Engineering Group Sees Increase in Power Outages, Costs

Sept. 4, 2020
Power outages — a key driver for microgrids — are becoming more frequent and costly, according to a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Power outages — a key driver for microgrids — are becoming more frequent and costly, according to a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Blue Lake Rancheria was among the California microgrids that served the grid during recent rolling blackouts. Credit: Siemens

In this decade, there is a $135 billion “investment gap” for generation, $24.4 billion for transmission and $48.8 billion for the distribution system, the ASCE said in its report, Electric Infrastructure Investment Gaps in a Rapidly Changing Environment.

The investment gap — the difference between investment trends and expected needs — contributes to a greater number of power interruptions caused by equipment failures, capacity blackout or brownouts, power quality irregularities and intermittent voltage surges, which hurts the economy, according to the report, released September 1.

“Rising incidences of voltage surges, and blackouts, and brownouts that disrupt production add costs to businesses that will make US manufactured products less competitive in international markets,” the trade group said.

Power outages increase

There were 638 transmission-related outages over a five year period starting in 2014 that were voluntarily reported by utilities, according to the report.

Half the outages were caused by severe weather, about a third were triggered by transmission disruptions or failures and 18% were because of faulty systems operations.

However, ASCE found that last year 46% of the outages were attributed to transmission disruptions and interruptions.

“This was perhaps at least partly the result of the unusually heavy fire season in the Western US,” the ASCE said. “Increasing numbers and intensities of fires are one effect of climate change in drier, hotter regions, a trend that’s expected to accelerate.”

How California’s Microgrids Came through During Rolling Blackouts

In 2017, the national average duration of outage events was 7.8 hours, including major storms, according to the report. When excluding major storms, the outages were half as long.

The Southeast and Western reliability regions had the most outages — 151 and 130, respectively — while the Midwest, Puerto Rico and the Southwest Power Pool reliability regions reported no more than 20 events, according to the report.

Electricity interruption costs rise

The costs of power outages is climbing, according to the ASCE. Costs include damage to electronics from voltage spikes; spoiled food; lost productivity when production processes are idled; and added costs related to spending on backup generators, power quality monitoring and conditioning equipment.

The trade group estimated that in 2029 the residential sector will face $2 billion in outage-related costs while the commercial sector will be hit with $53 billion in expenses and the large commercial and industrial segment will pay $49 billion in outage expenses.

Homeowners paid on average about $6.68 for every power interruption in 2018, about double compared to what they paid in 2011, according to the report.

With businesses and industry more reliant on data centers, ASCE found that the cost for outages at the facilities is growing.

The average cost of a data center outage was $8,851 per minute in 2016, up from $5,617 in 2010 while the average length of a disruption was 95 minutes, down from 97 minutes in 2010, according to the report.

The average cost of a data center outage to the customers who use them jumped to $740,000 in 2016 from $505,000 six years earlier, the ASCE said.

“Rising incidences of voltage surges, and blackouts, and brownouts that disrupt production will add costs to businesses that will make US manufactured products less competitive in international markets,” the ASCE said.

…the commercial sector will be hit with $53 billion in expenses and the large commercial and industrial segment will pay $49 billion in outage expenses.

In the next two decades, US businesses will lose $271 billion in exports, while businesses and households will pay an additional $142 billion for foreign imports because of power outages, according to the trade group.

The ASCE estimated the United States needs to spend about $338 billion over the next two decades to ensure a robust grid system.

“If adequate investments to replace and upgrade our nation’s electric generation, transmission and distribution systems do not occur, costs (in the form of higher costs for electric power, costs incurred because of power unreliability or costs associated with adopting more expensive industrial processes) will be borne by both households and businesses,” the group said.

Interested in learning about how microgrids keep the lights on? Join us for Microgrid 2020 Global, a free, three-day virtual conference November 17-19.

About the Author

Ethan Howland

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