How Do Rolling Blackouts Work?

Rolling blackouts, also referred to as load shedding or rotating outages, are deliberate and carefully planned interruptions in electrical power supply. These outages are implemented as a strategy to conserve power when the demand for electricity exceeds the available supply. These planned blackouts affect specific regions or even entire communities for a predetermined period of time. By strategically rotating a rolling blackout schedule, utility companies can manage and balance the overall consumption of electricity, preventing widespread system failures.

Understanding what a rolling outage is, how rolling power blackouts work, their purpose, and why they’re necessary is vital in appreciating their role in maintaining a steady supply of electricity in times of strain.

What is a Rolling Blackout?

Historically, rolling energy blackouts were adopted as a preventive measure against complete power failure during high electricity demand. By strategically implementing these temporary power outages in different areas, the overall energy grid could be stabilized and prevent a widespread collapse, ensuring that essential services and operations continued to function.

This proactive approach aimed to balance the electric supply and demand of electricity, mitigating the risk of overwhelming the power system and maintaining a reliable energy infrastructure for the community.

What is the Purpose of Rolling Blackouts?

Rolling blackouts play a crucial role in:

Energy Conservation

Especially during severe weather conditions or high usage times, energy demand can surge. Blackouts ensure the grid doesn’t get overwhelmed.

Balancing Supply and Demand

Blackouts are implemented to maintain a balance when the power supply is limited.

Preventing Total Grid Failures

By controlling power in certain areas, blackouts prevent the entire system from collapsing.

How Do Rolling Blackouts Work?

The process involves:

Scheduled vs. Unplanned Blackouts

Scheduled blackouts are announced in advance, while unplanned ones occur without warning.

Selection of Areas

Grid operators choose areas based on a rotation system.


Most last for 1-2 hours, but this can vary.

Determination of Schedule

Power availability, area demographics, and infrastructure capability influence the schedule.

What Causes Rolling Blackouts?

Some common reasons include:

  • Grid Maintenance: Scheduled maintenance might require power cut-offs.
  • High Energy Demand: Particularly during heatwaves or cold snaps, when HVAC systems are on full blast.
  • Unexpected Events: Natural disasters like hurricanes or technical malfunctions can trigger blackouts.
power line maintenance

Are Rolling Blackouts Legal? 

Once you know the answer to “How do rolling blackouts work?” you probably wonder, “Are these blackouts legal?” Generally, yes. Power companies are obligated to provide consistent power, but they also need to ensure the safety and reliability of the entire grid. They justify scheduled rolling blackouts as a necessary measure to avoid larger, more damaging outages.

Impact of Rolling Electricity Blackouts

A rolling power outage can significantly disrupt daily life:

  • Businesses may suffer losses due to halted operations.
  • Households can face challenges, especially those dependent on medical equipment.
  • Economically, frequent blackouts can deter investments and increase costs.
  • Safety concerns arise as a lack of power affects traffic systems, public transportation, and emergency services.

Rolling Blackout Prevention

Some potential solutions include:

  • Energy Conservation Measures: Promoting energy-efficient appliances and mindful consumption.
  • Alternative Energy Sources: Investing in renewable energy reduces dependence on traditional power grids.
  • Infrastructure Upgrades: Modernizing power systems ensures they can handle increased demands.

What to Do in Rolling Blackouts (And How To Prepare) 

Anticipating a blackout means ensuring the safety and convenience of yourself and your loved ones. Given the unpredictable nature of such events, preparation can significantly reduce the associated inconveniences and risks. Here’s an expanded guide on how to be better equipped:

Emergency Kits

Create a comprehensive emergency kit tailored to your needs. This should include:

  • Flashlights: Keep extra batteries in stock. 
  • Candles: Opt for long-lasting candles, and don’t forget matches or lighters.
  • Non-perishable food: Stock up on canned goods, dried fruits, nuts, and other items that don’t require refrigeration.
  • First Aid Kit: Including bandages, antiseptics, pain relievers, and any essential medication.
  • Bottled water: Aim for at least one gallon per person per day, keeping a three-day supply.

Back-Up Power Sources

  • Generators: If you choose to invest in a generator, ensure you understand its operation and safety protocols. Store fuel in safe containers and never run a generator indoors due to carbon monoxide risks.
  • Portable Power Banks: These can keep your devices running for a while when there’s no power.
portable generator

Stay Informed

  • Local News: Regularly monitor local news channels for updates on the power situation.
  • Official Announcements: Power companies will often provide updates on expected durations of blackouts and areas affected.
  • Apps and Notifications: Some utility companies have apps or SMS services that notify users of planned outages.

General Preparation Tips

  • Alternative Cooking Methods: Since electric stoves might not work, consider having alternatives like portable gas stoves. Always follow safety guidelines when using them.
  • Secure Your Home: If you have electric security systems or garage doors, know how to operate them manually.
  • Special Considerations: If someone in your home relies on electrically powered medical equipment, consider having backup power options or even planning a temporary relocation for the duration of the blackout.
  • Community Network: Establish a network with your neighbors. Checking on each other, especially the elderly and those with special needs, can be lifesaving during prolonged rolling power outages.
  • Electronic Devices: Always keep your essential electronic devices, such as mobile phones, laptops, and medical equipment, fully charged.
  • Non-electric Chargers: Consider purchasing solar or hand-crank chargers for emergency situations.

By integrating these practices into your preparedness plan, you can ensure a level of comfort and security during rolling blackouts. It’s always better to be prepared for rolling black outs than to be caught off guard.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long are rolling blackouts supposed to last?

Rolling blackouts are usually implemented as short-term measures to prevent overwhelming the power system. Typically, they last between 1-2 hours. However, the rolling blackout length might vary based on the severity of the power shortage or other grid-related issues.

Why are there rolling power outages?

Rolling power outages, also known as rolling blackouts, are preventive measures taken when the demand for electricity surpasses the available supply. They are designed to prevent a complete and potentially catastrophic grid collapse. By temporarily cutting power to specific areas, the balance between supply and demand is maintained, ensuring the overall stability of the energy grid.

How long do blackouts last in Texas?

The rolling blackout duration in Texas can vary significantly. While most rolling blackouts are brief, lasting just a few hours, certain unforeseen events, like the severe winter storms Texas experienced recently, led to prolonged outages that lasted for several days. The duration often depends on the root cause and the capacity of the Texas power grid to manage and rectify the situation.

What causes electrical blackouts?

Various factors can trigger rolling blackouts. High energy demand, especially during extreme weather conditions, is a primary reason for rolling blackouts. Other causes include technical malfunctions, scheduled maintenance, infrastructure limitations, and unexpected natural events, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, that can impact power generation or distribution.