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Super Bowl Organizers Try To Prevent Power Fiasco

Smart grid technologies are among the tools helping planners prevent another Super Bowl blackout.

Soon we'll see how well New York/New Jersey planning officials took heed of the power outage that occurred during last year's Super Bowl in New Orleans.

During and after the 34-minute outage and game delay on Feb. 3, 2013, conspiracy theorists took to social media in droves. They blamed everyone from stadium officials to National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell. Some speculated the power was cut to stop the momentum of the Baltimore Ravens, who were leading the San Francisco 49ers 28-6 early in the third quarter when the lights suddenly went out in half of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Ravens prevailed 34-31, and an "abnormality" in one of the power systems" was blamed for the blackout.

In recent weeks, New Jersey's largest utility provider, Public Service Electric & Gas Co., has said numerous measures have been taken to avoid any such outage at this year's game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

A third power line has been added to the electrical substation at the Meadowlands sports complex. Even if two other lines fail, the third would keep the game going. Further, officials have simulated game-day stress on the system to ensure the power supply will last for the duration of the game and the halftime show. Officials say MetLife Stadium anticipates using 18 megawatts of electricity, or about what it takes to power 12,000 homes.

The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event almost every year in the US. Last year's power outage did more than delay bedtime for many of the more than 108 million viewers that evening. It underscored the fragility of the nation's electrical power infrastructure.

[The electric grid isn't all that needs attention. Read: Why US Must Invest In Internet-Connected Infrastructure.]

As organizers work to ensure there won't be a repeat event on Sunday, bigger problems in America's power grid remain. Much of the primary equipment is old and wasn't designed for the way it's used today.

New smart grid technologies such as sensors and two-way communications networks are enabling grid operators to identify problems rapidly and avert or isolate outages and blackouts. Utilities can juggle demand more easily and even lower their costs. In addition, smart grid technologies make it easier to integrate renewable power into the grid.

It's fast becoming a national imperative to upgrade power-delivery systems to meet higher performance requirements and support the nation's economic growth, productivity, and security. A nationwide smart grid would drastically reduce the possibility of outages, though research by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has estimated the cost of a national upgrade at up to $476 billion over 20 years.

In the long run, the EPRI said, implementing a nationwide smart grid would likely bring trillions of dollars in benefits, including:

  • Ensuring "high levels of security, quality, reliability, and availability of electric power"
  • Improving "economic productivity and quality of life"
  • Minimizing "environmental impact" while maximizing safety levels

Characterized by a two-way flow of electricity and information between utilities and consumers, a nationwide smart grid would deliver real-time information and enable the near-instantaneous balance of supply (capacity) and demand at the device level. A national smart grid would integrate and enhance other electrical elements, including traditional upgrades and new grid technologies with renewable generation, storage, increased consumer participation, sensors, communications, and computational ability.

Ultimately, football fans -- and even those who view the Super Bowl solely for commercials -- will be watching to see if lightning will strike twice (so to speak) and power systems mysteriously fail again. The potential consequences -- and associated conspiracy theories -- should be enough to prevent any such outages from occurring at a Super Bowl ever again.

Find out how a government program is putting cloud computing on the fast track to better security. Also in the Cloud Security issue of InformationWeek Government: Defense CIO Teri Takai on why FedRAMP helps everyone.