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Power Grids Under Pressure: US Areas at Risk of Blackouts During the Summer

 Power Grids Under Pressure: US Areas at Risk of Blackouts During the Summer

Power outages aren’t something most people are thinking about until they happen. And when they do, it can be an extreme inconvenience, especially when you’re trying to cool your home during the hot summer months. For folks that work from home, the risk of getting knocked offline can also be a serious concern. That’s why you need to figure out if you’re in one of the US areas that will face an elevated risk of energy shortages this summer, according to a seasonal grid reliability assessment from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.

The report highlights regions of North America that could face grid reliability issues, thanks to too little supply of or too much demand for power. While this year’s summer grid outlook is better than last year’s, there are still some areas of the US that fall under an elevated risk of energy shortage and blackouts during unexpected extreme heat events. 

These areas could face blackouts “under an event that is on the caliber of a once-per-decade heat wave,” said Mark Olson, manager of reliability assessments at NERC.

NERC says much of the Midwest, New England and the region from California to Louisiana are at risk during higher-than-normal peak demand. British Columbia and Saskatchewan in Canada have a higher risk as well.

The chances of blackouts in your area

There are fewer affected areas than last year’s summer reliability report. The steady addition of renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, to the power grid has helped meet the power demand in some areas across the US, the report says. Utility-scale battery resources have also helped contribute to higher on-peak reserve margins during hours of peak demand.

“A lot of solar came onto the system,” Olson said. “And we’ve had more capacity stick around in some areas that were of concern in the past and that has helped to enable all areas to have resources for normal peak conditions as demand is growing.”

The grid is at risk for different reasons in different places. Retirement of natural gas-powered generators In New England could lead to less power capacity. Insufficient solar output and wind output during hours of peak demand might also pose some reliability issues in Texas, California, the Southwest and Midcontinental states. Extreme heat waves make transmitting power from other areas difficult. 

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These are the states NERC warns are under an elevated risk: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Power outages have been more common in recent years, though they’re down from their peak in 2020. In 2022, the most recent year with available data, the average American household had their electricity supply interrupted for five and a half hours, according to the Energy Information Administration. Over half of that time was due to “major events,” typically extreme weather. 

NERC’s report focuses on the risk of demand outstripping the power supply. Air conditioning can represent major demand on the grid, and the need for AC is only increasing. April 2024 was the hottest April ever recorded and the 11th record-setting month in a row. It’s likely that 2024 will be hotter than the historical average after 2023 was the hottest year humans have seen.

That’s thanks to climate change, which is fueled by the burning of fossil fuels for energy. In order to avoid the worst effects of a warming planet, the world needs to shift rapidly to zero carbon and renewable sources of energy. 

Climate change is responsible in part for the strain on the grid that raised the risk of blackouts this year. Some preparation can help.

Ways you can prepare for blackouts

If you live in an area of elevated risk or somewhere prone to severe weather and natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes, preparing for a blackout can pay off. Having a few essentials on hand can keep you safer and more comfortable while the power’s out.

Be sure to have enough nonperishable food and water on hand to get you through an extended outage. Keep a first aid kit ready. Note your utility’s emergency number and the location of local cooling or warming stations in case an outage comes during a heat wave or cold snap.

Having flashlights and batteries on hand will make dark nights more bearable. A portable power station (add portable solar panels to get a solar generator) or backup generator can replace at least some of the electricity you’ve lost. (If you run a generator, be sure you’re doing so safely.) Rooftop solar panels and a backup battery can keep a portion of your home — or all of it if you install enough batteries — powered up.

Watch this: Portable Power Station Buying Guide: Bring the Electricity with you

Emerging technologies may make weathering a blackout easier in the future. Microgrids — groups of buildings that can operate together with or separate from the grid — would stay powered up during a wider blackout. Bidirectional charging from electric vehicles, which is not yet widely available, would let you use the power stored in your car to run your house.

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