AAmericans are no strangers to blackouts. From shorter outages that are just inconvenient enough to disrupt daily routines, to widespread and prolonged grid outages, residents in every state know the experience of power loss. As this story was about to be published, New Yorkers in 11 upstate counties were in a state of emergency due to a snowstorm and were preparing for local power outages.” likely,” according to the public safety advisory.
As natural disasters become more frequent and more severe due to climate change, longer – and sometimes deadly – blackouts become a bigger threat. This was made clear in 2021, as US power grid systems strained and at times crashed during several periods of severe weather. According to the US Energy Information Administration’s Annual Electricity Industry Report, the average electricity consumer spent seven hours and 20 minutes without power that year, more than five (72%) of which major weather events such as hurricanes, forest fires and snowstorms. released last week.
Although the number in 2021 was 52 minutes lower than in 2020, it was still among the highest in recent history and continued a trend of longer blackouts due to weather events. Between 2013 and 2016, for example, the average customer outage was three to four hours per year, only about half of which was attributable to a major event. (Figures only include interruptions of at least five minutes.)
Despite ongoing projects across the country that aim to strengthen the grid, including $20 billion in federal support from last year’s Build Back Better Act to modernize electrical systems, experts say it much remains to be done. The progressively worsening outages in recent years indicate that the forces of Mother Nature are impacting America’s electrical systems faster than the country has been able to counter them with stronger infrastructure.
A state-level analysis of data from last year shows how more frequent and intense weather events — rather than, say, rogue treefalls or naughty wildlife — are driving the trend on the rise. In 2021, a winter storm plunged the Gulf States (and in particular Texas) into an energy crisis. Then Atlantic storms swept through this area, including Hurricane Ida which severely damaged power lines around New Orleans. In the northwest, the disruptions came from both extremely cold winter temperatures and scorching wildfires and summer heat waves that literally melted power lines.
As a result, power outages have been uneven across the country, as shown in the graph below. While 28 states and Washington, DC averaged less than five hours without power, states like Texas (20 hours), Oregon (25 hours) and Louisiana (80 hours) experienced greater disruptions. Customers in those states also experienced more power outages than most other Americans.
More and longer power outages are expected due to climate change unless US power systems become more resilient. “If we don’t put some sort of reliability-focused mechanisms in place, we will most certainly see more and more network outages as the frequency and intensity of these weather impacts increase,” says Rebekah de la Mora. , political analyst at NC. Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University.
After Hurricane Ida, for example, repairs to Louisiana’s toppled transmission towers included upgrades that will allow transmission lines to withstand Category 5 hurricane winds. But another critical resiliency measure, the solar panel installations on residential rooftops, has plummeted in Louisiana since 2015, when state incentive programs expired. Only about a third of the capacity installed in 2015 was installed in 2021, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Experts say a robust, multifaceted approach is needed to prepare for climate impacts.
“We want to increase distributed generation, which includes increasing rooftop solar for personal use and increasing the number of microgrids in communities. And we also want to improve the reliability of the grid on a larger scale as a whole,” says de la Mora. “It’s not a question of [whether] any solution will do, but in my opinion these are all the solutions.
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