In this day and age when people are so dependent on electricity, blackouts can be really dangerous occurrences that affect millions of people. They can cause mayhem and confusion in entire cities or regions. Sometimes, these power outages are caused by natural disasters, but other times, the cause is a faulty grid or human error, but, regardless of the cause, the consequences are always big. So, let’s get familiar with the world’s biggest blackouts and ways we can prevent them.
The big India blackouts of 2012
In July 2012, most of Northern and Eastern India were affected by the country’s biggest ever power outage. On July 30, over 300 million people lost power, but electricity was quickly restored. However, the next day came an even bigger outage in which more than 670 million people were left in the dark. That’s about half of India and 9% of world population! The blackout was most likely caused by an overload due to a great number of ACs and other appliances consuming energy that day.
India is a huge consumer of electricity, but its electrical infrastructure is old and unreliable (it already crashed once in the 21st century in 2001). Specialists estimate that 27% of India’s generated energy gets stolen or lost in transmission. On the other hand, 300 million people in India live completely without electricity.
The Northeast blackout of 2003
This event in 2003 caused parts of the US (mainly Northeast and Midwest) and parts of Canada (Ontario) to lose power for a couple of days. Some parts of the affected region got their power back in the evening, but majority of people stayed in the dark for at least two days. Some people had to wait almost a week before they got their electricity back. Around 10 million Canadians and 45 million Americans were affected by this outage. The blackout itself was caused by a computer bug that didn’t sound the alarm that a redistribution of power was necessary after the transmission lines hit the foliage. What could have been a local blackout turned into a disaster that affected millions of people.
The South Australian blackout of 2016
In 2016, South Australia was hit with a strong storm that caused serious damage to the electricity transmission infrastructure leaving 1.7 million people without power. The storm that brought strong winds, tornados, gale, lightning strikes and rain damaged 23 pylons on electricity transmission lines.
How to prevent these blackouts?
Typically, power failures are caused by errors at power stations, short circuits, damage to transmission lines and power equipment and extreme weather, and they cost countries billions of dollars every year. For instance, the US economy suffers between $80 billion and $180 billion dollars every year because of various power outages. So, how can they be prevented? Experts say that governments need to make better assessments when it comes to the future needs of its citizens and conduct research to identify the potential risks to the grid caused by damages. Governments should also invest more money into strengthening the infrastructure against extreme weather conditions. Money and time should also be invested in technologies that can quickly alert utilities of system disruptions and automatically redistribute power to avoid major outages.
Is green energy the solution?
These power outages can also be the perfect opportunity to invest in sustainable energy sources and off-grid generation sources such as solar, wind, biogas, geothermal, hydropower and other renewable energy sources. These solutions lower the need for power distribution and transmission and permit people to have an independent electricity source that’s also eco-friendly. Since most outages happen in parts of the world that have a large number of sunny days, solar is the perfect solution. When panels get combined with storage batteries such as Tesla Powerwall 2, most homes can survive the blackout and stay powered until morning. In case of system damage or extreme weather conditions, people who have solar panels or wind turbines will not depend on high-voltage lines and lose power. Renewable energy sources thus provide both a stable supply and slow down the global warming processes that are partially responsible for natural disasters.
Blackouts are no joke. They can last for weeks and cause significant damage to the infrastructure of a nation and its economy. So, it’s high time we started using sustainable energy sources and employed new technologies that can keep us safe from blackouts.