What Are Rolling Blackouts? (and how to prepare for one)

Thursday July 14, 2022

Earlier this week The Electric Reliability Council of Texas announced that there was a “projected reserve capacity shortage” of electricity and that rolling blackouts would be required if the situation worsened. It’s important to note that just last year, Texas had a complete failure of the state’s power grid after a winter storm brought unusually cold weather to the state. The rolling blackouts caused by this winter storm have been linked to over 200 deaths. While the state narrowly avoided the blackouts this time, it won’t be the last time this happens, and it’s important to remember that Texas isn’t the only state at risk. This summer, there has been talk of rolling blackouts throughout Texas, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Arizona, Illinois, and multiple other states.


What is a Rolling Blackout?

A rolling blackout is how energy companies control the use of limited energy in an area. They are temporary, planned outages that “rotate” so that one area isn’t completely cut off from power for a prolonged period of time. Blackouts are usually employed when an event occurs that causes the demand for energy to be higher than it normally would be. These events can be extreme weather events like heat or cold (more people using A/C or heat), poor planning by agencies, or an infrastructure failure in the energy system.


How to Prepare for Rolling Blackouts

Rolling Blackouts and regular outages are common, and you should have a kit assembled in advance. Having an all-purpose “go-bag” or emergency kit can make a huge difference for you and your family.


Building a Kit

First, think of the items you will no longer have access to in the event of a blackout. You won’t have electricity, heat, A/C, appliances, or lighting. Some may not even have running water if your water comes from a well as the pump will not have power. When building a kit, the most important needs should be covered first. The most important needs are food and water, be sure to store long shelf life water and non-perishable food that doesn’t require electricity to be prepared/consumed. Secondly, if you rely on electricity for life-sustaining equipment you should have a generator or other off-grid power source. Finally, add comfort items to your kit. Some comfort items to consider:

Turn Off Appliances

When a blackout occurs, it’s important to turn off appliances for a couple reasons:

  • When power returns, there will be a surge of electrical energy that could damage sensitive equipment like computers, laptops, or TV’s.
  • It is easy to forget during an outage that you had a stove burner or an iron on. If you're away from home when electric service is restored, you can have a serious safety hazard.
  • Restarting appliances can use almost double the amount of electricity that they use when running normally. Think of the way lights dim briefly when the A/C fan comes on. Then imagine the power demands placed on the electric system when every customer needs more power than usual - all at the same time. When the main switches are re-energized, this demand can cause breakers to trip. It helps if you don't have all your appliances waiting to draw power the instant it is restored.

Instead of going around your home trying to unplug everything, it’s easier to just turn off your main circuit breaker during a blackout, just remember to turn it back on when power is restored!


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