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1998-01-22 18:04:41


Expert Says Chance of Failures Is 100% (This Seems Fairly High)



Rick Cowles is inside the electrical power industry. He has a Web site, "Electric Utilities and the Year 2000." ( ) He has become the best-known Web guru on the whole question. Now he has blown the whistle loud and clear. No more short bursts. He says we can be sure of major power failures in 2000.

This appears on Westergaard's Year 2000 site.

* * * * * * * *

The DistribuTECH conference bills itself as the "World's Leading Utility / IT Business Conference and Exhibition". After leaving the Tampa Convention Center for the last time on Wednesday, I can understand why -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 electric utility representatives were on hand for several days of seminars, expert laboratories, and forums. The exhibit hall was packed with displays from 250 of the leading suppliers to the industry. A disproportionate share of those exhibits was focused on supervisory computer systems and transmission network components.

Very few of the suppliers I spoke with appeared to know anything about Year 2000 issues. I approached the control cabinet for a 13.8Kv recloser assembly made by a major transmission device OEM, and saw literally hundreds of microchips inside. I then looked at the fault monitoring device control rack and saw two digit century dates, and looked at the fault logging module and saw each of the seven days of the week represented. My heart sank. I approached the supplier representative, who had the audacity to tell me that the device didn't care what day it was, much less what century. I then pointed out the digital LCD date crystal, two century digits, and the calendar representation of day-of-week. He just shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't know anything about it, then scurried off in search of a potential customer rather than continue fielding my questions that were obviously making him feel uncomfortable.

This scene was played out repeatedly. Several of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) vendors I spoke with freely acknowledged that their systems relied on the Global Positioning System (GPS) for location information. But not one was aware of the GPS systems problems that start in August of 1999 . . . or the Y2K compliance status of the GIS equipment they were hawking.

When I took the podium at the Expert Laboratory on Y2K issues, an industry guy in the back of the room interrupted me in the middle of my presentation and said, "Hey Rick, this whole Y2K thing is just a big bunch of hype," and then proceeded to ramble on for five minutes about his belief that an issue doesn't exist. He wanted concrete examples. I gave him concrete examples. He still didn't believe. I offered to speak off-line with him. He left before my presentation was complete. . . .

If I am being viewed as a Y2K prophet of doom by the industry, I suppose it is time to live up to that reputation. Until today, I have been somewhat reluctant to make a prediction on the chances of major electrical system failures in the days and weeks following 01 January 2000. Not anymore. . . .

Based on what I learned at DistribuTECH '98, I am convinced there is a 100% chance that a major portion of the domestic electrical infrastructure will be lost as a result of the Year 2000 computer and embedded systems problem. The industry is fiddling whilst the infrastructure burns. You heard it here first.


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