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Could the power outages like those in California become more common throughout the United States?

Northern California has been suffering from massive power outages recently. These outages serve as an important warning: life without electricity could become a part of American life.

Three of the four costliest American hurricanes took place in 2017, beat out only by the imfamous Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many different factors seem to indicate that power outages will become more common in the United States in years to come. These factors include climate change, an aging power grid, and an ever-growing electricity demand.

The power outages we mentioned above are a proactive measure taken by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company to protect over 800,000 residents from wildfire risk. However, not all power outages happening lately have been planned.

The annual number of blackouts caused by natural disasters such as those caused by droughts, storms, wildfires, and floods have doubled in number since 2003. This is primarily due to the effects of climate change and are the consequences of abusing the planet in so many different ways for so many years.

Climate change takes the extremes and make them even greater. Wet areas are even wetter, and dry areas get even dryer, and this is happening a lot more now than it ever has in recorded history. Therefore, it’s not entirely shocking that weather-related power outages have increased. However, climate change alone is not to be blamed; blackouts are also caused by other reasons.

The demand for electricity has sky-rocketed. Because temperatures are on the rise and they’re reaching extremes, more electricity is needed by users so they can cope with the heat and have cool homes and buildings to live in.

America’s electrical grid, which is the network of cables and power stations that make sure that users all over the country get electricity, handles all the cooling demands. But the grid has not been upgraded in ages. They’re old and in need of updating, and this reduces the efficiency with which it can cover energy demand throughout the country. Plus, repairs are more difficult, which means more time and more money.

Modernizing the electrical grid would cost trillions of dollars, according to Business Insider, which is why the grid’s transmission lines and power plants have been used decades past their lifespan.

Once you remove power from the equation, other infrastructures will go down with it, including water treatment, transportation, and telecommunications. So the question is this: how much will modernizing the grid be worth in the end? Is it worth the money that would be lost if power outages become more and more frequent? Is it worth the lives lost during outages because people get into accidents or are unable to be treated for medical emergencies?

Blackouts threaten and affect every single aspect of our lives and our society. For all intents and purposes, no modern system can function without electricity, least of all in a technology-centered society such as America, so the fact that the electrical grid is being allowed to continue aging and decaying, such that it is, is astonishing.

If this continues, power outages like those in California will become common for the entire country, and they will not be planned as a preventive measure but rather as a technological failure. They will disrupt every aspect of society and will have a direct effect on productivity and advancement. If this is not something that’s worth trillions of dollars in investment, what is?

Ben Schultz's picture

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John Simonelli's picture
John Simonelli on Nov 1, 2019 12:12 am GMT

The article states, "demand for electricity has sky-rocketed". It would be helpful to know what area of the US that is referring to.  I believe ISO-NE, NYISO, PJM and MISO all are reporting relatively flat load growth for the foreseeable future.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 1, 2019 11:53 am GMT

Perhaps it's more referring to peak demand reaching new highs? Though admittedly I'm not seeing reports of that rising in a precipitous manner either

Ben Schultz's picture
Ben Schultz on Nov 5, 2019 2:02 pm GMT

I suppose it's better late than never. "Sky-rocketed" perhaps was an exageration, relatively speaking. Demand during fire season, localized to specific regions, shoots up as a matter of necessity. For obvious reason, gas options are out of the question due to risk of fire, and oftentimes generators are needed for various vital pieces of equipment, including water pumps and generators. The implication that this is felt at a national level was not my intention.

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