This week marks the tenth anniversary of one of the worst power outages in the United States, during which tens of millions of Americans were affected across parts of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
While a fallen tree branch was to blame for the outage ten years ago, improving grid resilience is more important than ever as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of severe weather, according to a new report released by The White House Council of Economic Advisers and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The report calls for increased cross-sector investment in the electric grid and identifies strategies for modernizing the grid to better prevent power outages. These strategies include:
- Conducting exercises to identify and mitigate the potential impacts of hazards to the grid.
- Working with utilities to harden their infrastructure against wind and flood damage.
- Increasing overall system flexibility and robustness of the grid.
- Supporting implementation of 21st century technologies that can quickly alert utilities when consumers experience a power outage or there is a system disruption and automatically reroute power to avoid further outages.
The push for these strategies are supported by the report's analysis on the impact of power outages caused by severe weather between 2003 and 2012, findings include:
- Weather-related outages are estimated to have cost the U.S. economy an inflation-adjusted annual average of $18 billion to $33 billion.
- Roughly 679 power outages, each affecting at least 50,000 customers, occurred due to weather events. The aging nature of the grid – much of which was constructed over a period of more than one hundred years – has made Americans more susceptible to outages caused by severe weather.
- In 2012, the United States suffered eleven billion-dollar weather disasters – the second-most for any year on record, behind only 2011.
- Since 1980, the United States has sustained 144 weather disasters whose damage cost reached or exceeded $1 billion and seven of the ten costliest storms in U.S. history occurred between 2004 and 2012.