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How power outages are changing as technology tries to keep up

Even if you are spared from Mother Nature’s direct impacts this spring, there’s an increasing chance you’ll deal with a power outage.

According to Climate Central, power outages have become more common since the start of the century, with weather accounting for the lion’s share. Between 2000 and 2021, weather accounted for 83% of all outages in the United States. Divide those 20 years in half, and the years from 2011 through 2021 saw a 64% increase in outages over the previous decade. 

“There has been a trend in the frequency and just general increase in those types of billion-dollar disaster events,” said Eliza Hotchkiss with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory,

Whether attributed to an increase in severe weather events, aging infrastructure, or both, Hotchkiss said outages are being mitigated through grid improvements.

“It’s aging, and so that means that a lot of vulnerabilities can be exposed by extreme weather, and I know across all of the states in the United States, there are concerted efforts to try to enhance the resilience of grid infrastructure,“ Hotchkiss said.

Mitch Ditter, with Ameren’s Central Missouri Division, has already seen improvements. 

“Outage numbers drop due to the system hardening we’re doing with our smart energy plan," Ditter said.

Ditter is talking about a smart switch – an automated tool that limits a power outage’s spread. 

“They can prevent power outages in the future with something that we call cascading failures," Hotchkiss said. "So what they’re really doing is isolating the disturbance within the grid so that it’s only in a certain area and it’s contained there, rather than allowing that fault to cascade."

It’s one device that Ditter hopes will mitigate the rising number of outages locally and nationwide.

“The smart switches have been huge for us,” Ditter said.

In addition to automation, Hotchkiss said experts are investigating renewable energy micro-grids to help supplement during power outages. 

Get more severe weather stories in the ABC 17 Stormtrack Severe Weather Special airing at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Article Topic Follows: Weather

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