Cool screensaver monitors the health of the power grid

So, you’re living in Florida, and you just suffered through a massive blackout. Want advance warning of the next one? Then go to the website of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and download the “Grid Monitor” — a screensaver that shows you the stability of the power grid, in real time, via a series of totally gnarly graphics, such as the Oscillatory Mode Graph above.

You can actually watch the grid begin to buckle and collapse when a blackout is approaching. Since grid collapses occur randomly and very infrequently, you’d have to be staring at your screensaver 24 hours a day, but hey: Maybe you’ll get lucky! On the other hand, you can also set the screensaver to give off a warning sound when the power in the grid fluctuates too wildly — an impending sign of a blackout.

Pacific Northwest also created this nice PDF pamphlet that explains how the Grid Monitor works. It contains this rather metaphorically lovely passage:

In reality, the AC electric power signal is the sum of innumerable sub-signals. The 60 Hz AC signal is actually a complex accumulation of many elements such as random noise, mechanical vibratory dynamics of generators producing the power, damping effects, and even self-induced oscillatory dynamics of the transmission grid. It acts like a tremendous bed of interconnected springs and weights.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson