What is a rolling blackout? If you live in Texas, your home may have been one of the more than 4.5 million businesses and homes that lost power during the 2021 winter storm. In fact, almost 70% of customers in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) service area experienced a loss of power because of planned rolling blackouts during that bracing cold week in February.
The problem is that a temporary loss of power is more than just uncomfortable. During this winter’s rolling blackouts, at least 57 people died from hypothermia. However, planned rolling blackouts aren’t exclusive to freezing winter months. This summer, residents of warmer states are bracing for even more rolling blackouts as temperatures soar into the triple digits. Every summer, people die from their body overheating. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable.
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Understanding the Texas Electric Grid
To understand why rolling blackouts occur, it’s important to understand the Texas grid. Most of Texas is serviced through the Texas Interconnection. This is a deregulated alternating current power grid that is run by ERCOT. When you have a deregulated grid, all of the power plants, transmission lines, and distribution networks are not owned by just one company. Rather, the electrical power market is open and customers have dozens of options.
ERCOT is an independent nonprofit organization that manages the cost of power and the supply and demand on the grid. During the winter storm, ERCOT reports that it was minutes if not seconds away from a catastrophic power grid failure. If such a failure occurs, it can result in blackouts that last for months.
What’s Happening Now?
ERCOT’s goal is to keep supply and demand online. An imbalance in the grid could lead to equipment damage that could last for weeks. During the winter storms, rolling blackouts were a way to lessen the strain on the power grid.
In other words, it wasn’t exactly the extreme cold that necessitated the rolling blackouts. It was the strain on the power grid. During extremely hot summer months, the grid will experience the same strain.
This summer, ERCOT stated in a news release that as of the middle of June, there is an excess strain on the power grid.
Because of this, you should be prepared for more rolling blackouts like those experienced during the winter storm. ERCOT said that blackouts “appear unlikely,” but they asked homeowners to reduce the amount of electricity they use in their homes. There is the potential for another electricity crisis.
What Is a Rolling Blackout?
A rolling blackout is sometimes referred to as feeder rotation, rotational load shedding, or rotating outages. Rolling blackouts are temporary systematic interruptions of electrical service to customers. These blackouts are directed by ERCOT to bring back into balance the supply and demand for electricity. In most cases, rolling blackouts help prevent a more lengthy blackout statewide.
In most cases, utility providers try to avoid rolling blackouts in areas for which access to electricity is vital. This includes areas that have medical centers, hospitals, or downtown regions.
Rolling blackouts are considered to be the last step in a utility company’s emergency procedures. They occur when the market detects a supply shortage.
How Often and How Long Do Rolling Blackouts Last?
ERCOT determines the severity of the emergency and plans rolling blackouts accordingly. The emergency’s severity will determine how often rolling blackouts occur and the duration of the blackouts. Also taken into consideration is the number of customers who will be affected.
When ERCOT, or other utility providers, declare an end to the emergency, the rolling blackouts cease.
Does Your Utility Provider Send a Warning?
In most cases, utility providers will issue warnings if they know there is going to be a power outage or rolling blackout. In the Texas winter storm, for example, people in the ERCOT service area were told to prepare for rolling outages that were short-term. However, the average time homes were without power was 42 hours.
However, there is frequently a surprisingly short window of time during which power companies can let customers know there will be a rolling blackout. While ERCOT and other utilities will provide notice when possible, it’s a good idea to be prepared for little to no notice of blackouts.
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How Can Homeowners Reduce the Number of Rolling Blackouts?
Everyone can do their part to help reduce the severity of the problem of electric supply shortages. In extreme weather conditions, there are several things individual households can do to bring their electricity use down to the lowest level possible.
Here are some steps to take during extreme weather conditions, whether hot or cold.
- Program your thermostats to use the minimum amount of electricity when no one is home. For example, set thermostats higher in summer and lower in winter.
- Set thermostats four degrees higher than usual during summer months and four degrees lower than usual during cold snaps.
- Use fans to increase airflow.
- If you have ceiling fans, set them to rotate clockwise in winter and counter-clockwise in summer.
- Set swimming pool pumps to run overnight or in the early morning, turning them off between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
- Close air escape routes.
- Close shades, curtains, and blinds to conserve energy. In the winter, this will keep the heat from escaping and in the summer, it will prevent heat from getting in.
- Use energy-efficient LED light bulbs instead of incandescent or fluorescent bulbs.
What Items Should You Avoid Using?
During peak hours between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on hot days, avoid running large appliances like electric ovens, dishwashers, and washing machines. You can also turn off nonessential appliances and lights during peak hours. Be sure to also unplug them.
How Can Homeowners Prepare for a Rolling Blackout?
Can homeowners prepare for rolling blackouts? There are a number of things to consider when preparing your home for a power outage.
One of the questions that people who live in colder states have is why warmer states don’t fare better during winter storms. After all, people in the northern part of the U.S. experience freezing temperatures for months at a time. The answer to that question is that most homes in the southern part of the country aren’t properly prepared or insulated for this type of extreme weather.
Unfortunately, insufficient insulation affects a home’s ability to remain cool in the summer. Having your home properly insulated can save you money and keep you safer in both freezing temperatures and the dangerously hot months.
Switch to Solar
If people have learned anything in the last year, it’s that their power grid is more fragile than they realized. Has the time come to switch to solar? Solar energy is an energy source that is clean. The way it works is by converting the sun’s heat into electricity through a process called a photovoltaic effect.
Solar panel systems use an inverter to convert the gathered energy into electricity that you can use for your home and appliances. They can store excess energy into solar batteries that you can use to power your home during a power outage.
When should you take steps to switch to solar? Anytime is a great time to make this change to a system that’s solar-powered. In less than four months, people are experiencing two different extreme weather emergencies. Transitioning to a renewable clean energy source just makes sense.
How Can Homeowners Protect Themselves?
If you live in an area that experiences rolling blackouts, the first thing you need to make sure you have is an emergency preparedness kit. Here is a list of recommended supplies to have on hand.
- Battery-powered radio
- Extra batteries
- Non-perishable food
- One gallon of water per day, per person
- Cell phone and chargers
- Garbage bags
- Moist towelettes
- First aid kit
One way to protect yourself is to invest in solar generators and batteries that can serve as backup options. When you have a generator or battery, you have an amazing backup system that stores your previously generated energy instead of sending it to the grid. Because of this, when a rolling blackout occurs, your home starts running on the energy your system has stored.
Thanks to your backup batteries and generators, your home will run as efficiently as it normally does. You may not even notice you’ve lost power. Moreover, when the rolling blackout is over, your home will begin to store power again. For more information, see our guide to some of the most efficient energy-saving options.
Make the Switch to Solar
When you have solar energy, you don’t have to rely on the Texas grid, or any grid for that matter. Moreover, you will enjoy creating your own energy and you can expect to experience significant cost benefits. Solar energy is a sustainable option that every homeowner should seriously consider.
At ONIT Home, we are committed to taking action and providing our customers with the technology and products they want. If you are exploring the idea of converting your home or business to a sustainable solar energy source, contact us today to get a free quote online. Our experienced team of experts is here to answer all of your questions. We can install a solar power system on your home in two weeks, so you can quickly start enjoying clean energy.
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