Are power outages increasing in the U.S.? This question has taken the internet by storm lately ― pun intended!
But in all seriousness, extreme weather events, like unpredictable storms and devastating fires, have been on the rise in the U.S. in the last decade. These extreme conditions place more demand on our already overworked power grid and cause more power outages.
In this blog, we answer the question of why power outages are increasing in the U.S. and address:
- Some common causes of power outages
- Why the U.S. has more power outages than any other developed country
- The current state of our power grid
- The reasons for increasing power outages
- How extreme weather is causing longer, and more frequent, power outages
- What you can do to protect yourself from power outages
Let’s get started with why power outages happen and some common causes.
How do power outages happen?
The journey of power starts at the power plant, through transmission lines, and out through the distribution grid that delivers it to your home. There are four main reasons power outages happen, and they can occur at any point in this journey.
1. Distribution outage
Distribution failures are the most common cause of power outages. These outages occur when something happens to the power lines, poles or substation.
Some typical distribution failures include weather (for example, lightning striking the lines), squirrels getting caught in a substation, car crashes that take down poles and even mylar balloons getting stuck in the lines.
2. Transmission failure outage
The next cause of power outages, transmission failure, occurs less frequently, but its effects are more widespread. Transmission failures can be caused by inclement weather and can affect the equipment used across cities or states, causing widespread power outages that could last for hours or days.
3. Supply shortage outage
The third type of power outages are supply shortages. These are rare, but with severe weather events on the rise, this could become an increasing concern in the near future.
This type of power outage happens when demand is higher than normal, such as during extreme hot or extreme cold temperatures. In these situations, the power grid might fail if it can’t keep up with the demand. In fact, this contributed to the widespread power outages in Texas after it was hit by an unprecedented freeze back in February 2021, which pushed the power grid to its limits.
4. Planned outages
The last type of power outage is a planned outage. This happens when the electricity company decides to shut off the power for a short amount of time to make repairs, or in some cases, for public safety.
Examples include when the electricity supplier determines the power lines might catch on fire (for example, during the California wildfires) and shutting off the power is better than creating a disastrous situation that would be unsafe for the public.
Why the U.S. has a shocking number of power outages
If it seems like your power flickers and then dies on a somewhat regular basis, that’s because it does. Power outages are becoming almost commonplace in the U.S.
- Outages occurring on a grand scale (in other words, they affected more than 50,000 homes or businesses) became 10 times more common in the period of time from the mid-1980s to 2012.
- 3,571 outages occurred in 2015, affecting 13.2 million people.
- The average utility customer experienced 1.3 power interruptions, lasting an average of four hours, in 2016.
Age has a lot to do with increasing power outages in the U.S. Most of the grid was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. Furthermore, the grid had a 50-year life expectancy from the time it was completed. And the oldest power lines in the country? They were installed way back in the 1880s.
Clearly, some components of the power grid have exceeded their viable lifespan. So, it’s no wonder that the old equipment is beginning to malfunction in a major way.
The current (and questionable) state of our power grid
To be fair, the electric industry has invested a considerable amount of money in measures designed to strengthen the reliability, transmission and distribution capabilities of the U.S. power grid. In fact, annual spending on high voltage transmission lines increased from $15.6 billion in 2012 to $21.9 billion in 2017. Additionally, the amount of money spent annually on distribution systems increased 54% over the course of 20 years.
Despite these considerable efforts, the power grid still remains vulnerable to stressors like the following:
- Storms intensifying in severity
- Wildfires becoming more frequent and more widespread
- Americans’ expectations of an “always on” electricity system
- A growing number of people who depend on electronics
These stressors on the power grid will cause outages to become even more frequent than they are now.
Why increasing power outages will persist
While there are many reasons why bolstering the power grid is beneficial, some state regulators have pushed back on proposed measures. Solutions like burying power lines underground and creating “microgrids” could drive up already rising energy rates. Regulators approved just $3.4 billion of $15.7 billion in grid improvements under consideration last year.
At the same time, weather events like storms and wildfires are becoming more volatile and frequent each year. Driven by climate change, every type of storm from thunderstorms to hurricanes are leaving worse damage, including prolonged power outages, in their wake. Devastating wildfires have become the norm, not the exception. Some wipe out entire towns or even multiple towns. And with them go power lines.
The average American home experienced a total of eight hours of blackouts in one year in 2020. This outage time is double that of the average outage that occurred five years before. These power outages were due largely to severe weather events, with 11 major storms and 14 hurricanes affecting the U.S. the same year.
How to protect yourself from increasing power outages
So, if substantial improvements to the power grid are unlikely to happen anytime soon, and inclement weather is occurring more frequently, how can you help protect yourself from power outages?
We have three words for you: solar panel batteries.
Solar energy systems are designed to shut off if the power grid fails. Otherwise, utility workers would be at risk of getting shocked while they’re working to restore electricity.
At this point you might wonder how, in that case, solar energy can give you independence from the power grid? This is where solar batteries enter the picture.
There’ll be times when your solar panels produce more power than you need for your home. When this happens, you have the option to store the surplus power in solar batteries. You can then use this excess power at night or during a blackout to power critical and essential loads. Switching the power supply from your solar array to solar panel batteries is seamless and easy.
This is how solar batteries store power produced from your solar panels:
- The solar panels collect sunshine.
- A device called a microinverter converts the sunshine collected into a form of energy your home can use.
- Your lights, appliances and HVAC system use the amount of solar energy they need to operate.
- Unused solar power gets stored in the solar batteries for you to use whenever you need it.
It’s as simple, and effective, as that!
The benefits of solar energy batteries aren’t limited to keeping the lights on despite increasing power outages. Additional benefits include:
- Having energy at your disposal during routine maintenance on power lines
- Significant long-term savings on your energy bill
- Better control of your energy usage at home
- Freedom from rates that increase during peak energy usage hours
- Independence from the power grid during the evening
Like other types of batteries, different types of solar panel batteries are made of different materials. Lithium-ion batteries are ideal, as they have the longest lifespan and can hold a charge longer than other types of batteries.
Getting the counsel of a solar energy specialist is crucial for choosing the right kind of solar batteries for your individual needs. Details you should address include:
- The amount of energy you consume at home
- The size of your solar panel system
- The equipment and appliances your solar energy system powers
Break free from the unstable power grid
You don’t have to feel a sense of impending doom every time an extreme weather event rolls through your neck of the woods. When you have solar panel batteries to back up your solar array, you’ll gain more energy independence. Plus, you could enjoy savings on your energy bills and the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from utilizing an eco-friendly source of energy.
If you’d like to learn more about solar panel batteries, reach out to one of the solar energy specialists at ADT Solar. We can help you find the best type of battery for your energy needs.