How to Stay Safe During Severe Weather & Planned Power Outages

  • January 25, 2022

Change is the only constant,
and our climate is no different.

Throughout history, glaciers have both advanced and retreated, asteroid debris created months of darkness and tropical climates once blanketed Greenland.* But today, we’re in a pattern of gradual warming.

Since the late 19th century, our global temperature has risen 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit, driven by an increase in carbon dioxide emissions.* Extreme weather that was once rare — destructive wildfires, deadly heatwaves, torrential rains and record hurricanes — are now becoming commonplace.

From coast to coast, these severe weather events are pushing aging utility networks beyond their limits. The result is widespread power outages that are lasting longer and longer. Five years ago, the average American homeowner endured less than four hours per year without power. In 2020, that length of time more than doubled to eight hours.*

How Does Severe Weather Lead to Power Outages?

Winter storms, downed power lines and blackouts — that’s what many of us think about when there is severe weather. Heavy precipitation can cause ice and snow to build up on tree branches, tumbling on power lines and structures. But that’s just one scenario.

The equipment and infrastructure used to produce, generate, transmit and distribute energy are constantly exposed to the elements. High winds can damage old equipment in a single gust, and it doesn’t require gale force. Weather stations in California clocked winds at just 30 mph that damaged power lines and sparked the Tubbs Fire of 2017 — the most destructive in state history at the time.*

During a heat wave, more people use their AC throughout the day and night, which can overload the grid. Transmission lines have a lower capacity in hot weather, so an increased demand causes the lines to droop and even short-circuit if the grid is overwhelmed. Heavy rain can damage power equipment. Mudslides make it challenging to access broken components, prolonging outages.

To prevent major damage during severe weather events, utility companies may need to shut equipment down, causing interruptions to specific areas. In fact, cutting power is a tactic that’s becoming more common.

What Solutions Are Utilities Exploring?

To help prevent wildfires during periods of dry and windy weather, PG&E began implementing public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) in 2019. During severe weather, these planned power outages “de-energize” the electric grid, and crews inspect equipment before restoring power.*

Burying power lines is a popular idea, and it seems like a practical solution for weatherproofing. But building subterranean electrical systems takes time and money — we’re talking decades and billions of dollars.* Some of that cost would be passed along to ratepayers. With many people struggling to pay utility bills as it is, this solution becomes prohibitively expensive. Underground power lines would still be subject to flood damage and their location would make it challenging to identify problems and access the equipment to make repairs.*

Rather than investing resources in burying lines, many power companies are focusing on making their systems more resilient to extreme weather. One example is designing systems that let the cables drop the instant a problem arises. This prevents a domino effect, where multiple poles are taken down when a single one collapses. Designing lines to fail at specific points reduces the repair time after a natural disaster. For example, when Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, power was restored in hours compared to the weeks it took to repair systems after Hurricane Wilma 12 years prior.* But despite growing investments by utility companies, power grids remain fragile.

The Cost of More Frequent Power Outages

Electric outages don't just force us to unplug and enjoy a peaceful evening by the fire. Outages lasting more than a few hours can close businesses, shut down schools, delay emergency services and disrupt supply chains.

In any given year, severe weather-related interruptions cost utility customers $2-$3 billion.* How does that break down per residence? A survey by Briggs & Stratton found that the cost of a power outage for the average household that suffered mild property damage (basement flooding and sump pump repair) was around $1,900.* For those who experienced an outage in the past two years, the most common costs were replacing spoiled food, purchasing supplies, lost wages from work and hotel stays.

Adding to this are soaring natural gas prices that increase electricity costs and affect a number of other sectors, from agriculture to manufacturing.

Improving Your Home's Resiliency to Keep You Safe

Lengthy power outages aren't just an inconvenience, they can be deadly. The historic deep freeze in Texas claimed the lives of nearly 250 vulnerable residents when the power grid failed and left 4 million people without electricity for days.* Without immediate solutions for our nation's aging infrastructure and a climate that continues to stress the grid, many fear these tragedies will become more common.

So, what can you do to protect your home and keep you and your family safe?

It's clear that the most practical solutions from utility companies are focused on restoring power quickly, not preventing grid failure. Losing electricity for a day is certainly better than a week, but residents must still plan for electrical outages, as they're becoming the norm.

Disaster preparation never seems like a top priority until you're in the midst of mayhem. Abrupt, weather-related outages happen without warning, and planned shutoffs give you just enough time to gather basic supplies. By preparing for outages long beforehand with solar and battery backup power, you can ensure your home has a reliable source of energy during a grid failure.

Sunnova's Commitment to Energy Independence

At Sunnova, we believe everyone should have the freedom to live life uninterrupted. We imagine a world where you can use the energy you need, when you need it, how you need it — regardless of how the electric grid is performing or the weather outside your window. Our team is focused on powering energy independence and developing the most effective ways to bring reliable energy to you, your family, and your community.

That's why we offer add-on battery storage for any home solar system, regardless of whether you purchased it from Sunnova or another solar provider. Solar battery backup offers an eco-friendly alternative to noisy, portable generators that guzzle gasoline outside your home. Gas can be scarce during a disaster, and your emergency generator may only run for a few hours before it's empty.

With no fuel needed, Sunnova's home battery storage option provides consistent power during the day or night. If you live in California and experience planned power shutoffs, a battery backup system lets you tap into the energy your solar panels produce to keep your electricity on when the grid is down. This way, you can continue working from home, cooking meals, running your forced-air furnace, watching the news and operating medical equipment like oxygen devices.

Our climate may be changing, but your lifestyle doesn't have to. Start planning today for power outages tomorrow — and enjoy the ability to live life uninterrupted.