What causes power outages?

What causes power outages?

power grid transporting electricity through the power grids

Electricity is something we take for granted in everyday life, and it’s something we expect to be continuously flowing out of sockets and through wires.

We use it for so many things every day that we may not even think about how important it is until the lights go out and we can’t see what we’re doing anymore.

However, many people don’t realize how many ways there are for something to go wrong with power grids and cause a power outage.

A power line is susceptible to damage from many things such as weather events, human error, trees, and even our furry friends, squirrels.

This blog will look at some of the leading causes of power outages, how they lead to electrical power loss, and what you can do about it.

What are power outages? 

A power outage (also called a power cut) is a short-term or long-term loss of electric power to a particular area. Generally, outages are classified as either planned or unplanned.

Planned outages occur when there are routine maintenance tasks that require the shutdown of certain electrical equipment. Unplanned outages can be caused by storms, faults in the electricity network, overload of electrical circuits, or failure of generators.

Power outages can be frustrating and inconvenient for businesses and people alike.

How long do power outages last?

This varies according to the cause of the outage and how quickly alternative power sources can be brought online. Power outages may last just a few seconds or several days, as we saw during the 2021 Texas Power Crisis.

Types of power outages

Blackouts?

Blackouts are complete power failures. Blackouts may last only a few seconds or several days, depending on the cause of the blackout.

During a blackout, the lights go out, and all electrical appliances stop working. Blackouts can be a major disruption to those who need power most such as hospitals and sewage treatment plants.

What are brownouts?

A brownout is a drop in voltage in an electrical power supply, but not to the level of blackouts. A brownout can be an intentional power reduction strategy used by electric utilities to avoid or reduce the possibility of a future blackout occurring.

What is a black start?

When a large power outage occurs, many electric utilities must rely on generators that can take anywhere from minutes to days to fully restore grid conditions. To speed up this process, an electrical distribution utility company will often set up emergency mobile generators as quickly as possible.

What is a rolling blackout?

A rolling blackout is when electricity stops for non-overlapping periods over different parts of the distribution region. Rolling blackouts are like an emergency measure that utility companies use to avoid a total blackout.

This strategy is used by electric utilities to restore power when they are faced with extremely high demand. They are used in extreme cases when the total load on the system approaches maximum capacity.

Utility companies do not notify customers before a rolling blackout occurs.

The utility company will use the rolling blackouts to reduce the load gradually for an acceptable amount of time until they can restore complete power.

What causes power outages? The main 5 reasons

There are many reasons as to what causes power outages. Here are the most common causes of power outages.

Severe weather: Hurricanes, storms, lightning, and earthquakes

Severe weather is the main culprit for power outages, causing major damage to transmission and distribution systems.

High winds, floods, and other natural disasters can cause significant damage to electrical equipment that may lead to a power outage.

In hurricanes, high winds from these storms have been known to topple power lines causing widespread power outages across an entire city for days after a storm passes through an area.

Lightning strikes have a history of causing equipment failure, resulting in a sudden loss of power for extended periods. One lightning bolt is enough to destroy a tree and cause it to fall onto a power line.

The job of restoring power after a natural disaster can take days, weeks, or even months to complete.

Wildlife: Trees and animals

Nature may be worthy of our admiration, but it has a history of causing damages to power lines across the country.

Tree limbs may come in contact with distribution lines causing a service disruption.

Squirrels have been known to climb onto power lines. When their bodies come into contact with two conductors at different electrical potentials, they can cause the power to short out, resulting in a power outage.

Besides this, other animals cause power outages because they climb on equipment like transformers and fuses. When this happens, the equipment shuts down.

Due to evolving technology on the electrical grid, you may only lose power for a few seconds if an animal comes in contact with the power lines, and this is thanks to protection schemes. The power lines will be re-energized when it is clear of the foreign object, giving your home the power it needs.

High Power Demand: 

High power demand is another major cause of power outages. If a utility company does not have the capacity to provide enough electricity, this will result in a power outage, and the number of people affected will be high.

The electric grid is currently under extreme stress. Electricity is being consumed at a phenomenal rate as more people choose to work from home, buy electric vehicles and invest in more technology.

Energy demand has increased so much that power providers are struggling to provide enough electricity in some parts of the world.

Scheduled maintenance

Scheduled maintenance is a cause of a power outage which often affects a small number of people and may only last a few hours while equipment is replaced. When this happens, customers are usually alerted that the work will occur in advance by a notice from their utility company.

Utilities perform maintenance to make improvements to the grid and reduce the risk of an outage. One typical example is that utilities replace old equipment with new equipment that is more efficient and reliable.

Human error: vehicles accidents and construction work

Vehicles can accidentally hit a utility pole, and the consequences can be pretty dramatic.

Another reason why power outages occur is construction work. Construction workers may accidentally damage underground distribution lines while digging with heavy machinery like excavators used to excavate the ground.

Outages resulting from human error can take a while to repair and may affect many people. This, of course, depends on the number of people affected by accidents or how widespread they are.

What is the most common cause of power outages in the U.S.?

Bad weather is the number one cause of power outages.

Storms and high winds have run rampage across the U.S., resulting in power outages across the country. The effects of bad weather are far-reaching. Hurricanes can last for days at a time, affecting many people with widespread power outages all over the area where the storm occurred.

The recent hurricane Ida left 130,000 people without power in the tri-state area.

How do I check for power outages in my area?

Projects such as poweroutage.us and downdetector.com allow you to check power outages in your area.

Power outage maps show where there are power outages in real-time and allow you to search for all kinds of information about the companies that provide power in your area.

How can I prevent power outages?

Power outages occur for several reasons, many of which are out of your control. This is why it’s important to be prepared in the case of larger blackouts.

Energy independence is a major topic of discussion in the U.S.

Many people seek ways to make their homes off-grid using solar energy and other sustainable resources, while some have already done just that.

Off-Grid living is a trendy alternative thanks to its cost-efficiency, power outage protection, and environmental benefits. Fortunately, Solar energy in the U.S. is the cheapest it has ever been and continues to drop as technology advances.

Solar and battery storage offers protection from power outages

A solar energy system with battery storage is the perfect solution for homeowners who want to rely less on utility companies for their energy.

Power generation from your roof will reduce your energy bills by over 40%, and you can even sell any excess power generated back to the grid.

The batteries store extra solar energy produced during the day, which you can use at night, during bad weather, or during an outage. Solar energy stored in a battery backup system can power your home for up to 3 days, keeping your home online as it should be.

If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve written articles on how solar works, and how solar battery storage works

Summary: What causes power outages, and what can I do to help?

To recap, the main causes of power outages are bad weather, human error, scheduled maintenance, accidents involving vehicles or wildlife. Power outages may last from a few seconds to a few weeks, depending on their cause.

There is an increasing strain on utilities to meet the demand for customers. When this demand exceeds supply, you lose power. We believe this demand will continue to grow as more people adopt electric vehicles and the new work-from-home lifestyle.

To keep your energy costs low and reduce the strain on the grid, you should consider installing solar panels and batteries for your home’s electricity generation. Solar companies help customers like you go solar for no money down.

Protect yourself from power outages and utility price hikes with solar. Reach out to our team on (609) 225-4101 or fill out the form below to determine how much you can save by making the switch!

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Daisy Perez

Daisy Perez

Hi, I'm Daisy. I love solar energy! My job is to help people get the most out of their solar panels, and it's so amazing being able to do that every day.

I also enjoy taking trips to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia for some serenity time – it's a great place for me to recharge my batteries and just relax.

But when I’m not doing those things, you can find me at home with my dogs or cooking up something yummy in the kitchen.

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