June 27, 2011

Electrical Grid Experiment Could Disrupt Time In US: AP

According to an Associated Press (AP) exclusive report, an experiment on the U.S. electrical grid is endangering traffic lights, security systems and computers.

The report said the group that oversees the U.S. power grid is proposing an experiment that would allow more frequency variation in electrical currents than it does now.

The experiment could make plug-in clocks and appliances like programmable coffeemakers run up to 20 minutes fast.

"A lot of people are going to have things break and they're not going to know why," Demetrios Matsakis, head of the time service department at the U.S. Naval Observatory, told AP's Seth Borenstein.

According to the report, officials say they want to try the experiment to make the power supply more reliable, save money and reduce what may be needless efforts.

Joe McClelland of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission told AP that tweaking the power grid's frequency is expensive and takes a lot of effort.

"Is anyone using the grid to keep track of time?" McClelland told AP. "Let's see if anyone complains if we eliminate it."

Electric clocks keep time based on the rate of electrical current that powers them.  If the current slips off its usual rate, clocks can run either faster or slower.

Matsakis told AP it will be an interesting experiment to see how dependent Americans timekeeping is on the power grid.

According to the report, some parts of the power grid run faster than others.

The report cited the North American Electric Reliability Corp.'s June 14 presentation as a source.  The company said during its presentation that East Coast clocks may run as much as 20 minutes fast over a year, but West Coast clocks are likely to be off by just 8 minutes, while Texas' clocks will only speed up 2 minutes.

The company said if the grid averages just 60 cycles a second, clocks that rely on the grid will gain 14 seconds per day.

Tom O'Brian told AP that if people have problems from the experiment, they could call the federal government at 202-762-1401 or go online to time.gov in order to learn the correct time.


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