Protecting Today's Electical Grid -- and Tomorrow's Smart Grid

Protecting Today's Electical Grid -- and Tomorrow's Smart Grid

Editor's Note: This is the latest episode of Energy NOW!, A video program dedicated to energy and environmental issues. You can see the full video at the bottom of this post, and archived episodes are online at

In 2003, a power line near Cleveland, Ohio sagged into a tree and shorted out. It started a cascade of failures across the Midwest, Northeast and parts of Canada, causing the worst blackout in U.S. history. Since then, utilities and grid operators have implemented new technology and procedures to guard against another major blackout. But the number of smaller power outages has doubled in recent years, costing the economy about $180 billion a year, according to University of Minnesota engineering professor and power grid expert Massoud Amin.

Anchor Thalia Assuras looks at cutting-edge technology that can prevent blackouts before they occur, efforts by the federal government to create a safer and smarter grid, and goes inside the high-tech nerve center of the country's largest grid operator to see how we're guarding our aging grid.

The Mix: Cyber-terrorism's Threat

A cyber-terrorism attack could cripple America's electric grid, shutting down everything from communications to transportation to law enforcement. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says such an attack could be America's "next Pearl Harbor." Are we prepared to protect our power system against a cyber attack?

Anchor Thalia Assuras talks with former CIA Director James Woolsey about the security measures being used to counter the threat and how smart grid technology could make the country more susceptible to attack.

Taking Charge: Living Off-Grid

Living "off the grid" may conjure images of counter-culture hippies or the old-fashioned ways of the Amish, but there's a growing movement of people who generate their own electricity and live in the lap of luxury without ever paying a utility bill.

Correspondent Patty Kim meets some of the estimated 180,000 families across North America using clean energy technology to become self-sufficient and enjoy all the comforts of modern life, off the grid.