Australia is no stranger to the occasional power outage. In fact, they seem to happen more and more often these days.
While a short-lived blackout is usually just a minor inconvenience, prolonged power outages can cause significant disruptions to your way of life and even put people at risk. Having no refrigeration for extended periods or power for critical medical devices can be life-threatening for some.
It pays to be prepared for the potential dangers when the power goes out. Here are some tips on preparing for a power outage in Australia and preventing them from affecting your home and family.
What is a Power Outage?
A power outage is a loss of electricity supply. Power outages usually happen when the grid (the network that provides electricity to most homes and businesses) is compromised. Since the issue often comes from a primary power source, blackouts often impact large areas, not just one building.
If the electricity supplier sustained damage to its infrastructure, not the individual building, it could take workers some time to get the power back on as they work to correct the issue.
Power outages that affect just one home or building often point to a problem with the circuit breaker, electrical wiring, or another issue that is unique to that location.
Causes of Power Outages
The most common cause of power outages in Australia is severe weather, such as storms and high winds. Other causes include faults in the electricity network, damaged equipment, and bushfires.
1. Severe Weather
Severe weather is the most common cause of electricity outages in Australia. Storms can damage power lines and equipment, which can cause a loss of power. High winds can also cause trees to fall into power lines, leading to an outage.
2. Faulty Equipment or Infrastructure
Faulty equipment is another common cause of blackouts. If a problem exists with the electricity network or the equipment that supplies power to your home, it can cause an outage.
Here in Australia, our power crisis has contributed significantly to the rising occurrences of blackouts.
3. Damaged Equipment or Infrastructure
If equipment that supplies power to your home sustains damage from a fallen tree or a vehicle that crashed into it, it can also cause an electricity outage. The damage could be due to a storm or other severe weather or result from wear and tear over time.
A bushfire is a particularly dangerous fire that spreads quickly and is difficult to control. Bushfires can also cause blackouts if they damage power lines or equipment.
Flooding can also damage power lines and equipment, leading to a loss of electricity. Certain areas are particularly prone to flooding, especially beachfront property or anywhere along the Australian coast.
Types of Power Outages
There are a few different types of electricity outages that it’s helpful to know about to ensure your safety. Each results from different issues and creates different results that may be quicker or harder to solve.
A brownout is a temporary reduction in the voltage of the electricity supply. Brownouts can cause lights to dim and may cause some electrical appliances to stop working.
Brownouts usually last for a few minutes or hours. An increase in demand for electricity (such as during a heatwave when people are more reliant on air conditioning) typically causes brownouts.
A blackout is a total loss of electricity. All lights will be out, and all electrical appliances will stop working. Blackouts can last for a few minutes, hours, or even days.
Blackouts are usually due to severe weather (such as storms) or problems with the electricity infrastructure. Severe weather can cause structural damage to electrical generation facilities that’s hard to fix quickly. In the worst-case scenario, some outages last weeks.
A rolling blackout is when power is cut to a specific area for a short period, restored, and then cut again in another area. Utility officials implement rolling blackouts intentionally to prevent a complete blackout of the electricity grid. Rolling blackouts usually happen when there’s insufficient electricity to meet the demand.
A permanent fault is when the electricity supply is lost permanently to a specific area. Permanent faults can be due to damage to infrastructure, usually downed or faulted power lines.
Permanent faults typically happen after a major storm or another severe weather event. Despite the ominous name, permanent faults are often quick to resolve since all it requires is for the damaged equipment to be replaced.
How to Prepare for Power Outages
Preparing for an electricity outage is essential for everyone, but it’s especially vital for those who rely on electricity for medical purposes or have young children in the home. Regardless of what devices you need to keep on and running, here are a few tips for preparing for a power outage:
Make an Emergency Plan
The first step in preparing for a power outage is to create an emergency plan. It should include a list of things you need to do, pertinent information, and directions. In your emergency plan, be sure to include:
- A list of instructions on what to do in the event of an outage;
- A list of emergency contact numbers, your electricity supplier, the fire department, and your local hospital;
- A list of items that you will need in the event of an outage, such as a flashlight, batteries, and a first-aid kit;
- Directions to your nearest emergency shelter.
Keep this emergency plan in writing somewhere safe so you can easily access it if needed.
It’s also best to sign up for the national Emergency Alert system so that you can receive warnings and critical communications. Make sure your message inbox is not full and your phone isn’t switched off in an outage so that you can receive emergency alerts.
Practise Your Plan
Once you have created an emergency plan, you should practice it with your family, so everyone knows what to do during an outage. Practising in advance helps eliminate a sense of panic and provides a sense of relief by knowing the precise actions to take during a blackout.
Gather Important Items
Make sure you have the following items in your home in case of an outage:
- Flashlights and batteries
- Candles and matches
- A first-aid kit
- A battery-operated radio
- Non-perishable food and water
If you have a generator, you can also use this to provide electricity to certain appliances or devices, or perhaps the whole home, during periods without electricity. Off-grid solar panel systems paired with backup batteries can provide a long-term power backup even when the electricity grid is down.
Charge Your Devices
Before a power outage, ensure all your devices are fully charged. Critical devices include your cell phone, laptop, and other devices you might need during an outage.
Those who rely on electricity for medical equipment, like oxygen or a CPAP machine, should look into alternative energy sources such as portable power stations or generators.
How to Prevent Power Outages in the Future
While you can’t control the weather or how the electric companies respond to specific events, there are a few things that all of us can do to help prevent power outages:
Improve Grid Resilience
Electric companies can do several things to make the electricity grid more resilient. They can start by hardening power lines and substations against severe weather by replacing wooden poles with steel ones, installing sensors to detect and solve problems early, and trimming trees near power lines.
Burying Power Cables
Burying power cables is one of the most effective ways to protect them from severe weather. But it is also the most expensive and inconvenient way to install power lines. However, the benefits might outweigh the downsides if it means avoiding electricity outages.
A microgrid is a small, local energy system that can operate independently from the primary electricity grid. Microgrids are designed to provide power during grid outages and can help reduce the frequency and duration of blackouts.
Energy Storage and Generation
Energy storage is another way to provide backup power during an outage. Batteries or portable power stations can store energy from the grid. Solar panels or fuel cells that convert natural gas into electricity can generate power even when the grid goes down.
Rooftop solar array systems can be beneficial for day-to-day use, but they won’t be valuable during an electricity outage if they’re reliant on the grid. By pairing solar panels with off-grid backup battery systems, like EcoFlow’s portable power stations, a solar power system can store unused energy that you can tap into later during an outage.
Staying Prepared in the Face of Power Outages
Power outages are a relatively common event in Australia, so preparing for them is crucial. They can happen at any time, often without warning.
No matter the cause, you should always be prepared for a power outage. Proper preparation includes having an emergency plan and items like flashlights, batteries, and non-perishable food. You can also take steps to prevent electricity outages in the future by ensuring you have a way to store and access energy, such as with a portable power station or generate your own electricity with a solar generator and portable solar panels from a manufacturer like EcoFlow.