Most of us have experienced a situation where we’ve been going about our daily lives, and suddenly the power went out for no reason. Sometimes, power outages cause only a few seconds to a few minutes of disruption. Yet, in other circumstances, you may be left without power for hours — or in worst cases, even days.
Ever wondered what causes power outages and what you should do if you experience a blackout? Here’s everything you need to know.
The Process of Delivering Electricity
To understand the reasons for power outages, we must first learn more about how electricity is produced and distributed. There are three broad stages in generating electricity and distributing it to consumers. The underlying causes of power outages can derive from issues at any stage:
Power plants generate electricity by converting one form of energy into electrical energy. At BKV, we generate power by combining natural gas with a stream of air, which combusts and expands through a turbine to make electricity.
Because excess energy is expensive and difficult to store, electricity grids run at nearly a 1:1 ratio of demand to production, which means that only as much energy is produced as is being demanded by consumers at any given moment, and power plants are constantly adjusting their outputs to match.
Natural gas is an increasingly popular source of electricity production because it burns cleaner than coal and oil, and production is easy to quickly ramp up or down in alignment with real-time grid demand needs, unlike other sources.
Electricity is passed through step-up transformers before traveling long distances via high-voltage transmission lines — the large towers and pylons you see dotted across the natural landscape.
Electricity is passed through step-down transformers to convert it to a lower voltage so it can enter the distribution network, traveling along lines between utility poles and into customers’ homes.
Why Do Power Outages Happen?
Let’s take a more in-depth look at what causes power outages, considering a range of human, environmental, and mechanical failures.
Your Home Circuit
Many homes experience “flickers,” where power is lost for an instant. Has this ever happened to you, leaving you wondering, “why did my power go out and come back on?” The most likely causes are internal. So, if you experience flickers regularly, it’s a good idea to have a trained electrician check your home for:
Service panel damage
Broken breaker switches
Heatwaves, thunderstorms, and hurricanes are some of America’s leading power outage causes. For example, during the Texas winter storm of 2021, temperatures plummeted. The electric grid operator lost control of the power supply, leaving millions without electricity.
Earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides can cause significant damage to distribution towers and substations, resulting in long-lasting blackouts. As global temperatures continue to rise and adverse weather becomes more common, wildfires and flooding will remain common causes of power outages.
When maintenance workers disrupt cables with ladders or other equipment, power outages can occur. However, human error can also involve members of the public. Examples include power line disruption following vehicle collisions with power poles and when balloons from parties become lodged in overhead wires.
Old and aging equipment can push power plants to the uppermost limit of their operating capacity, leading to blackouts when the system becomes overloaded. For this reason, many power suppliers plan power outages during bouts of extreme heat or cold to ensure facilities can cope.
Power suppliers protect electricity supplies by placing barriers around electric towers, cables, and utility poles. However, small creatures like squirrels, birds, snakes, and raccoons may still breach defenses. Squirrels are particularly problematic and are estimated to cause up to 30% of power outages.
Sometimes, the answer to what causes power outages is the power company itself. Planned blackouts to conduct routine maintenance or upgrades are usually scheduled in advance. However, it’s also possible that companies may shut down operations to protect resources and reduce the chance of fire or equipment damage in periods of extreme weather.
Fallen trees and broken branches obstructing power lines are common causes of power outages. However, it’s not just mother nature that can uproot trees, which is why any felling or trimming should always be conducted by a professional.
Historically, most of Texas’s electricity supply has come from overhead sources. However, some areas have started to explore underground distribution methods. The cables sit just a few inches below the surface and are easily disrupted. That’s why Texas homeowners are required to contact 811 for approval before doing any digging.
Cold snaps – In February 2023, Texans were left in the dark for the second time in two years due to ‘the oakpocalypse’, a sudden icy freeze causing electrical damage from overburdened trees.
Hurricanes – Being close to the Gulf of Mexico, Texas is prone to more hurricanes than most other states. One of the worst on record was Hurricane Ike, which hit Galveston and Houston in 2008.
Thunderstorms – Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico combined with the state’s extreme heat makes Texas susceptible to thunderstorms. Thunderstorms bring lightning, which significantly increases the chance of blackouts.
Flash flooding – The central part of Texas has been dubbed “Flash Flood Alley” as it is particularly susceptible to sudden flooding that can take down power lines and disrupt the grid.
Tornados and high winds – Texas has a lot of flatlands, making it prone to tornadoes and high-speed winds. So much so, the areas around Lubbock and Amarillo in northern Texas have been named “Tornado Alley.”
What to Do When a Power Outage Occurs
No matter what causes electrical blackouts, the actions you take to avert and deal with power outages should be the same:
Take preventative measures – Run household electronics through surge protectors to reduce fire risk, and always disconnect appliances when a blackout hits.
Monitor alerts – Utilize the apps and alert systems available in your area to receive notifications and updates on planned and unplanned blackouts.
Stay connected – Use battery-operated radios and traditional corded telephones (which continue to operate on copper lines even during power outages), and invest in power banks to keep cell phones and computers running during outages.
Build a support network – Create a contact list of people who can help you stay safe at home or evacuate during an extended power outage.
Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home and test them monthly.
Plan for refrigeration – Always have coolers and plenty of ice on hand to keep food and medicines cold, and use a thermometer to monitor the temperature.
Stockpile supplies – Aim to have enough non-perishable food and water supplies to last at least two weeks.
Make an evacuationplan – Decide how and when to evacuate, ensuring you always have adequate medical supplies and a full gas tank.
Picking a Better Provider
It’s time to stop worrying about what causes power outages and start thinking about a more sustainable future for your home. At BKV, we understand that electricity powers the world around us. We have been safely producing cleaner-burning natural gas since 2015, and have invested heavily in upgrading our high-efficiency, low-emissions power plant in Temple for resiliency in extreme weather conditions, so we can keep supplying crucially-needed electricity to the grid when it needs it the most.
Contact our team today to choose between our range of straightforward energy plans. All come with a 30-day risk-free trial, allowing you to cancel for any reason with no termination fee.
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