Energy to repair transmission equipment at the substation near Kalamazoo Avenue and 68th Street.
Reasonable enough, but what some may not know is the Grand Rapids area—indeed much of Michigan—is currently in the grip of arctic air, with lows at that time projected to hit somewhere in the neighborhood of seven degrees, before the wind chill is considered. This means that everyone not engaged in burning wood for fuel will lose access to furnaces for a half hour in the coldest part of the night in the middle of a Michigan winter.
Despite this, Consumers Energy doesn't expect that the outdoor temperatures will “...pose a significant disruption” for its customers. Further, Consumers actively warned customers of the temporary shutoff via notification postcards, even delaying the outage a half-hour to accommodate a business customer's request.
This may be the most thoroughly clear reason to have at least some level of power protection in play. If the power goes out in summer, it gets sticky and unpleasant. If it goes out in winter, it can be potentially lethal. Sure, a half-hour power outage will almost always be nothing more than an inconvenience for all but the most extreme situations like hospital respirators, but Consumers is clearly forgetting about Murphy's Law, which notes that if something can go wrong, it will. A half-hour without a furnace might result in chilled noses—it won't even spoil food in the refrigerator—but if that half-hour turns into an hour, or turns into three hours, the problem only gets worse.
Thus we see that a simple if rather pessimistic view of the world makes it clear that power protection mechanisms—be they full generators or even uninterruptible power systems like those used to buy a little extra time to shut down a computer properly—allow businesses and regular consumers to protect themselves against the nearly-inevitable loss of the power grid.