A little more than a year ago, 50 million people lost power during the August 14th blackout in the northeast United States and Canada. Like the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965, this event immediately created a groundswell of activity in government, academic, technical, and public communities. Once the witch-hunt subsided and a scapegoat was identified, most communities settled down and returned to their complacent ways. However, a couple industry groups are out there trying to fight the good fight.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an independent, non-profit center for public interest energy and environmental research established in 1973, is one organization that continues to push for a smart, clean power grid for all. In collaboration with more than 200 organizations, EPRI recently released its Electricity Technology Roadmap, an examination of how electricity can serve society in the 21st century. Two of the five “destinations” the report notes as “critical milestones on the path toward achieving a sustainable global energy economy” are strengthening the power delivery infrastructure and enabling the digital society.

EPRI's vision is that “a truly smart power system would include automated capabilities to optimize its own performance, anticipate problems, find robust solutions, and heal itself instantaneously without the need for outside intervention. Such a system would deliver the high-quality power needed by sensitive digital technologies while giving consumers much more control over their energy use.”

As an electrical professional and ex-utility engineer, I agree with this assessment. However, some of you may have trouble relating to this and believing this type of system will ever truly exist. In fact, it might just take an organization that's a little closer to home to help push this to reality.

Earlier this month, representatives of the critical power industry announced the formation of the Critical Power Coalition (CPC), a national organization whose mission is to develop common public policy and establish a unified industry voice to ensure the quality, reliability, and continuity of electrical power within critical industries, businesses, and public services. The group's founding members include prominent manufacturers and end-users of critical power products and services.

According to Mark Ascolese, CPC's co-chairman, “While government and public utility companies continue to work on strengthening and improving the grid, companies and government organizations are tasked with designing and managing critical power in their own operations — inside their facilities — and will ultimately need to develop systems and plans to sustain critical operations when the utility grid is unable to provide clean, uninterrupted power.”

This brings it down to a level I think we can all relate to: You better take care of number one. Although it's much too early to speculate as to what effect this group will have on our industry, I'm encouraged by its formation and preliminary initiatives.

Although groups like EPRI and CPC continue to swim against the current and fight for you, the bottom line is that if you plan on surviving in this new digital economy, you and your customers are most likely better off managing your own critical power needs.