[It's all gone dark.
The range of the disaster is at first completely unknown, since the entire grid has gone dark from coast to coast. Eventually, on cell phones with dying batteries, it becomes clear that North America, as well as some of South America, Japan, and the Pacific island nations, have all gone dark.
Things that run on their own power still run, but feebly, shutting down every few minutes. Generators work, but nothing wants to hold a charge for long. It's as if every piece of machinery sheds the electricity pumped into it.
It's a strange outage on many accounts. Planes in flight when the outage occurs retain their power until they land safely on the ground. Hospital generators hum to keep patients alive, but cell phones won't charge from hospital outlets. Clearly, it isn't so simple as a series of power plants going out. The outage is selective, and it fights any attempts to circumvent it.
Power stations refuse to turn back on, but radioactive containment units stay online. Army choppers won't start, but government laboratories full of dangerous chemicals have power. Car ignitions no longer work, so when the cars are turned off, they refuse to come on again, but there are no massive pileups on the highways. So perhaps the outage is benevolent, the work of an eco-terrorist intending to teach a lesson.
The peace and apparent mercy of it all is complicated by the prisons. Electronic locks go down with everything else, and soon there are criminals breaking out of maximum security everywhere.
And communications, such as they are, are most definitely down. Radios meet with heavy interference. The internet works only in fits and spurts for those people lucky enough to still have phones and computers with battery power, just long enough to spread panic through the populace with scraps of information over how widely spread the outage is. Only the highest of high tech still works, the most esoteric and out of range of normal human communication frequencies.
In the end, the outage is not so much selective as it is calculated, coolly and professionally, to create panic without pure demonization of the person responsible. It is a canny thing, creating mayhem and chaos just by turning off the lights, and giving the people of a third of the world motivation to hold their children close and pray for a savior, as, in the northern climes, it begins to snow.]