And those numbers are on an upward trend. The researchers reported that interruptions in the last 10 years had increased by 64% compared to the previous decade.
“This is really something that we should be concerned about because it’s affecting all of us and we’re seeing more of them,” Kaitlyn Trudeau, a Climate Central data analyst who worked on the report, told CNN.
“The system that we have now was not built in the weather and climate that we are experiencing now,” he added. “It is not prepared for the weather that we have now and the weather that we will see in the future.”
Using federal data provided by utilities and the North American Electric Reliability Corp., the researchers found more than 1,500 cases of power outages related to extreme weather since 2000, including those caused by high winds; heavy 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 events are becoming more intense and frequent as global temperatures rise.
Climate Central found that Texas reported the most weather-related blackouts 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, resulting in multiple days of below-freezing temperatures that led to multiple days of power outages for millions of customers in Texas. . Nearly 10 million people across the South were without power at the peak of the outages, according to government figures.
Then in May, a heat wave knocked out six natural gas power plants in Texas. The state’s grid operator asked residents to limit electricity use, keep thermostats at a limited temperature and avoid using large energy-hungry appliances during peak hours.
Texas utilities reported about 80 weather-related blackouts between 2019 and 2021 alone, about 44% of Texas’ total since 2000. Severe weather, winter storms and hurricanes caused the majority of blackouts. The report also noted that the state operates its own grid independently of the country’s two main grids, making it difficult to draw power from elsewhere during disasters.
In California, researchers documented 44 weather-related blackouts between 2019 and 2021, more than a third of the state’s total since 2000. And, they said, wildfires are a growing threat to stable electricity there. Utilities in California must implement public safety power shutoffs to reduce the risks of equipment burning during extreme wildfire days. At least 14 of the state’s 44 outages during that time were due to these precautionary closures.
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, assessing whether existing stations are located in areas at risk. of flooding, how severe droughts can affect power plant operations, or how power lines can be affected by rising temperatures.
“To many, the findings will not come as a surprise because, across the United States, people are already directly experiencing climate change-related disruptions in electricity and other services,” said Webb, who was not involved in the report. “As we’ve seen in recent years, those outages 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 the analysis to expand to focus on all aspects of grid operation, not just the transmission system. , as the world looks for cleaner energy sources.
“As we get closer to these intermittent sources of power like solar and wind, we need to shift to an era where we predict supply and then manage demand, sort of flip it around,” Weissman told CNN. who was not involved in the report. “And how do you manage demand? Well, by setting prices that will encourage people to use energy off-peak. You can also encourage people to have smart appliances that wouldn’t have to take power from the grid when demand is highest”.
Trudeau said the US needs to create a more resilient and reliable energy system to avoid power outages as climate change progresses. Building microgrids, small renewable energy networks that act as a backup for the primary power grid, in the event of a major power outage, for example, can help residents cope with power outages while reducing emissions of power generation.
When Hurricane Sandy brought heavy rains, winds and flooding to the Northeast in 2012 and caused significant damage to electrical infrastructure, for example, microgrids helped residents weather the storm. At the time, 21 states along the eastern seaboard experienced widespread power outages.
He also said states should invest in smart grid technologies and harden the grid to withstand damage from severe storms, while also providing customers with incentives to reduce excessive energy use during peak hours.
Despite the increase in extreme weather, Webb said utilities still haven’t thought ahead.
“Unfortunately, many power companies and system operators are not yet engaging in this type of planning and have instead chosen to ignore the reality of climate change,” Webb said. “However, it is fast becoming impossible to ignore. The sooner action is taken, the better off we all are.”
Until the US makes large-scale investments and pushes to create a more reliable and resilient power grid, the climate crisis is likely to cause more disruptions and force grid operators to encourage the public to reduce electricity use. when supply cannot meet demand, according to Trudeau.
“There is no magic wand that we can wave right now,” Trudeau said. “But ultimately the things we can focus on are things like reducing our emissions, because it’s the most significant action to reduce the rate of warming and the increasing stress on our power grid and it really gives us more time to adjust to our changing climate.