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1998-06-02 06:47:40


Sgroi #2: A Possible Solution


Whether this could work, I do not know. That it will not be attempted, I do know.

Bureaucracies do not innovate. There are about 7,800 power-generating and distributing firms in the U.S. They have done nothing significant about y2k yet. Why will they do anything significant soon?

This plan seems like a long-shot to me. It assumes that most power plants will not make it.

When people figure this out, there will be panic. They may not figure it out until February, 2000.

When will you panic? Now or later?

I already did.

* * * * * * * * * *

Contributed by: Joseph Sgroi


26 May 1998

Power Stations: A Strategy for Survival

This article is a follow up article to my article of 2 April kindly printed in the Guest Room of the Cassandra Project. My previous article portrayed the probability of severe long term power blackouts as a result of non-compliant real time embedded systems failing within the Power Station environment in the Year 2000.

I would like to thank the many members of the public who wrote to me offering their support in spreading this very important message. I would also like to thank those senior electrical engineers and managers who not only confirmed the life-threatening scenario we face, but offered to raise the issue with their senior government and industry contacts. I have not received a single letter of repudiation to the critical scenario I portrayed.

It is now becoming apparent that most Power Stations have not yet reached the point where a thorough, detailed, Y2K Business Risk Assessment has been performed. Specifically, there has not been enough evidence to indicate that the following items have been addressed in a detailed, adequate manner:

1. A full Inventory of I.T. Systems, Real Time Systems, and date-dependant components and equipment which are on the critical path to producing power at a power station.

2. Identified, and confirmed with detailed tests, which of the above items will fail in the Year 2000.

3 . Provided detailed cost, time and resource estimates for the replacement of the above.

Unfortunately time will not stand still while we complete the above.

The harsh reality is, that on all conservative estimates, there could be somewhere between 100 - 400 components or items of equipment which are not compliant at a Power Station and are likely to fail. In most instances, failure will result in that item of equipment shutting itself down, which in turn causes the Power Station to shut down or a failure in another embedded component down the chain. Evidence to this effect is now starting to emerge on the internet.

Can all of these components be identified, tested and replaced in 18 months? The task is made more difficult as many of these components are purpose built for a particular power station, with unique specifications, where the documentation may or may not be currently available. What about the suppliers of these components? Are they still in operation? The enormity of this conundrum starts to take shape in our minds. There are four indisputable facts with this critical problem:

1. All Power Stations that are not compliant in the year 2000 will cease producing electricity.

2. Once they are down, they will stay down for a very long time. Until their non-compliant components, equipment and I.T. systems are replaced.

3. Most if not all Power Stations will be affected by the Y2K Problem.

4. The Year 2000 Problem will strike most if not all Power Stations at the same time.

Therefore, are we all doomed to an era of darkness and social disruption? Not without a fight we're not! We all enjoy life and cherish our family and friends to allow that to happen.

So how do we resolve this most difficult problem?

The strategy to make a power station Y2K compliant may only work for an extremely small number of the more modern, more recent power stations. Even here there will be serious doubts, as I.T. equipment built as recently as 1996 has been proven to be non-compliant. Non-compliant chips are still being sold as we speak.

I therefore put to you the following propositions as food for thought and discussion:

Proposition 1: Test for Compliance Now

Any Power Station which is currently under construction MUST be built with 100% compliant equipment. We must also ensure that it is thoroughly TESTED for compliance. The emphasis should be on testing each item of equipment, rather than relying on vendor compliance certificates.

Proposition 2: Bring forward construction dates

Any Power Station that is due for completion in 2000 or 2001 needs to be brought forward and completed by December 1999. Proposition 1 must also be adopted for these stations.

Proposition 3: Time Re-synchronisation within the Electricity Industry

Consideration should be given to the option of turning the clocks back within the power industry to a mutually agreed synchronised time. This would ensure that a disaster is avoided and power stations are kept on line in the Year 2000. This option may sound preposterous at first glance, but allow me to put the following arguments to you:

1. Y2K will hit most if not all Power Stations AT THE SAME TIME. This, as a minimum, would cause blackouts of weeks or months. In the worst case, a "System Black" could result which would be a catastrophe. Either scenario would result in severe social disruption with major impacts to the well being of our society and our own families.

2. Once a Power Station goes down in the rollover to Year 2000, the harsh reality is that those small tiny batteries on the non-compliant circuit boards within components and equipment will guarantee that the incorrect date is maintained on that component or item of equipment. So even if we can kick start that station with a backup generator, the non-compliant components will again cause that Power Station to shut down. The Power Station remains unusable until ALL non-compliant components and items of equipment are replaced.

3. There may not be enough time to investigate, test and replace approximately 100-400 items of equipment in each power station and complete all this work within 18 months. Even if we manage to find suppliers for all our components that are to be replaced, the inter-equipment interface specifications and operational functionality, along with the necessary tests, would be the issue here which would cause unacceptable delays in time.

4. Synchronisation would ensure that ALL equipment at the Power Station would NOT be confronted with the Y2K problem and would continue to function normally. Even if the synchronisation program was not totally completed at a particular power station in time, it could be completed very shortly after Jan 1 2000. Whereas total equipment replacement would take many months after that date, and be very costly as well.

The synchronisation of equipment clocks would be an enormous undertaking, but it may be achievable within 18 months. The reality is that the compliance alternative may not be achievable in the very little time we have left.

This synchronisation option would play havoc with the billing and marketing systems within the industry, however this could be compensated by way of a special Government grant or tax to assist the privatised electrical businesses. If this is the small price we need to pay to ensure ongoing electricity supply, then so be it. The management of risk may indicate to us that this is our best, least-risk option. It may be both our lowest-cost and best time-critical option. The consequence of proceeding down the compliance path and not completing the work in time simply doesn't bear thinking about.

This 3 pronged strategy would ensure that at least some power stations would remain on-line. In the event that both the compliance alternative and/or the synchronisation alternative failed, Propositions 1 and 2 might ensure that, at the very least, some power stations are still functioning on the power grid. Electrical engineers are well aware of the fact that this outcome is absolutely critical.

The Year 2000 problem will act as a test for the Electrical Industry. The industry has undergone significant change of late, with the transferral of ownership and control from government to private companies. This problem will require coordination and agreement between all the stakeholders in the industry, governments and private companies alike. It will test the resolve of private industry and governments to set aside profit and control objectives, in order to work together to confront and obliterate the common enemy. In some ways it will be a test of our society as a whole.

Keep raising awareness.

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