The global energy crisis.
Expanding weather disasters.
Near grid-scale power outages.
The 2022 international food crisis.
Our civilization is facing serious, growing, systemic challenges to the fragile network of tightly interdependent infrastructures, resources and supply chains that sustain our communities and our lives. And unfortunately, more extreme threats are waiting in the wings: “Black Sky hazards,” from a Carrington-class solar storm to megaquakes to extreme cyber-attacks, EMP and focused grid attacks. If we are unprepared, these hazards risk irreversible, systemic disruption of modern civilization.
The challenges are growing. Yet it is our world’s unprecedented, fast-growing interdependencies that have transformed these challenges into a serious threat to human continuity.
For simplicity, we can refer to this risk as The Interdependency Crisis.
The infrastructures, resources and supply chains we depend on work because today’s technology gives them immediate access and tight connectivity to each other. This, of course, is ideal for efficiency. It also makes it possible for new infrastructures, resources, software assets and countless related capabilities to tie in to the interconnected mix and, in their turn, become interdependent. The result is that the entire system tends to grow, and become increasingly complex.
To evolve. Like biological systems. Like us.
So here’s the bad news.
This tight, tech-enabled civilization-wide interdependency is very new. But what could go wrong?
As new elements merge into this interdependent system, the most effective of these elements gradually become essential to the operation of all the others. They stand, or fall, together. Meaning the whole system could fail. Our system. Our civilization.
Biological systems are complex, with many tightly connected components, making them a good analogy. How do interdependent biological systems survive?
In our bodies this risk is dealt with through sophisticated, organism-wide resilience systems that grow with the body. Immune systems. Unfortunately, our world doesn’t have one. And we can’t wait for the millions of years and failed evolutionary pathways it took nature to develop them.
If we wish to survive for long, we’ll need to build one ourselves.
The ultimate goal, of course, must be to develop an evolving resilience system that can operate and self-evolve within our interconnected economies, infrastructures and supply chains. Among other features, it will need to be designed to bring serious financial benefits that will encourage all elements of our economies to nurture and use it.
That’s a great long-term vision. But what is the starting point? What are immediate, clear priorities that can be addressed today? We have no idea how long we have until a crisis exceeds the threshold our interdependent infrastructures can survive. What can we do to at least prepare ourselves to handle the most serious needs?
Since this concern is inherent in the expanding structure of our civilization, the solution will, in turn, need to be built into that structure, so that it will continue to function as long as our civilization lasts – becoming, in fact, vital to the continuity of our civilization. Thus, by definition, it will need to become a global scale effort, with participation by most corporations and nations, and with built-in features enabling it to evolve and improve. But how do we get there?
The starting point: High priority Black Sky-class tools and capabilities
While the effort will need to grow rapidly, guided by a comprehensive systems engineering analysis of the most urgent priorities, we need a few key elements as a starting point.
One of the most obvious of these is the need for widely deployed, basic tools that can fill the most severe resilience gaps that must be resolved to enable meaningful recovery from a massive scale infrastructure collapse. Based on years of consultation among leading infrastructure corporations, government agencies and researchers from across the world, we have a good understanding of the most urgent priorities.
In a Black Sky scenario with one of the world’s major nations experiencing a grid-wide power outage, grid restart and restoration would be a task of weeks to months, not hours or days – far beyond the span of time that cell phone systems, internet services and related communications will operate. Yet restart and restoration in such a scenario will be impossible without the widest possible, reliable communications, spanning operators of all relevant power companies, their suppliers, and the operators and suppliers of the many sectors and commercial and government organizations with which the power industry is tightly interdependent.
To meet this need, a Black Sky-class communication system must be operable without connectivity to the power grid. It will need to be capable of interconnecting with any functioning emergency communication systems that any organization has available, and will need to be capable of forming a “backbone” that can interconnect all such systems.
This means it must be capable of high data rate performance, since it would become the one operating network tying together operators all across the outage region. In that regard, its RF component must have both unlimited scalability, and a capability for “spectrum harvesting” to efficiently utilize all available spectrum channels for the duration of the emergency. And, of course it will need to have built-in best-in-class cyber protection, EMP protection, and protection against other Black Sky hazard scenarios.
EIS Council has developed the BSX Emergency Coordination and Communication System to address this need, and has hosted deployment and multi-state testing of the foundational layer of that system, the BNET emergency communication system manufactured by RAFAEL Corporation. The system is now in initial deployment at some of the most critical facilities in a leading power company in the United States, and is in evaluation by other power companies and US government agencies. [Write to firstname.lastname@example.org]
Images | BNET, selected as the current best-in-class tactical communication system for the BSX mission, is available in multiple configurations.
In an extreme Black Sky scenario, with all infrastructures disrupted or shut down on subcontinental scales, operators in every major infrastructure sector and related stakeholders will be confronted by countless urgent problems and potential actions, vastly beyond the experience of “conventional” disasters.
Let’s assume, first, that a Black Sky-class emergency communication system is available. Nevertheless, even basic situational awareness will be difficult to acquire, especially for corporations and sectors outside the direct responsibility of an operator. In fact, even if an operator had such visibility, the array of urgent problems and relevant potential actions and their likely direct and indirect consequences will be far beyond any human capability to assess. Yet timely assessment of the current status of an operator’s system and all those indirect systems it depends on, and timely, carefully prioritized actions, will be essential for each operator to play their part in sustaining affected communities.
In such scenarios, the only hope for successful management of the chaos would be availability of an AI-enabled situational awareness and decision support system, in tight functional connectivity with the operating systems of all interdependent infrastructures, resource networks and suppliers, and capable of racing through countless action / consequence scenarios at computer speeds.
Meeting this need requires a situational awareness and decision support platform capable of interconnecting an essentially unlimited number of interconnected corporations and other stakeholders. The platform can then be structured to use interchanged functional information with AI-enhanced algorithms, providing operators in every sector with the visibility and the recommended, prioritized actions that will enable them to best sustain the affected population.
EIS Council is developing GINOM®, an innovative AI-enhanced Multicorporate Operating System (MOS), to address this mission. Now operating in early prototype mode, the system is designed to operate seamlessly utilizing any available servers. It is structured to provide multiple operators with unique situational awareness and decision support guidance, utilizing only functional information, with no need for proprietary or sensitive data from participating infrastructure corporations.
Image | Example of situational awareness
interface of GINOMprototype. Currently modeled: electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, and health sectors; traffic, rudimentary population center,
The platform has been structured to evolve into a national catastrophe resilience analysis, planning and real time decision support hub. With its access to real time functional information from all participating corporations, GINOM examines the consequences of all possible decision scenarios at computer speeds, providing each user with a customized, optimized action plan. [Write to email@example.com]
Grid restart operations (blackstart) in a large-scale grid outage are complex. Under ideal conditions the timeline required for such a process would be weeks, at best. During that period, most facilities will have no grid power available. Yet while most important facilities have provisions for emergency power, these systems typically are fueled to enable operations for hours, or at most a day or two. In the chaos associated with a large-scale disaster, refueling will be impossible for countless critical facilities. The needs for emergency fuel resupply will be massive, at the same time that fuel availability and transportation are heavily disrupted.
In other words, to play any role in restoration and recovery, facilities will require an interim LDU module as a power solution that can power a facility’s most vital instruments and assets for many weeks or longer. And given the ubiquitous need that exists for such modules, ensuring the power sources have no carbon effluent will be key to any realistic deployment.
The incidence of Black Sky events will be infrequent, so these systems will need to be designed to enable long duration storage without requiring fuel replacement or heavy maintenance.
Based on the need, if they wish to be capable of participating in recovery following a Black Sky scenario, significant corporate or government facilities of nearly any size will require LDU modules to supplement their existing emergency power capabilities.
These modules will typically be designed to provide auxiliary power, when needed, for a minimum of a month duration, with the size configured to support only a facility’s most critical instruments, sensors, valves and related systems. Since potential scenarios include EMP strikes, these modules must also be EMP protected.
To provide a rough sense of sizing, a range of 5-20 Kw would likely span the needs for the most essential instrumentation of most facilities. Where space is available, deployment of additional modules could allow for scaling.
After reviewing many different options, the Council is now recommending deployment of the GenCell liquid ammonia-based LDU Modules. These systems can meet the power requirements with fully enclosed, self-contained systems that can continuously supply power of the required levels for a month or, depending on footprint, for six months or longer.
These systems have no carbon effluent, require very little maintenance, and do not require fuel replacement when stored for months or even years. The size of such systems is typically comparable to the propane tanks often used for emergency power of a day or so at power substations. They are commercially available, and currently deployed at a wide variety of facilities in the US, Europe and elsewhere. [Write to firstname.lastname@example.org]
Image | The GENCELL REXTM Utility Power Backup Solution
4. Enabling Black Sky-Class Restart for the Evolving Grid
Blackstart restoration – the ability to restart the power grid from inside a blacked-out area without externally provided power – is becoming increasingly important for grid resilience. Indeed, for the extraordinarily wide-area blackouts that Black Sky events will entail, blackstart will be the only alternative for grid restart.
Yet blackstart capabilities are at increasing risk worldwide. Three problems contribute to this risk, all of which will require innovative strategies and policy initiatives to overcome.
A significant aspect of the urgency for grid restart capabilities comes from a sense of increasing risk of adversary infrastructure attacks. Yet among the most likely targets of such attacks are the core elements of the grid that form the backbone of blackstart networks.
Increasingly, research by many organizations suggests that power companies today find they have significant financial disincentives to make generating stations available as blackstart facilities. Given how critical these facilities will be in Black Sky scenarios, it will be important to find ways to reverse this trend.
In the US for example, no state or Federal policies exist to maintain US blackstart resilience capabilities as the nation transitions toward a zero-carbon power grid.
Black Sky-class events have, historically, been rare, and as a result grid blackstart capabilities have only rarely, if ever, been exercised.
In this environment, it is unsurprising that policies guiding such capabilities, and, increasingly, technical features of blackstart facilities, are seen as inadequate even for today’s grid architecture. As the grid transitions to far heavier use of distributed, renewable energy assets, policy and technical guidelines will also be needed to account for this evolution.
EIS Council is developing a new edition of the “EPRO Handbook” series, which provides practical guidelines addressing grid resilience needs for Black Sky scenarios. The new Handbook, EPRO Handbook V: Blackstart Restoration for a Greener Grid, will directly address both the policy and technical concerns putting blackstart at risk, both for today’s grid architecture and for the transition to a “greener grid.”
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