A general view of submerged cars on Ave. C and 7th st, after severe flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy, on October 30, 2012 in Manhattan, New York. The storm has claimed at least 16 lives in the United States, and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. US President Barack Obama has declared the situation a 'major disaster' for large areas of the US East Coast including New York City, with wide spread power outages and significant flooding in parts of the city.
MINNEAPOLIS - As millions struggle with Hurricane Sandy's wrath in the dark, their issues shine a bright light on the problem of our nation's power grid.
A record number of people are dealing with power outages as the storm continues to impact the east coast and some of that could have been prevented, say experts.
Massoud Amin is a University of Minnesota professor and expert on infrastructure issues, especially as it pertains to electricity.
In some cases, Amin says investments to our power grid are not keeping up with our demands placed on it.
"What it means in plain language is we are milking the cow dry," said Massoud Amin, Ph.D.
No more is that the case than out east.
From power lines to water pipes, he says the east coast has one of the oldest infrastructures in the country and it's making the impact of Hurricane Sandy even worse.
Amin has consulted with both private organizations and the United States government on power grid and security issues.
He has been analyzing power outage data since 1980 in North America during periods when conditions were normal and weather or other disasters were not a factor.
"They experience 240 minutes of outages per customer per year," he said of the east coast.
He says Minnesota fares much better.
"We live in the most reliable part of the country," he said. "In the Midwest and upper Midwest, we experience 92 minutes of outages per customer per year."
In contrast, he says Japan experiences 4 minutes of outages per customer each year.
So how can we make our nation's power grid better?
In part, look to the 35-W bridge. During construction after the collapse, Amin says sensors were placed on the new bridge that indicates when things are not going well.
"Those sensors sense ice buildup, chemical changes and the cost of those sensors was less than half of one percent of the total cost of the bridge," he said.
Amin advocates using the same technology on the nation's power grid. He also believes constructing "micro grids" in neighborhoods that could serve as backup when power is lost.
He admits these improvements will cost tens of billions of dollars, but he also believes making these changes will save money in the future. Demand for power in the U.S. grows about 1-percent a year, he says.
Some of the "smart grid" technology is already in the works across the country, including here in Minnesota, he says. But Amin believes more has to be done.
"I think it would be prudent for all of us to think about everything we take for granted," he said.
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