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September 15, 2022

Power Grid Butterfly Effect

Events like floods, superstorms, wildfires, heat waves, fuel supply shortages and cyberattacks can cause a power outage in one section of the country, creating a "butterfly effect" that impacts much larger regions. There is a solution. Learn more on NSF's "The Discovery Files."

Credit: National Science Foundation

Power Grid Butterfly Effect

This is The Discovery Files, from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

How can a minor power outage in the southern U.S. cause a major outage in the Northern States? It is a theory researchers use called the "Butterfly Effect," where one small event can influence a larger one.

When impacted by extreme weather or cyberattacks, large sections of the U.S. power grid can fail.

Even non-bordering states like Florida, Connecticut, Illinois, and West Virginia are linked together.

One failure can cause another!

Funded in part by NSF, researchers at West Virginia University are working on plans to prevent and respond to potential power grid failures, by developing two innovative tools.

These include a software program capable of making decisions about the right response to failures and a state-of-the-art simulation lab designed to train human grid operators on how to manage vast amounts of data, generated after an adverse event like a cyberattack.

The goal is to accelerate power grid crisis response time by detecting a problem as soon as it occurs, then isolating the impacted area, so it does not affect large sections of the grid.

This joint research advances solutions for human-machine coordination to keep the power on and our nation safe!

Discover how the U.S. National Science Foundation is advancing research at And check out NSF's Discovery Files podcast, available wherever you get podcasts.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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