2020 Was Worst Year On Record For Power Outages In USA

Annual census of electricity utilities shows Americans experienced more power outages than ever last year.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) is the principal agency for collating and analysing information about the energy sector.

Every year it publishes the Annual Electric Power Industry Report, which collects data from distribution utilities and power marketers of electricity. In effect, it is a yearly census on the state of the sector.

According to the 2020 report, the average American went without electricity for more than eight hours last year. For context, that’s more than twice the average of 3.5 hours in 2013, when the EIA first started tracking the figures.

The analysis states “the average US electricity customer experienced nearly 20 more minutes of power interruptions in 2020 than in 2017, the year with the second-longest duration of interruptions in our records”.

Extreme weather was the main cause of many of the most severe outages. The USA experienced 14 hurricanes and 11 major storms over the course of 2020.

The EIA’s latest analysis tallies with research from the PowerOutage.us project, an initiative that collects power outage data. By its statistics, outages in 2020 had increased by 73% compared to the previous year.

Which States Experience The Most Power Outages?

Outage times varied considerably across the nation. Areas hit by some of the most extreme weather events experienced the most and longest interruptions.

For example, the average customer in Louisiana was left without electricity for more than 60 hours after Hurricane Laura caused huge damage to the distribution network.

Oklahoma residents were interrupted for an average of 50 hours, in part thanks to an ice storm in October 2020.

While Tropical Storm Isaias left 750,000 electricity customers in Connecticut without power, some for more than a week.

Maine saw the highest number of power interruptions. Power cuts in the north easternmost US state are particularly common during the winter due to interruptions caused by falling tree branches.

At the other end of the spectrum, customers in the District of Columbia (44 minutes), Arizona, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Dakota (101 minutes) experienced the shortest average interruption to electricity supplies.

Interestingly, without the major weather events, the average duration of power outages would have stayed roughly flat at approximately two hours a year since 2013.

What About Power Outages In 2021?

When the EIA gets round to publishing its annual report for 2021 next autumn, it’s likely to see similarly high incidences of blackouts.

This year has already seen several high-profile power outages caused by severe weather. These include Hurricane Ida battering eight states in August and September, which left 1.2 million without electricity.

While in February, a record-breaking cold snap across Texas knocked more than 50,000 MW of generation offline, leaving up to 4.5 million people without electricity.

America’s ongoing power outage problems raise many questions about the grid’s ageing infrastructure. The infrastructure bill recently passed by the US Congress includes $65 billion to upgrade the power grid and strengthen transmission lines.

How Does EIA Measure Power Outages?

The EIA uses various metrics to calculate the length of power interruption. System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) measures the total time an average customer experiences a non-momentary power outage over the course of a year.

While System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) measures the frequency of power interruptions.

Check out EIA’s handy video explaining SAIDI and SAIFI below

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