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Recent blackouts in US and continental Europe: is liberalisation to blame?


  • Bialek, J.W.


The paper starts with a detailed technical overview of recent blackouts in the US, Sweden/Denmark and Italy in order to analyse common threads and lessons to be learnt. The blackouts have exposed a number of challenges facing utilities worldwide. Increased liberalisation of electricity supply industry has resulted in a significant increase in inter-area (or cross-border) trades which often are not properly accounted for when assessing system security. The traditional decentralised way of operating systems by TSOs, with each TSO looking after its own control area and little information exchange, resulted in inadequate and slow response to contingencies. A new mode of coordinated operation for real-time security assessment and control is needed in order to maintain system security. This new mode of operation requires overcoming a number of organisational, psychological, legal and technical challenges but the alternative is either to risk another blackout or run the interconnected system very conservatively, maintaining large security margin at a high cost to everyone. The paper also includes technical appendices explaining engineering power system concepts to non-engineering audience.

Suggested Citation

  • Bialek, J.W., 2004. "Recent blackouts in US and continental Europe: is liberalisation to blame?," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0407, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
  • Handle: RePEc:cam:camdae:0407
    Note: CMI34, IO

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Woo, C.K. & King, M. & Tishler, A. & Chow, L.C.H., 2006. "Costs of electricity deregulation," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 31(6), pages 747-768.
    2. de Nooij, Michiel & Koopmans, Carl & Bijvoet, Carlijn, 2007. "The value of supply security: The costs of power interruptions: Economic input for damage reduction and investment in networks," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 277-295, March.
    3. Pollitt, Michael G., 2012. "Lessons from the history of independent system operators in the energy sector," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 32-48.
    4. Pollitt, Michael, 2008. "Electricity reform in Argentina: Lessons for developing countries," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 1536-1567, July.
    5. Jamasb, Tooraj & Pollitt, Michael, 2008. "Security of supply and regulation of energy networks," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(12), pages 4584-4589, December.

    More about this item


    electricity; USA; Sweden; Denmark;

    JEL classification:

    • L94 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Electric Utilities

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