EPRI and DOE Release First Phase of Comprehensive EMP Study

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The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) recently released its first set of findings regarding the potential impact of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) on the electric grid. The findings are part of a comprehensive, three-year research project, begun in April 2016, to evaluate the potential impacts of a high-altitude EMP disruption. The first phase of the report was released on February 20, 2017.

EPRI is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the study, and working closely with the national laboratories, the Defense Thread Reduction Agency and others in the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the electric industry to inform the development of the report.

Overview of Latest Activity

The first phase of the report specifically studied the potential thermal impact of a high-altitude EMP detonation on bulk-power electric transformers.

The findings suggest that the collapse of the electric grid due to an EMP causing widespread failure of transformers is unlikely. Out of tens of thousands of bulk-power transformers in the U.S., EPRI and DOE found that only 3 to 14 transformers would be at risk of thermal damage by a high-altitude EMP, depending on the location of EMP detonation.

What’s Next

EPRI and DOE will next study the immediate, short-term impact of an EMP attack on transmission infrastructure, including transformers and control houses. EPRI and DOE will also study the cumulative effect of an EMP attack on the interconnected components; studying the components separately is necessary to allow for that step to continue.

Future phases of the report will also include mitigation measures for the transformers that were affected, based on the modeling.

What it Means

The additional research to be conducted by EPRI and DOE are necessary to determine the likely impact of an EMP attack on electric systems. If an EMP attack is shown to cause a widespread, long-term outage, the study will determine what steps utilities could take to limit the damage and allow for grid recovery.

The EPRI and DOE research is expected to be completed in early 2019, with at least 10 quarterly updates and reports released in the interim.