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Power outages and brownouts become growing concern as state electricity grids struggle against heatwaves and record-breaking high temperatures

Texas volunteer passes out water bottles during heat wave to people with limited access to power.

Shelby Tauber/Reuters

  • Record-breaking temperatures means millions of Americans are under heat advisories.
  • Several states are experiencing power outages due to high energy use and demand.
  • Energy companies are encouraging residents to conserve when they can to combat emergencies.

Extreme heat early in the summer season is calling into question the strength of  electricity and power grids across the country, as warnings about brownouts and requests to conserve power continue to rise. 

As temperatures increase, the risk of power outages grows along with them. Warmer weather means higher power usage as people turn to devices like air-conditioning units and fans to try to cool their homes and offices.

A May report from the non-profit North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) predicted a “high risk of energy emergencies during peak summer conditions” in the Upper Midwest. 

“We’ve been doing this for close to 30 years. This is probably one of the grimmest pictures we’ve painted in a while,” John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment and performance analysis, told CBS.

Reuters reported that several states — including Nebraska, Wisconsin, Mississippi, among others — would experience a rise in the heat index in June. For states like Texas, this means a surge in power usage that’s uncharacteristic for early summer months. 

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid, in a May news release asked residents to conserve power by avoiding usage of large appliances and setting their thermostats to at least 78 degrees during peak hours in an effort to address record power demand. 

The vulnerability of the Texas power grid raises concerns following winter storms in 2020 and 2021 that led to deadly blackouts. Now, the focus is on droughts, wildfires, and heat waves that have “overwhelmed some of the country’s infrastructure,” CNBC reports. 

Although Midwestern states are considered high risk by NERC, the West Coast is also nearing dangerous territory: California, Arizona, and Nevada are classified as elevated risk. And as power companies try to find alternative sources for energy, they aren’t able to replace old generators fast enough, according to CBS. 

In Cleveland, residents have complained of brownouts that occurred when electricity demand outweighed the amount being produced in June. Cleveland Public Power, an organization that provides energy to Ohio, attributes the outages to hot weather conditions.

In an effort to curb brownouts and keep residents safe, the city has started providing cooling centers around the city after a heat advisory was issued last week, according to local news reports. Other major cities, including Chicago and Detroit, have also relied on cooling centers as a way to combat the heat.

—ClevelandPublicPower (@clepublicpower) June 16, 2022

 

Extreme weather conditions are a common factor in issues with the power grid across the country. Tornadoes, floods, and storms have caused thousands to go without power in recent years as such natural disasters continue to rise, CNN reported.

“Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of heat waves around the world, tilting the scale in the direction of warmer temperatures,” CNN meteorologist and climate expert Brandon Miller said.

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