Power outages have increased over the past 10 years. Here’s what it is

Analysis by Climate Central, a non-profit research group, revealed that from 2000 to 2021, 83% of all reported power outages were caused by weather events, from drought-induced fires to damaging storms. such as tornadoes and hurricanes – many of which will only intensify as the climate warms.

And those numbers are in an uptrend. Researchers reported that outages in the past 10 years have increased by 64% over the previous decade.

“This is really something we should worry about because this is affecting all of us and we are seeing more of it,” Kaitlyn Trudeau, a data analyst at Climate Central who worked on the report, told CNN.

“The system we have right now was not built in a time and climate that we are living now,” he added. “He is not prepared for the climate we have now and for the climate we will see in the future.”

Using federal data provided by utility companies and North American Electric Reliability Corp., the researchers found more than 1,500 cases of power outages due to extreme weather conditions since 2000, including those caused by high winds; heavy rains and thunderstorms; winter weather, including snow, ice and freezing rain; Hurricanes; extreme heat and fires. Climate researchers have noted that many of these phenomena are becoming more intense and frequent as global temperatures rise.

Climate Central found that Texas has reported the largest number of weather disruptions since 2000, followed by Michigan, California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The winter storm and cold wave of February 2021, for example, was the most expensive winter weather event on record, resulting in multiple days with sub-zero temperatures leading to several days of power outages for millions of customers in Texas. According to government data, nearly 10 million people in the south had no electricity at the height of the outages.

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Then, in May, a heat wave took six natural gas power plants in Texas out of service. The state grid operator has asked residents to limit electricity consumption by keeping thermostats at 78 degrees or more and avoiding the use of large appliances that draw energy during peak hours.
Texas utilities reported about 80 weather outages between 2019 and 2021 alone, about 44 percent of Texas’s total since 2000. Bad weather, winter storms, and hurricanes caused most of the outages. The report also found that the state operates its own grid independently of the country’s two main grids, making it difficult to draw power from elsewhere during disaster events.
In California, researchers documented 44 climate-related outages between 2019 and 2021, more than a third of the state’s total since 2000. And, they said, fires pose a growing threat to stable electricity there. California utilities are required to implement public safety power outages to reduce equipment fire hazards during extreme fire days. At least 14 of the 44 state disruptions during that period were due to these preventive arrests.

Romany Webb, a researcher at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said U.S. utility companies need to take climate change into account by assessing whether existing stations are in areas at risk from flooding, such as severe drought. may affect the operation of the power plant, or how power lines may be affected by rising temperatures.

“For many, the results will come as no surprise because, across the United States, people are already directly experiencing climate-related disruptions to electricity and other services,” said Webb, who was not involved in the report. . “As we have seen in recent years, these disruptions can have deadly consequences. Things will only get worse if we don’t act.”

Steven Weissman, a lecturer emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in law and energy policy, said he would like the analysis to expand to focus on all aspects of grid operation – and not just the transmission system – how the world seeks cleaner sources of energy.

“As we move more towards these intermittent energy sources like solar and wind, we must move to an era where we predict supply and then manage demand, in some way turning it upside down,” Weissman, who is not been involved in the report, he told CNN. “And how do you handle the demand? Well, set prices that will encourage people to use energy at peak times. You can also encourage people to have smart appliances that are not supposed to take power from the grid when demand is highest.”

Firefighters spray water on trees during the Dixie Fire, caused by damage to power lines, in August 2021 near Janesville, California.
Trudeau said the United States must create a more resilient and reliable electricity system to prevent power outages as climate change advances. The construction of microgrids, small grids powered by renewable sources that act as a backup for the primary power grid, in the event of a major power outage, for example, can help residents withstand power outages while reducing emissions from production of electricity. power.

When Hurricane Sandy brought heavy rain, strong winds and floods to the northeast in 2012 and caused significant damage to electrical infrastructure, for example, microgrids helped residents weather the storm. At that time, 21 states along the east coast experienced widespread power outages.

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He also said states must invest in smart grid technologies and strengthen the grid to withstand severe storm damage, while also providing incentives for customers to reduce excessive energy use during peak hours.

Despite increasing extreme weather conditions, Webb said utilities have not yet thought about the future.

“Unfortunately, many power companies and system operators are not yet engaging in this type of planning and have instead chosen to ignore the reality of climate change,” Webb said. “However, it is rapidly becoming impossible to ignore. The sooner action is taken, the better off we will all be.”

Until the United States makes large-scale investments and pushes to create a more reliable and resilient power grid, the climate crisis is likely to lead to more outages and force grid operators to encourage the public to reduce their electricity consumption when supply is unable to meet demand, according to Trudeau.

“There is no magic wand we can wave right now,” said Trudeau. “But ultimately the things we can focus on are things like reducing our emissions, because it’s the most significant action to slow the rate of warming and the increasing stress on our power grid and really give us more time to adapt to our climate. that changes. .”


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