In the last 10 years, power outages have increased. Here’s what’s wrong


A study by nonprofit research group Climate Central found that from 2000 to 2021, 83 percent of all reported power outages were caused by a weather-related event, from drought-induced wildfires to damaging storms like tornadoes and hurricanes. of which will increase as the climate warms.

And these numbers are on the rise. Researchers report that over the past 10 years, outages have increased by 64% compared to the previous decade.

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

“The system we have now was not built in the time and climate we live in now,” he added. “It’s not prepared for the climate we have now, and the climate we’re going to see in the future.”

Using federal data provided by utilities and the North American Electric Reliability Corp., researchers found more than 1,500 cases of extreme weather-related power outages since 2000, including those caused by high winds; rain and thunderstorms; winter weather, including snow, ice and freezing rain; hurricanes; extreme heat and forest 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 had the highest number of weather-related outages since 2000, followed by Michigan, California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The February 2021 winter storm and cold snap, for example, was the costliest winter weather event on record, with several days of sub-freezing temperatures and multiple days of outages for millions of Texas customers. Nearly 10 million people in the south were without power at the time of the outages, according to government figures.

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Then, in May, a heat wave connected six natural gas power plants in Texas. The state grid operator has asked residents to limit their electricity use, keeping thermostats at 78 degrees or higher and avoiding the use of large energy-sucking appliances during peak times.
Texas utilities reported about 80 weather-related outages between 2019 and 2021 alone — about 44 percent of Texas’ total since 2000. Severe weather, winter storms and hurricanes caused most of the outages. The report also noted that the state operates its own grid independently of the country’s two main grids, making it difficult to draw from elsewhere in the event of disasters.
In California, researchers documented 44 weather-related outages between 2019 and 2021, more than a third of the state’s since 2000. California utilities are required to implement public safety power shutdowns to reduce the risk of equipment ignition during extreme wildfire days. During that time, at least 14 of the state’s 44 outages were due to these precautionary shutdowns.

Romany Webb, a researcher at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said U.S. utilities need to take climate change into account — by assessing whether existing plants are in flood-prone areas, how severe droughts could affect plant operations. or how rising temperatures can affect power lines.

“The findings will not come as a surprise to many because across the United States, people are already experiencing first-hand disruptions in electricity and other services related to climate change,” said Webb, who was not involved in the report. “As we’ve seen in recent years, these disruptions can have deadly consequences. Things will only get worse if we don’t take action.”

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

“As we move more toward these continuous sources of energy like solar and wind, we have to move to an era where we predict supply and then manage demand, turn it upside down,” Weissman, who was not involved in the report, said. he told CNN. “And how do you manage demand? Well, you set prices that encourage people to use power at peak times. You can also encourage people to have smart appliances that don’t need to draw power from the grid when demand is highest.”

Firefighters spray water on trees in the Dixie Fire, which damaged power lines, in August 2021 near Janesville, California.
Trudeau said the US needs to create a more robust and reliable electricity system to avoid power outages as climate change progresses. Building microgrids — small, renewable grids that act as backups to the main power grid in the event of a major power outage — for example, can help residents cope with power outages while reducing emissions from power generation.

When Hurricane Sandy brought heavy rain, strong winds and flooding to the Northeast in 2012 and caused extensive damage to electrical infrastructure, for example, microgrids helped residents weather the storm. At the time, 21 states along the East Coast experienced widespread power outages.

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He also said states should invest in smart grid technologies, harden the grid to withstand severe storm damage, and offer incentives to customers to reduce excess energy use during peak periods.

Despite the increase in extreme weather, Webb said utilities have yet to think about progress.

“Unfortunately, many electric utilities and system operators are still not planning for this, choosing instead to ignore the reality of climate change,” Webb said. “However, it is becoming impossible to ignore. The sooner we take action, the better off we all will be.”

Until the US makes large-scale investments and pushes to create a more reliable and resilient electricity grid, the climate crisis will lead to more outages and force grid operators to encourage citizens to cut electricity use when supply is unable to meet demand. to Trudeau.

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