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Demand Response: Brownout vs. Blackout

Demand Response is not the first thing to come into people’s mind when they are thinking about energy conservation. When the summer is taking over and it is stifling hot, the air conditioners are in full swing, everyone has heard our local utilities’ demands to conserve electricity, as electricity suppliers get tight. Therefore, we must willingly conserve resources, individually, to prevent power shortages. However, bear in mind that Demand Response programs are in place to reward you financially for the conservation efforts.

In the olden days, businesses involved in the early demand management projects did things the old-fashioned way, simply walking around and shutting off the lights and appliances to use less energy, allowing their local authorities to limit their power usage to avoid future brownouts to rolling blackouts.

Different companies are now promoting sophisticated automation technologies, which require computers to make smart decisions for each industrial facility using demand response technology.

The USA Experiences More Power Outages Than Any Other Developed Country

Power outages have been increasing in recent years, and electricity providers might not be well prepared to meet the dual task of adapting to weather disasters - influenced by climate change and replacing ageing institutions.

The oldest US power lines date back to 1880s, and much of today’s infrastructure was built with a 50-year life expectancy in the 1950s and 1960s. As these poles, wires and transformers went up decades ago, the infrastructure was initially over constructed, with increasing demand expected; even so, nowadays it is reaching capacity and outdated equipment is becoming less powerful.

However, assessments of exactly how serious the issue is, varies. According to research studies, considerable power outages, affecting more than 50,000 households or businesses, became tenfold more frequent. Furthermore, weather-related outages doubled from 2003 through 2012.

Other studies show that the United States has more power outages than any other developed nation and, utilities are reluctant to conduct essential maintenance, let alone update of their systems. Nevertheless, system updating is no easy job. According to the US Department of Energy, the biggest system on the planet is the American electricity grid.

Why Is It So Important to Avoid Blackouts and Brownouts?

Blackouts leave everyone without electricity, but brownouts can lead to more severe consequences. Voltage spikes can be harmful to businesses, causing significant damage to the infrastructure of a company, which can cost thousands of dollars to repair.

It is important to consider the distinction between a brownout vs. blackout before getting into what to do when the power goes out.

Although, according to studies, the electricity grid infrastructure as a whole is very robust - 99.9% reliable if we remove weather outages; The truth is that brownouts and rolling blackouts do exist, mostly in the summer, therefore, it is important to consider the distinction between brownout and blackout when planning for power outages.

The Difference Between Blackouts and Brownouts

A brownout is a partial, transient decrease in overall system capability while a blackout is a total service interruption. Blackouts typically occur without any warning and continue for an undetermined time. They can often happen as a consequence of something unpredictable, such as a strong storm or an unexpected event, such as a vehicle ploughing into a power pole or an animal thinking that a transformer could become a cozy home.

Another difference between a brownout and a blackout is that an energy supplier can use a brownout as an emergency measure to avoid failure in the grid. In a brownout, a utility could reduce total system voltage by 10 to 25% for a limited period to alleviate system strain. This form of reduction frequently has a small effect on heat on the heat or lightning, however, can affect more sensitive electrical devices to different voltages.

In addition to the two above, a rolling blackout is the third form of power-out. This usually happens with some prior notice, generally lasts for a set period, and is purposely generated by utility providers as a way of dealing with peak power demands that cannot be met by the current supply of electricity. Rolling blackouts typically often strike a single coverage area, and the electricity supplier will also disperse these intermittent blackouts through multiple services areas to guarantee that no customer loses more than the other. This is separate from a scheduled outage, where a power provider usually declares when repair maintenance is going to take place in a given location.

Steps to be Taken During a Blackout

  • Turn all devices off and switch them on again once your service provider restores power.
  • It is recommended to always have reserves of electricity.

Steps to be Taken During a Brownout

There are also precautionary steps that you should take to avoid harm to your electrical equipment in the event of a brownout. Here are a few steps:

  • Unplug every device once you acknowledge the first flicker. In case you have got a voltmeter, you will be able to get early signs of an imminent brownout.
  • Mount power strips and electronic surge protectors. Despite an imminent crisis, these systems help balance the power supply with a steady voltage. This helps you to power down or turn off all critical equipment in a secure manner to avoid damage.

If you live in the proximity of an environment which is vulnerable to brownouts and blackouts, you may want to find alternative energy sources.

There are occasions when brownouts cause long-term blackouts. A helpful suggestion is that you should have a secondary energy supply, such as propane if it is the case.

Furthermore, Demand Response has been tremendously effective in handling an imminent, peak-power crisis for utilities and massive, electrical-grid operators.

Although the technology is rapidly increasing in popularity with systems deployed in more and more industrial businesses, there is still a lot more potential to be explored in the handling of higher industrial energy loads.

To reach that potential, companies such as Lone Star Demand Response work with both end-user industrial companies and utility institutions, supplying the demand response technologies for each company while promoting better support from the utilities to fund such installations. All this process is enabling much greater value rewards for each company to maximize the advantages of their voluntary engagement.

Each participant gets paid year-round for being available to curtail their loads when requested to. On average, one curtailment a year is likely to happen, with 1 to 1.5 hours elapsed time and 1 hour per year for a live curtailment test. The highlight of this intelligent technology is that each customer is getting paid although no curtailment request is done.

Do not hesitate to contact us for more information and help.


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