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Apagón: A blackout sweeps South America

Derek HasBrouck, energy and utilities expert at PA Consulting, comments on the recent power outage that affected many in South America, and discusses how US protections that have been put in place since 2003 can help others to prevent widespread outages.   

Read the full POWER Magazine article here

Authorities have initiated a far-reaching investigation into an unprecedented blackout that on June 16 hit a wide swath of South America—most of Argentina and Uruguay, and parts of Paraguay—affecting tens of millions of people.

The massive blackout—apagón—is thought to have originated in a disturbance that affected two high-voltage lines, Colonia Elia Y Mercedes and Colonia Elía-Belgrano, which run from the 3.1-GW Yacyretá hydroelectric dam near Argentina’s border with Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay, to the Salto Grande 1.9-GW hydroelectric dam further to the south on the border with Uruguay, and then to Belgrano, a Buenos Aires suburb. The disturbance—which authorities have since suggested was a short circuit—activated the protections of power plants, which went out of operation and produced the blackout.

Derek said that an outage of such a magnitude is unlikely to happen in the U.S. “The conclusion to draw is that the high-voltage transmission system across the four or five South American countries needs to put in place many of the types of improvements the U.S. made after the 2003 Northeast blackout. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection operating standards took a very good, industry-led approach in the U.S. and added some additional detail, rigor, and compliance/enforcement tools to it to improve both the situational awareness of system operators and the robustness of the system’s design and maintenance.”

He predicted: “Given the sort of relay and control failures that seem to have occurred in Argentina, portions of these types of improvements are likely to be identified as needed changes.”

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