Power outages happen in any part of the world where there is electricity. Although the reasons why they occur are almost the same wherever you may be on the planet, let’s find out in this article the common causes of power outages in the United States.
Access to electricity is an integral part of being able to live a comfortable and convenient life. People use electricity in almost every aspect of their lives - cooking, working, charging electric gadgets to something as mundane as turning on your lamp at night.
To not have access to this can be troublesome and can also impact the quality of life of those who are affected. However, there are instances where it can’t be helped and a power outage occurs and suddenly, it’s so hard to do things that are so easy when the power is on such as taking a hot shower after a whole day’s work.
Just recently, the Department of Energy has recently warned its citizens to be mindful of their electric consumption this summer of 2023. This is based on the analysis done by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) where two-thirds of the US is at risk of losing power at this time of the year.
POWER OUTAGE - WHAT IS IT?
A power outage (also called as power loss, powercut, power blackout or power failure) is the loss of electric supply coming from the electrical power network or electrical grid.
There are four types of power outages: blackouts, brownouts, permanent faults, and rolling blackouts.
- Blackouts are the most severe type of power outage. They occur when there is a complete loss of power to a specific area. There are several factors that can cause a blackout such as damaged electrical facilities due to violent wind storms which can take time to fix making the outage last for a few hours or even for several weeks in the worst-case scenarios.
- Brownouts are a less severe type of power outage. They take place when there is a temporary reduction in power voltage in a particular area. Since it is not a complete loss of power, what happens in a brownout is that it makes lights go dim, appliances to malfunction, and motors to slow down. This kind of outage is often caused by high demand for electricity. This usually happens during extremely hot summer days, when people are using more air conditioning, or during peak hours, when people are using more electricity for work and school.
- Permanent faults are a type of power outage that is caused by a permanent fault in the power grid. This can happen when a power line breaks, a transformer fails, or a generator is destroyed. Depending on the severity, permanent faults can be difficult to repair and may also take a few days or even weeks to restore power.
- Rolling blackouts are a type of power outage that is intentionally caused by the utility company. Rolling blackouts happen when the electric supply is not enough to meet the demands of the consumers so the utility company has no choice but to turn off power to certain areas for a specific period of time and then turn it back on in another location. Think of it as taking turns in receiving power supply. This process is repeated until demand is met.
CAUSES OF POWER OUTAGES
Power outages happen in any part of the world where there is electricity. Although the reasons why they occur are almost the same wherever you may be on the planet, let’s find out below common causes of power outages in the United States.
- Natural Causes: Powerful storms, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and ice storms; wildfires; and other natural disasters can damage power lines and substations, causing widespread outages.
- Overloading: This happens when too much demand is placed on the power grid, which can overload power lines and transformers and cause them to fail. This usually occurs during hot summer times and the temperature gets extremely high so more people power their air conditioners.
- Animal Interference: Animals, such as squirrels and birds, can sometimes damage power lines and cause outages. In 2019, it was reported that about 15,000 squirrels caused power outages in different parts of the US.
- Human Error: It should come as a no surprise if some power outages are caused by human error. After all, power grids and utility companies are controlled and maintained by people.
- Equipment Failure: Just like anything in this world, equipment is subject to wear and tear so when a power equipment stops working normally, (e.g. a transformer fails, a power line breaks or a generator malfunctions) a power outage can occur.
The frequency of power outages varies from region to region. In general, areas that are more exposed to severe weather are more likely to experience power outages.
WHICH AREAS ARE MOST PRONE POWER OUTAGES?
As mentioned earlier, areas that are more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions are more likely to experience power outages. However, it does not stop there. Having a high population density, and large geographical area are also determining factors that a specific location is going to experience frequent power outages.
Areas mentioned above have a higher demand for electricity, which can strain the power grid. They are also more likely to be affected by natural disasters, which can damage power lines and substations. Additionally, these areas may not have enough generating capacity to reliably serve their populations, which can lead to brownouts or rolling blackouts.
Here are some examples of areas that are prone to power outages:
- California: California is a state with a high population density and a large geographical area. It is also prone to severe weather conditions, such as heat waves and wildfires.
- Texas: Texas is another state with a high population density and a large geographical area. It is also prone to severe weather conditions, such as hurricanes and tornadoes.
- Florida: Florida is a state with a high population density and a long coastline. It is prone to hurricanes and other tropical storms.
- New York: New York is a state with a high population density and a large geographical area. It is also prone to severe weather conditions, such as blizzards and ice storms.
These are just a few examples of areas that are prone to power outages. It is important to be prepared for a power outage, regardless of where you live.
THINGS TO DO WHEN PREPARING FOR A POWER OUTAGE
Power outages normally happen without a warning but there are times where we can predict or expect a possible outage could happen in the near future such as when a strong hurricane is expected to hit the area where you live.
In this situation, it is crucial to know what to do when preparing for a power outage so you can live comfortably and safely as you wait for the power to come back. Below are some tips you can follow when preparing for an intense power loss.
- Have a plan: This should include a list of essential items that you will need, such as food, water, and flashlights and where to go in case you need to evacuate.
- Keep a battery-powered radio: This will allow you to stay informed about the outage and any emergency response efforts.
- Charge your electronic devices: This will ensure that you have access to communication and entertainment during the outage.
- Have a backup generator: This will help run your household as usual as possible while waiting for the power to come back.
What to Do When the Power Outage Occurs
Now that we know what to do when preparing for a power outage, the next step is to know what to do once the outage has finally happened. Below is a list of things you should do once the power interruption begins.
- Stay calm. Staying calm during a power outage will not only help you think of your next step clearly. It will also help you conserve your energy in case you’ll have to do things manually while the power is out like washing the dishes instead of the dishwasher.
- Check if your neighbors are also experiencing a power outage. This will help you determine if the outage is isolated to your home or if it is a more widespread issue.
- Widespread or not, call your utility company. They will be able to send help to your house if the issue is isolated. If widespread, they will be able to tell you the estimated time of restoration along with any other important information you need to know.
- Turn off or unplug all appliances and electronics. This will help prevent damage to your appliances and electronics if there is a power surge when the power comes back on.
- If you have a generator, use it to power essential appliances only as much as possible such as refrigerator and room lights (at night). If you do not have a generator, use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns for light. Avoid using candles, as they can be a fire hazard.
- If you have pets, make sure they have a safe place to stay warm and have access to food and water.
- Stay informed about the outage. You can check the website or social media of your utility company for updates.
- Be prepared to stay without power for an extended period of time. Pack a bag with essential supplies, such as food, water, first-aid kit, and flashlights.
Power outages are inevitable occurrences that people experience from time to time. It is crucial for everyone to know what they need to do at times like this so they can live as comfortably and safely as possible no matter what the cause of the power interruption may be.
* We want to give credit where credit is due. Professional writer, Ann Matthew, contributed research and content to this blog titled: What Causes a Power Outage Thank you, Ann, for your contributions!