Sep 5, 2023 - News

Power outages getting longer in era of wilder weather

Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration. Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration. Chart: Axios Visuals

The average Ohio electricity customer experienced 4.1 hours of power outages in 2021 — roughly half an hour less than in 2020, but about half an hour more than in 2013, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

  • That's per the latest available data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an agency within the Department of Energy.

Why it matters: Electricity outages stand to become more common as extreme weather events — many driven by climate change — wreak havoc on the country's aging power infrastructure.

  • While some outages are short-lived annoyances, others are widespread events. Either can become deadly for those who depend on medical equipment or for those who lose heating or air conditioning during periods of extreme temperatures.

The latest: Nearly 270,000 customers in Northeast Ohio lost power — many for nearly a week — after the recent severe storms and tornadoes.

The big picture: The average U.S. electricity customer experienced 7.3 hours of power outages in 2021 — down from 8.2 hours in 2020, but more than double 2013's rate.

  • The nationwide average of outage hours has been trending upward during the last several years, beginning with a notable spike in 2017 driven in part by outages following Hurricane Irma.
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration. Map: Axios Visuals

Between the lines: Access to reliable power is increasingly an equity issue, Axios' Chelsea Brasted reports, as wealthier customers are better able to afford backup generators and other adaptations compared to those less well-off.

The intrigue: Some homeowners are turning to whole-home batteries, sometimes charged via solar power, that can store backup electricity in case of an emergency.

  • A few electric vehicles, including Ford's F-150 Lightning pickup, can also act as residential power sources by funneling electricity from the vehicle's battery into owners' homes.
  • And, several communities are turning to "microgrids," which can supply power to a small number of homes and businesses when the main grid goes offline.

Yes, but: While incentives exist for solar and home battery installation, they're still prohibitively expensive solutions for many homeowners — to say nothing of renters with limited say over their home's technology and energy options.

What's next: Federal efforts to modernize the grid and reduce outages are underway.

The bottom line: It'll take time — years, most likely — for federal funds to translate into real-world improvements.

  • In the meantime, storms like Idalia will likely keep driving massive outages, putting lives at risk for hours, days, or even weeks after they pass.

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