Countries such as Bangladesh, India and South Africa experience load shedding on a regular basis with Bangladesh experiencing power outage at an average of 249 days per year. United States, while uncommon, load shedding also occurs every now and then due to several different reasons like severe weather and sudden equipment failure. When this happens, it’s important to know what to do in order to keep its negative impact to a bare minimum.
Load Shedding Explained
Load shedding, also known as rolling blackouts, refers to the deliberate shutdown of electric power in a part or parts of a power distribution system, generally to prevent the failure of the entire system when the demand strains the capacity of the system. It's a last-resort measure used by an electric utility company to avoid a total blackout of the system.
Load shedding can occur when the demand for electricity exceeds the power supply capability, during peak usage times, or when there are issues with power stations (like maintenance or unplanned breakdowns).
Load shedding is often planned, but it can also be used in an emergency, such as after a natural disaster. When load shedding is planned, utility companies will typically publish a schedule of outages, so that customers can be prepared. Load shedding power cuts can last from a few minutes to a few hours.
Load Shedding: How Does It Work?
Load shedding works by rotating power outages or reducing power consumption from primary sources. When load shedding is implemented, utility companies will typically divide the power system into different zones. Each zone will be scheduled for a power outage at a different time. This helps to minimize the impact of load shedding on customers.
Planned load shedding is typically negotiated with local building owners. Utility providers monitor electricity demand and identify when it exceeds supply or nears capacity limits. They then create a load shedding plan that involves rotating power outages, temporary current disconnections, and incentives to building owners for complying. Once demand decreases or additional power resources become available, the utility provider restores power to the affected areas.
Unplanned load shedding can happen without prior notice. This type of load shedding is commonly referred to as a rolling blackout. Rotated among different areas, it may occur when there is a sudden surge in demand or an unexpected equipment failure. Rolling blackouts are typically short-lived, but they can be disruptive to businesses and individuals.
Another type of unplanned load shedding is a brownout. A brownout is a temporary reduction in voltage. It is caused by a power supplier lowering voltage distribution during peak usage times to balance supply and demand. Brownouts can cause lights to dim and appliances to run slowly or not at all.
Impacts of Load Shedding
Load shedding can have a significant impact on businesses and individuals. Power outages can disrupt operations, reduce productivity, decrease factory output, increase energy prices due to limited supply, and upset customers or clients. Load shedding can also make it difficult to provide essential services, such as healthcare, education, and even banking.
Preparing for Load Shedding
Load shedding can be really disruptive for individuals as well as for businesses that rely heavily on electricity to function. The good thing is that there are a number of things that businesses and individuals can do to lessen the impact of load shedding.
For businesses: Develop a load shedding plan that outlines how operations will be affected by power outages and how to minimize disruptions. This plan should include steps to protect sensitive data and equipment.
For individuals: Create a list of essential items you will need during a power outage, such as flashlights, batteries, and a first-aid kit. Consider purchasing a backup generator if you rely on electricity for medical devices or other essential needs.
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What to Do When Load Shedding Happens?
When faced with load shedding it is crucial to know how to react to it and what to do once it happens. Below are simple tips you can follow when load shedding happens in your areas.
- Stay Calm: Remember it's just a temporary situation.
- Safety First: Unplug or switch off electronic devices to avoid a power surge when the electricity returns.
- Lighting: Have flashlights, candles, or lanterns available. If using candles, ensure they're placed safely away from flammable materials.
- Backup Power: If you have a generator, make sure it's ready and that you know how to use it safely.
- Preserve Refrigeration: Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to maintain their temperatures for as long as possible.
- Stay Informed: Stay updated with your local utility provider's communications, which might give you information on the duration and areas affected.
- Plan Ahead: If load shedding is a regular occurrence in your area, consider activities that don't require power, like reading a book or crocheting.
Load Shedding in the US for the Past Few Years Up to Present
Load shedding may not be a common occurrence in the US but still, there have been a number of load shedding events in the US in recent years up until today. The most significant event occurred in Texas in February 2021, when a severe winter storm caused widespread power outages and forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to implement load shedding. The event lasted for several days and affected millions of customers.
Other load shedding events in the US in 2021, 2022, and 2023 were caused by extreme weather conditions, such as heat waves, wildfires, and drought. See examples below:
- In June 2021, a heat wave caused load shedding in parts of California.
- In July 2021, wildfires caused load shedding in parts of California and Oregon.
- In August 2021, drought caused load shedding in parts of Texas and Oklahoma.
- In June 2022, a heat wave caused load shedding in parts of California, Arizona, and Nevada.
- In July 2022, wildfires caused load shedding in parts of California and Oregon.
- In August 2022, drought caused load shedding in parts of Texas and Oklahoma.
- In August 2023, a heat wave caused load shedding in parts of California, Arizona, and Nevada.
The load shedding events in the past few years up to the present have raised concerns about the reliability of the US power grid. The events have also highlighted the need for the US to invest in renewable energy and battery storage technologies, which can help to reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels and make the power grid more resilient to extreme weather events.
In addition to the load shedding events, there were also a number of near-misses in 2021, 2022, and 2023. For example, in August 2021, ERCOT issued a Level 3 Energy Emergency Alert, which is one step below load shedding. The alert was issued due to a combination of factors, including high demand for electricity, limited generation capacity, and transmission outages.
The load shedding events and near-misses in 2021, 2022, and 2023 have prompted a number of actions by policymakers and industry leaders. For example, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has developed a number of new standards to help improve the reliability of the US power grid. Additionally, the US Department of Energy has announced a number of initiatives to support the development and deployment of renewable energy and battery storage technologies.
It is important to note that load shedding is a rare event in the US. However, the load shedding events in 2021, 2022, and 2023 are a reminder that the US power grid is not invulnerable to extreme weather events and other disruptions. It is also a reminder that the US needs to invest in infrastructure and technologies to make the power grid more resilient and reliable.
Solar Generators: As a Great Alternative Power Source during Load Shedding
A backup power system is your best friend during a power interruption. Nowadays, solar generators are becoming increasingly famous as the best alternative power source that can play a vital role in countering the effects of load shedding. Let’s read ahead to find out why.
- Backup Power: Solar generators can provide emergency backup power during outages. Depending on the capacity of your system, you can power essential devices and appliances whenever power from the grid is out
- Reduce Grid Dependency: Solar systems decrease reliance on the main grid. When combined with battery storage, homes can even operate independently for long periods of time.
- Environmentally Friendly: Solar energy is clean and renewable. By adopting it, you reduce your carbon footprint and dependence on fossil fuels.
- Financial Benefits: Over time, solar panels can significantly save you on electricity bills. Some regions even offer incentives or rebates for installing solar systems.
In conclusion, while the US does not face load shedding as a regular issue, it does happen and the impact on those that are affected is quite detrimental. Being prepared with backup power solutions like solar generators can provide peace of mind, comfort, and of course, an alternative energy source during power outages, planned or not. This is to ensure that the negative effects of load shedding are minimized for individuals and businesses alike.
* We want to give credit where credit is due. Professional writer, Ann Mathew, contributed research and content to this blog titled: What is Load Shedding Thank you, Ann, for your contributions!