Table of Content
- What is a rolling blackout?
- Effects of rolling blackouts
- How do blackouts disrupt businesses, communities, emergency services, and daily life?
- Why are rolling blackouts implemented?
- What to prepare for rolling blackouts?
- How long does a blackout last?
- How to cope with rolling blackouts?
- Solutions to rolling blackouts
- Getting power with portable solar generators during rolling blackouts
Rolling blackouts are usually short, intentional power outages that can disrupt daily life and pose challenges for communities when implemented.
Individuals and policymakers need to understand what causes rolling blackouts, how they impact society and the economy, how best to prepare for them, and what solutions can help prevent them.
By defining rolling blackouts, recognizing their damaging effects, developing emergency plans, and investing in new technologies, we can work towards a more resilient energy infrastructure and make these inconvenient outages a rarity rather than an unwanted annoyance.
What is a rolling blackout?
A rolling blackout, also known as a power outage or load shedding, refers to a planned shutdown of electrical power. Utilities typically implement rolling blackouts when electricity demand exceeds the available supply, threatening to overload the power grid. Rolling blackouts typically stem from two primary factors: a lack of adequate power production capabilities or an insufficient infrastructure to transport electricity to the areas where it's required.
Rather than a complete shutoff of power for an extended period, rolling blackouts involve cycling the disruption of power for short durations across different areas or groups of customers. For example, some neighborhoods may lose power for 1-2 hours at a time, while the outage rotates between areas every few hours.
Rolling blackouts are usually a last resort for utilities to avoid a total blackout of the grid. However, they can still cause major disruptions and inconveniences, with impacts ranging from lost productivity and spoiled food to health and safety issues. While shorter in duration than a complete blackout, rolling blackouts represent a failure of the system to provide a consistent and reliable supply of electrical power to all customers and critical infrastructure. For this reason, they deserve attention and action to strengthen the power grid against such disruptions.
What is rolling blackout vs brownout vs blackout?
A rolling blackout is a deliberate, temporary power cut implemented by utility companies to prevent a complete power loss when electricity demand exceeds supply. This is systematically rotated among different regions to distribute the impact. A brownout, on the other hand, is a reduction in voltage, either intentional (to manage high demand periods) or unintentional (due to power system issues), causing lights to dim and devices to underperform. Lastly, a blackout refers to a complete, usually unintentional, power loss in a specific area due to factors such as equipment failure or severe weather, which can last from minutes to days depending on the problem’s severity and resolution time.
Which parts of the U.S. are at risk of blackouts in the 2023 summer?
According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's (NERC) annual assessment, large parts of the U.S. are at an "elevated risk" of power loss during the summer of 2023. The regions at risk include the entirety of the continental U.S. from Texas to the West Coast, along with large portions of the Midwest and New England. However, there are no regions considered "high risk," where normal peak conditions could exhaust operating reserves, a situation that occurred in many states under the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) in 2022, such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana.
Can utilities turn off your electricity in a heat wave?
Yes, utility companies can turn off your electricity during a heatwave, but they generally try to avoid doing so because it can be dangerous for people who rely on air conditioning to stay cool. However, in extreme circumstances, if the demand for electricity greatly exceeds the supply, utility companies may have no choice but to implement rolling blackouts to prevent a total collapse of the power grid.
Effects of rolling blackouts
Rolling blackouts have widespread negative consequences that justify efforts to minimize their occurrence. When the power goes out, businesses face losses from spoiled inventory, closed operations, and lost productivity. Hospitals have to postpone elective surgeries, delay test results, and rely on emergency generators. Homes lose access to essential services like heating, cooling, lighting, cooking, and medical equipment that requires power.
Public safety also suffers during blackouts. Emergency responders have difficulty operating without power and traffic signals. People in vulnerable groups like the elderly, sick, and disabled become more at risk. Crime rates sometimes spike in blackout areas. Basic sanitation and hygiene become challenges for those without backup power or wells.
How do blackouts disrupt businesses, communities, emergency services, and daily life?
The impacts of blackouts reverberate through the entire economy, not just the areas where the outages occurred. When businesses are unable to operate at full capacity or have to close temporarily, it leads to job losses, reduced tax revenue for cities and states, decreased consumer spending, and supply chain issues. The costs of repairing infrastructure damage from equipment failures or natural disasters that sparked the blackouts also add to the financial burden.
While short-term blackouts may be unavoidable at times, frequent or prolonged rolling blackouts signal deeper issues with the power grid and energy systems that need resolution.
By prioritizing reforms, investing in new technologies, and building redundancy and resilience into critical infrastructure, we can work towards making blackouts a rare anomaly rather than an all-too-common annoyance or danger. Reliable access to electricity should be available for all members of society and all areas of the economy.
Why are rolling blackouts implemented?
Rolling blackouts are implemented for a few key reasons:
To prevent larger, uncontrolled blackouts when electricity demand exceeds supply. By rolling outages across regions, it helps avoid overwhelming the entire grid.
- To share limited electricity resources across more consumers during supply shortages. Rotating blackouts distribute the power interruptions and share the burden.
- To buy time for utilities to bring additional generating capacity online or restore downed power lines. The controlled outages provide a safety valve temporarily.
- To reduce electricity demand and consumption to match lower supply levels. Forcing localized blackouts curtails usage and stabilizes the supply-demand imbalance.
- To maintain the stability and integrity of the overall power grid network. Controlled, managed load shedding is preferable to transmission failures that could cascade.
- To comply with orders from grid operators when electricity reserves drop below required minimums. Utilities have to act to preserve the larger grid.
- To preemptively reduce strain on the system in anticipation of high demand or insufficient supply. A proactive measure ahead of projected shortfalls.
So in essence, rolling blackouts allow grid operators to strategically manage limited electricity supplies during supply crunches to avoid even larger uncontrolled outages. The outages are an emergency measure of last resort to keep the lights on across more areas.
What to prepare for rolling blackouts?
To cope with the inconveniences and dangers of rolling blackouts, it is important for individuals and businesses to prepare in advance.
- Developing an emergency plan that outlines steps to take before, during and after a blackout will help ensure safety, secure critical supplies, and minimize losses.
- Stocking up on essential gear like flashlights, batteries, a battery-powered radio, a first aid kit, and emergency blankets is advisable.
- Have enough food, water, medications and hygiene products on hand to survive without power for at least 72 hours.
- Backup power sources such as generators, solar generators, or batteries can provide temporary power for important equipment like refrigerators, medical devices, lighting, etc. Charging electronic devices in advance may also be useful.
- Consider alternative communication options like a landline phone if relying only on cell service.
- Cash should be kept on hand in case power is out for an extended period and stores are able to process credit card payments.
With the right preparations and persistence, rolling blackouts do not have to significantly disrupt daily life or pose major risks to safety and security. A little advance work can go a long way towards blackout-proofing communities.
How long does a blackout last?
A blackout could last minutes to even several weeks.
In some cases, blackouts may be relatively short, lasting only a few minutes to a couple of hours. These short-duration blackouts are often caused by momentary faults or quick restoration efforts by the utility companies.
However, more significant blackouts caused by severe weather events, extensive damage to power infrastructure, or other complex issues can last much longer. These large-scale blackouts can persist for several hours or even days before power is fully restored.
In extreme cases, such as natural disasters or major grid failures, blackouts can extend for weeks or even longer, especially if the affected area faces challenges in repairing and rebuilding the damaged power infrastructure.
How to cope with rolling blackouts?
When a rolling blackout occurs, it is important to stay informed about outage schedules, restoration estimates, and any necessary precautions or preparedness measures. Local utilities and government agencies will provide updates via radio, television, website and emergency alert systems to notify the public about the blackout, estimate how long it may last, and warn people to limit non-essential energy usage.
Conserving energy during a blackout means limiting the use of generators, propane heaters, candles and other alternative power sources when possible for critical life support functions like medical equipment. Turn off lights, electronics, appliances and unnecessary devices to reduce strain on backup power and minimize hazards. Only run the essentials - a radio, freezer, one light per room - until power is restored.
Staying safe with no power is crucial, so only use flashlights, battery-powered lanterns, and candles carefully. Never leave them unattended. Ensure all pilot lights are out before leaving home. Secure bread ovens, space heaters, fireplaces and other potential fire hazards. Turn off stoves, heaters and dehumidifiers. Be cautious of downed power lines and report them immediately.
Check on vulnerable neighbors, young children or elderly relatives frequently during a blackout. Make sure they have emergency supplies, can safely access or remain in their homes, and stay informed about updates regarding the outage. Stock refrigerated food, medication and other critical supplies will last longer if kept closed as much as possible while power is out. Run water only when needed to ensure adequate pressure for sanitation and firefighting access.
Emergency management organizations appreciate people's patience, cooperation and conservation efforts during rolling blackouts. By staying informed, reducing energy usage when possible, and taking safety precautions, individuals will have the most comfortable and secure experience during an unavoidable power disruption. Coping with blackouts is made easier when preparation and communication are priorities.
Solutions to rolling blackouts
Several approaches are needed to significantly reduce the frequency and impact of rolling blackouts over the long run.
- Investing in renewable energy from sources like solar is essential for building a more resilient power grid.Take Texas in 2023 summer. Solar power has helped the state avoid rolling blackouts amid three-digit temperatures. Moving away from dependence on any single generation source makes the system stronger and less vulnerable. Battery power station allows renewable energy to provide power even when natural sources are not available. Diversifying energy inputs with clean, sustainable solutions boosts security and independence.
- Improving infrastructure by upgrading old transmission lines, substations and equipment will make the grid operate more efficiently and reliably. Accelerating maintenance programs, expanding capacity in growing areas and ensuring disaster resistance can prevent many blackout events caused by equipment failures or weather damage. Investing in microgrids and smart distribution networks at local levels also allows some areas to stay powered even when the main grid is down.
- Smart grid technology enables more automated monitoring, active management and automated response capabilities. Advanced metering, distribution automation, microgrids and demand response programs allow for real-time awareness of issues, quicker problem-solving, reduced losses and cost optimization. Sensors, software and AI can predict risks, analyze data to find inefficiencies and better adapt to changing conditions like extreme weather events or shifts in energy usage patterns. Integration of smart solutions across generation, transmission, distribution and consumption leads to a "self-healing" smart grid that is more resilient.
Combining investments in renewable energy, infrastructure hardening and smart grid innovations will result in a secure, sustainable and failure-resistant power network. With consistent progress across these solutions, rolling blackouts can transition from an aggravation to an anomaly and ultimately become far less frequent and impactful over time.
While the changes required are substantial, the costs of not improving the energy system and reducing blackouts are far greater. Concerted action is needed, but solving this problem is within reach by believing in and enabling the solutions.
Getting power with portable solar generators during rolling blackouts
When rolling blackouts strike and leave you without electricity, Growatt portable solar generators provide a reliable backup power source. The lightweight battery packs store massive amounts of power from integrated solar panels, letting you charge essential electronics and run critical appliances even when the grid is down.
During a blackout, Growatt solar generators can power things like:
- Mobile phones, tablets, laptops and other electronics - Keep your devices charged and connected.
- LED lights, coffee makers and small appliances - Run projectors, fans, radios and more using AC power adapters.
- Medical equipment - For those with special needs, solar generators provide consistent and regulated power for oxygen concentrators, CPAP machines and other lifesaving gear.
As long as the sun is shining, a Growatt portable solar generator will continue generating renewable energy for you. The batteries also retain power for years so you can charge before a blackout and rely on them for backup power for days. With capacity options up to 1382Wh, one Growatt solar generator(e.g., INFINITY 1300) has enough juice to cover emergency power basic needs for an entire family.
Staying prepared during power outages has never been more affordable and eco-friendly. Growatt solar generators provide independence from the grid using sustainable solar energy as your backup power source. Keep the lights on, devices charged and essentials running with Growatt-even when the power is out.
In conclusion, rolling blackouts represent a failure to provide a basic necessity and should be addressed with urgency. By recognizing their causes, impacts and solutions, individuals and policymakers can work together to develop a strategic plan for improving energy infrastructure and making blackouts a thing of the past.
Fixing the problems that lead to rolling blackouts in the first place will require funding priorities, regulatory changes, new technologies, and a shared commitment to building a resilient and disaster-proof power grid.
- Wikipedia - Rolling blackout
- Wikipedia - List of major power outages
- Energy.gov - How to Prepare Your Home for a Blackout