Are winter power outages going to be a threat?
Should you worry about winter power outages? Like me, you are concerned about what the upcoming winter in the Northern Hemisphere will bring. It’s not only a problem for half the globe; all of us are at risk. First, there is the instability caused by the War in Ukraine and predicted tight fuel supplies in the U.S. this winter. So, keeping an eye on the worldwide power supply situation is sensible. Climate Central reported that from 2000-2021, 83% of outages occurred due to weather-related events. Planning for the risks to business continuity due to this instability is more important this winter than ever.
Reuters released an article about the risks of increased power outages stateside a few weeks ago. In it, they quoted The North American Electric Reliability Corp (NERC) “that a large portion of the North American bulk power system is at risk of having insufficient energy supplies during severe winter weather.” The U.S. is facing a potential supply shortage for the 2022-2023 Winter season, and the reliability of the U.S. and Canadian power grid is also a concern. Worldwide, the War in Ukraine, ongoing power supply issues, and pipeline availability contribute to rising concerns about the next few months.
Are the warnings realistic?
Last June, I published a blog on the Summer 2022 Power Outage Risk. Now, I am again talking about predictions of power outages worldwide for the wintertime. You might ask if my warnings are valid. Although metadata on what occurred this summer is not readily available, I say many notifications of power outages come across my alert feeds. However, we did see reporting acknowledging a summer of record heat, but the power grid in the US did appear to hold up, as reported by Forbes.
That might not be the case this winter. Some states in the US were asked to throttle their electricity usage at peak hours, but massive blackouts did not occur. Yet, we can expect that PSPS events and power reduction requests from Utility companies will become a regular occurrence in the near term. Due to this, I expect outages to be a reality for portions of the globe. I am unsure where and how long we’ll see power reductions or interruptions. But, a rising number of authorities in this space continue to sound the alarm. So, it’s a risk worth keeping a close eye on.
What's to worry about for the US?
Like me, you are concerned about what the upcoming winter in the Northern Hemisphere will bring. It’s not only a problem for half the globe; all of us are at risk. First, there is the instability caused by the War in Ukraine and predicted tight electric supplies in the US this winter. Demand for diesel is also outstripping supply. So, keeping an eye on the worldwide power supply situation is sensible.
Next, for the United States alone, the situation is considered by experts to be unprecedented. Under normal conditions, our grid has adequate capacity, according to experts. However, Texas, the Southeast, Midwest, Northeast, and other areas risk blackouts under challenging conditions. Multiple factors are at play, with the risk of severe temperatures and reduced investment in infrastructure updates. Then, there’s a reduced ability to transport natural gas to where it’s needed, like in New England, which relies on various liquid fuel sources for heating. Finally, as nuclear and coal-fired generation is retired, alternative sources are unavailable to meet demand. Maybe our administration should consider a pause and re-start supply opportunities from all sources.
Let's talk about global risk
Already, we are hearing that a similar situation in Europe is occurring. Not only is the continent facing the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but now one of the downstream impacts is reductions in power supply availability. You are familiar with the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipeline explosions back in September. The event and growing regional tensions led to a reduced energy supply heading into the cold weather months. Diesel shortages are happening across the globe; in France, it’s due to striking refinery workers. Oilprice.com reported that the diesel crisis is going global, with almost every region facing a diesel shortage this winter.
Already, National Grid is sharing its plan for when blackouts will happen. The concern is that power cuts will occur if Europe reduces gas imports, impacting the country on the coldest winter days. Right now, the forecast is for three to four hours of downtime. For businesses, this is a concern because the utility already imposed a “demand flexibility service” on November 1st in the UK, asking businesses and consumers to reduce power use during peak demand periods. A direct threat to operational stability, companies should consider how to shift work for maximum output. They’re also looking at rolling blackouts.
Resources to track the risk
Possibly, depending on the industry–businesses may close during the power shutdown hours. Or, they could ask employees to focus on critical tasks outside of scheduled downtime periods. Like me, you will probably watch for any risk escalation over the coming weeks. To help with that, I compiled a list of information sources to help you track power outages and gather intel.
Here is my resource list:
- NERC’s 2022–2023 Winter Reliability Assessment – It identifies, assesses, and reports on areas of concern regarding the reliability of the North American BPS for the upcoming winter season.
- Poweroutage.us – Provide reliable updates on the status of the US power grid.
- Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) – Understanding what PSPS is and how it can impact various locations is helpful for risk forecasting and reporting to leadership.
- Utility companies’ outage sites – Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, it can be helpful to bookmark the emergency information sites of your local utilities. They have more in-depth information. For example, here’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E): outage center.
- Consider what education or 1-pagers could be helpful for your management and employees. Or, you can leverage content from my blog on How to achieve a resilience posture.
- Monitor your media and intel alerting services like Factal, NC4, or Crisis24. All are powerful tools for risk management.
- I found an Employment Law site by Howarths with HR Considerations during power cuts. Addressing employees is good to consider, with so many working remotely or an increased number wanting to access offices due to power constraints at home.
- NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation is a free service that provides information about community extreme weather, water, and climate events.
Hopefully, you find this information helpful. If you have other resources, please leave them in the comments below for others. My goal with Disaster Empire is to be a clearinghouse for analysis and tools to increase resilience. One that helps you and others in the industry.
Preparing now is key
So, should you worry about winter power outages? My best advice is to continue to monitor the situation in the months ahead. But, in the meantime, you can prepare your operations. California has a good site called Prepare for Power Down with guidance you could repackage to share with your employees in a high-risk area. Next, run your critical operations through scenarios to ready them for power down or interruptions. You can leverage FEMA’s Disaster and Risk mapping tool to provide data on likelihood. Keep in mind that utilities like National Grid are working to enable households with smart meters to choose to cut how much energy they use when supplies are low. Then, some businesses can’t run without power (water, sewage treatment facilities, etc.).
Although this blog focused on wealthy nations, I predict a downstream impact on other countries. Cascading risks are to be expected. So, no matter where your company operates, it’s prudent to consider how outages affect commerce. Most importantly, you will need to put your people first and consider what assistance can be provided. Extreme weather and fuel supply disruption will lead to severe outages. Now is the time to assess your risk and plan accordingly.
Did you know?
Disaster Empire blogs contain embedded links to source materials, articles of interest, videos, books, and training I recommend you check out to expand your knowledge base. Just click on the blue embedded link to access the resource.
Charitable Giving Opportunity:
- Overwatch Foundation – I recently became aware of this group of US Military Veterans providing critical natural disaster relief & urgent humanitarian response to those in need from an episode of the Shaw Ryan Show. Overwatch supports soldiers in Ukraine and ran a mission for Hurricane Ian in Florida. Check them out, and please give if their work resonates with you.