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Need expert opinions

  1. Jul 17, 2011 #1

    I was recently sent this link: [crackpot link deleted] and found it to be extremely sensational.

    It is my habit to always attempt to "fact check" anything that is forwarded to me (especially the more "hyped up" and/or "sensationalized" information).

    I am sorry that I have no knowledge of electrical engineering to help me understand if what this author is saying has merit.

    I would be very grateful if anyone would be able to let me know if the concerns he raises are valid.

    Lea Ann Savage
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 17, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2011 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, you are correct - it is just crackpottery.
  4. Jul 18, 2011 #3
    Why was the link deleted? I am interested to see it.
  5. Jul 18, 2011 #4
    Probably some stupid permenant magnet perpetual motion energy generator, nothing worth wasting your time on.
  6. Jul 18, 2011 #5
    PLEASE if you won't post the link for others to weigh in - outline the main points he is trying to make and help me learn how to refute them to the lay person (and I am also a lay person) who sent me the link.

    Why did you delete it?

    I am very sincere in wanting to understand how he is wrong. I WANT to believe that he is wrong. I am willing to spend some time trying to understand how the electrical grid works. I am the kind of person who takes "crack pot emails" and doesn't believe everything that is sent my way, but I came here for help, and all I got was the link deleted and no one can help me understand if they can't read the link.

    I hope that you will allow people to Google search it. The words that will pull it up are, "Power Grid Tampering Will End An Era". The first Google hit is a website that I consider to be a crackpot website, and most of what they publish is overly sensational and "far out there".

    I am very happy to learn that it is crack pottery, but I really would like to understand why.

    Please help satisfy my curiosity and thirst for learning.

    I have to go to work (have a 15 hour day ahead of me) so can't interact with the replies until late tonight, but I really hope that you allow this post to go through.

    If you don't want people to Google it - can you PLEASE outline his main points and at least tell me where to go to learn how to debunk them myself?

    Thanks in advance.
    Lea Ann Savage
  7. Jul 19, 2011 #6


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    Science Advisor

    The problem with crackpottery is that it's pathological. An expert can refute every single point, and the crackpot will come up with a few more. In the meantime, the expert will be labelled part of the conspiracy against the author / movement. And since the concepts involved won't be simple or in layman-ese, it'll be labelled as convoluted technobabble.

    Why do they mods delete the links? Because it feeds the trolls, dignifies them, and, given the above, will just waste a whole bunch of peoples' time.

    In a nutshell, the claim is that the "grid" is some sort of all-encompassing, nation-wide electrical transmission grid that runs in unison (always has, but might never again), and that breaking this will probably be the harbinger of foreign invasion of your country (for what it's worth, I'm Canadian).

    The references I supply are mostly from Wikipedia--it's nice and simple, and written at a low enough level that the layman/woman gets it (and has further references and support at the bottom). I also do it because, while I am an electrical engineer, I'm not a power engineer. Unlike the author of the piece, I don't suppose that my little knowledge of power theory is the end-all, be-all nor that I possess some particularly special insight.

    The argument presupposes that there is a grid (as envisioned by the author) or that what the author knows is the end-all, be-all of electricity and electrical transmission. The fact of the matter is that, until recently (within the last 20 or 30 years) electrical utilities in the US and elsewhere were highly regulated vertical monopolies, with big utilities generating, transmitting, and distributing power to their customers in relatively localized areas.

    The theory was that separating generation from transmission from distribution would allow for a more robust and free market system (multiple independent vendors, at multiple stages, leading to benefits for the multitude of consumers), all facilitated by a big electricity grid. In some areas (like California), it turned into a shell game where companies like Enron could manipulate the very market they created and reap incredible profits (while screwing energy consumers like mom and pop, and semiconductor manufacturing plants, as well as more-regulated energy producers):

    Despite some snags and growing pains, will electricity as commodity "work"? I have no idea, but that's going to be the trend. More on the whole concept of the electricity market here:

    It may very well be that the grid concept that the author envisions and glorifies is the source of vulnerability:

    Now, back on track, there are actually two large and several small regional grids, which have cross-connections into each other:

    The cross-connections (and more regional cross-connections within these grids) are an interesting point because they illustrate something. Electric potential travels at the speed of light (though not the individual electrons, nor even their aggregate behaviour as current), 300,000 km/s. The "speed of electricity" varies depending on what it's travelling in, but it's usually a good fraction of this speed. The distance from Oregon to Florida is about 4,000 km. A beam of light (that somehow managed to curve with the curvature of the earth) would take about 13 ms to traverse this distance. 60 Hz electricity has a period of 16.7 ms. Thus, once you factor in the time necessary for electricity to "travel", you can see it's impossible for a large-scale grid to be entirely in-phase!

    (If you forget your high school trigonometry, here's a quick refresher:)

    You might be tempted to say, "well, synchronize them locally!" but consider the case of one generator at one end of the grid producing electricity at one end of the grid and another generator at the other end producing electricity--you'd have two travelling waves coming together that would interfere with one another. The answer: it's not quite as simple as it's being presented in the article--physics has not been broken. You can see an illustration of travelling waves interfering with each other (superposing) here:
    http://www.kettering.edu/physics/drussell/Demos/superposition/superposition.html [Broken]

    So on the large scale, AC has to be isolated from itself, even while transferring power between networks.

    Where major shutdowns have happened (e.g. the 2003 Northeast Blackout), it's been the result of cascade failures, but results in systems going into protection mode, rather than wholesale infrastructure destruction (generators, transmission lines, local distribution). Disruptive and annoying to be sure, but not the end of the world (or the local grid for more than a day or two, for that matter).

    Now, as to the anecdote about generators getting out of sync, this happens already, and there are various threads here at PhysicsForums and in this subforum about how to sync generators and what happens when one gets substantially out of sync with the larger grid (usually spectacularly destructive to the non-synchronized generator). For instance:

    So, a sufficiently well-motivated person / country with sufficient resources can already wreak all sorts of havoc if they somehow gained control / access to the controllers of power plants / transmission lines / switch equipment. Or flight control computers. Or the data of financial institutions. Or even something as mundane as sewage treatment plants.

    Long post short, the original site was a demonstration of the idiom of a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing. Especially coupled with excessive paranoia and the mindset that someone is out to get you / your country.

    EDIT: This is not meant to be a point-by-point refutation of the original article. Just that it's analysis and conclusions are unfounded.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  8. Jul 19, 2011 #7
    This is Truly AWESOME! I can't tell you how sincerely I appreciate the obvious amount of time and effort that you went to help me out. Thank you. THANK YOU!

    Now I'm going to study these links and forward this response to the person who sent me the link.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  9. Jul 19, 2011 #8
    If MATLABdude's version (excellent as it is) is tl;dr, you can ask yourself this question:

    Why, why on Earth would the power guys want to destroy the grid, the very thing they are using to make money with?

    Once you think about motivations, about half of all conspiracy theories fall apart.

    This man is essentially accusing those people of plotting treason against the United States. You're going to need much more than high school physics to make that charge stick.
  10. Jul 19, 2011 #9


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    Staff: Mentor

    Nice responses, folks. Thread closed.
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