The Northeast Blackout of 2003: When Grid Power Went Out, Diesel Power Came On

Aug 13, 2013, 17:16 ET from Diesel Technology Forum

Diesel Power Plays Growing Role in Preparedness, Responsiveness and Resilience In Blackouts & Disasters

WASHINGTON, Aug. 13, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- One of the memorable images of the massive Northeast Blackout of 2003 was the continued illumination of the Statue of Liberty amid the overwhelming darkness throughout New York City and several other states.


This was possible because when the grid power went off, the diesel power came on.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 is the 10 year anniversary of the massive blackout.

"The Northeast Blackout of 2003 and last year's Superstorm Sandy were unfortunate reminders of the vulnerability of our electrical grid but they also highlighted the vital role diesel power plays in assuring public health and safety from natural and man-made disasters," said Allen Schaeffer, the Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum.

In both instances, hospitals, data centers, water and sewage facilities, fueling stations, and critical communication and transportation systems required continuous power to protect public health and safety. Emergency backup electrical generators powered by diesel engines provided a unique combination of reliable, immediate and full strength electric power during these failures in the primary power supply systems.

"When grid power goes off, diesel-powered generators come on and uniquely provide a rapid response time – within just 10 seconds.  They were able to handle heavy electrical loads with a steady supply of high-quality power and superior performance for transient or fluctuating power demands due to the high-torque characteristics of diesel engines," Schaeffer said.

Over 50 Million Impacted By 2003 Blackout
The 2003 blackout in the Northeast was the most significant event of recent memory, impacting more than 50 million people across eight states and one Canadian Province.  The loss of 61,800 MW in power took 30 hours to restore, disrupting manufacturing and virtually all public services including shutting down 19 nuclear generators at 10 plants, and costing between $7 and $10 billion.

The impacts of the blackout were far and wide.  Automakers were impacted - Chrysler - lost production at 14 of 31 plants; six were assembly plants with paint shops.  In total, 10,000 vehicles had to be scrapped. Chemical manufacturing screeched to a halt at Nova Chemicals, where plant outages impacted five facilities, disrupting processing and reduced earnings in third quarter by $10 million.  Air travel was disrupted with 1,000 flight cancellations throughout the Northeast corridor at Toronto, Newark, New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Montreal, Ottawa, Islip, Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Erie and Hamilton airports.

In New York City alone, the Comptroller's Office estimated that losses exceed $1 billion – including $800 million gross city product.  Duane Reade, Inc. a fixture drugstore in New York City had to shutter 237 stores, with a sales loss totaling $3.3 million.

New Preparedness Strategies Rely On Diesel Technology
"The proven durability, superior performance and dependability of diesel technology make it a major component of disaster planning around the world for governments and businesses alike in assuring business continuity as well as assuring public safety," Schaeffer said.  "As the U.S. and international community explore new strategies to prepare for future blackouts and extreme weather events, there's no question that greater installation and rapid deployment of diesel-powered emergency back-up generators is a key action item."

In the aftermath of the Northeast Blackout, numerous policy and emergency planning changes have been made to better prepare the U.S. for future outages and disasters. Most recently, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the completion of a project to install emergency diesel generators at New York City's Grand Central Terminal to help power emergency safety systems in the event of a blackout.

Diesel Engine and Equipment Dealers Partner With Local Governments in Emergency Response, and Disaster Planning
The diesel powered back-up generators are supported by a vast network of local and regional dealers and distributors who work around the clock to make sure the generators are in state of readiness. These local businesses partner with government officials to assure readiness and rapid response in the midst of disasters. Mobile diesel generator units can be deployed and staged in advance of anticipated events. In the case of longer-term outages, fuel delivery and maintenance become critical, attesting to the key role of local dealers and distributors. 

Leading Suppliers of Diesel Back-up Generators 
Cummins Inc. 
Deere and Company 
Volvo Penta 
Yanmar America Corporation  
2013 DTF webinar "Role of Backup Generators in Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief and Recovery"

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The Diesel Technology Forum is a non-profit national organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel and technology. Forum members are leaders in clean diesel technology and represent the three key elements of the modern clean-diesel system: advanced engines, vehicles and equipment, cleaner diesel fuel and emissions-control systems. For more information visit

Available Topic Expert: For information on the listed expert, click appropriate link.
Allen Schaeffer

Steve Hansen
301-668-7230 (o)
202-355-3664 (c)

(View this press release online here.)

SOURCE Diesel Technology Forum