If electric clocks seem a little off later this year, there's good reason: A yearlong experiment conducted by the group that manages the nation's power grid is expected to begin, and it could theoretically make electric clocks run up to 20 minutes fast. It's also possible that nothing will happen at all. As the Arizona Daily Star explains, it's sort of like the Y2K issue of a decade ago.
The experiment by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. may sound obscure to those outside the industry, but essentially it will help NERC determine how precisely it must regulate the frequency of the electric current. (See the Daily Star or the York Daily Record for more details on that front.) It's still up in the air when the experiment will begin, but it wouldn't affect computer system clocks, cell phones, or GPS devices. It could affect traffic lights, school clocks, coffeemakers, and household clocks, depending on their type. "We, unfortunately, don't have good information about how widely the power grid is used for timing purposes," says a rep from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo. The experiment should fix that.