What Causes Power Outages?

Power outages can be one of the most frustrating things to occur in life, and often at the most inopportune time. If you are working on some task on your computer and you don’t have battery or backup power, it is extremely annoying and frustrating to realize you might have lost a big chunk of your work if you did not back up before a sudden and unexpected power outage.

If you are preparing a meal that you had great ideas about, and the power suddenly disappears half way through, without standby power backup, there’s a good chance your entire meal planning would be wrecked. There are many examples and you probably can think of others where you’ve experienced a power outage at a time that was most inconvenient and it cost you perhaps not in dollars and cents, but in time and labour because the outage was unexpected.

Localized & Widespread Outages

Most power outages are of a generally short duration, but even short ones can cause big issues. Of course, the longer the duration, the more consequences and interference with quality of life. We often expect them during some extreme or inclement weather events, and can plan for them in advance when they are more likely, but there are in fact many causes of unexpected power outages that can wreak havoc in our lives.

You also have probably experienced times when the power went out in your place of business or residence, while the lights were still turned on across the road. Localized power outages can have their own frustrations, but generally speaking, are often restored much quicker than a wide-spread outage. There are of course exceptions – if you live in a rural area, you probably know that it can often take quite some time for restoration of electrical power even if the outage is fairly small. Restoration by utility companies is dependent on local resources available including equipment, parts, and available “man-power.”

Even an outage that would only take a short time to repair can take longer if road and travel conditions to the problem prevent or slow down movement. In winter, this can mean snow and ice-covered roads. In other months of the year, other hazards including downed trees can prevent swift response to even small power outages.

Winter Weather Related Power Outages

Winter has its own challenges when it comes to consistent electrical power delivery. While winter months are great for those that love the activities that snow can bring, the season is marked by shorter daylight hours, tough driving conditions at times, and hazards that those of use who live in a winter climate region know about and have to deal with on a regular basis. Winter also has it’s own unique issues with delivery of electricity to homes and businesses.

Ice Related Electrical Power Outages

Those of you that have spent any time in a region that experiences extreme winter conditions know about power outages that are caused by inclement winter weather. Some of you may even recall “The Great North American Ice Storm” that affected millions of people in 1998 throughout Eastern Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and parts of the north-eastern USA. It was not only an inconvenience, it was a huge life changing event for some – only those who had natural gas standby power generators were affected the least.

There were downed electrical lines and poles throughout the region, and cleaning up before power could be restored took days and days in many parts of the large region affected. Travel was treacherous and entire communities huddled together in shelters sharing what food they could or awaited emergency relief.

Of course, ice storms do not always cause power outages in such a large area as it did in January, 1998. Even small localized ice storms can cause wide-spread power outages causing entire towns or other large communities within urban areas to be without power for extended periods of time in southern Ontario. Ice build up on power lines combined with high winds can cause power lines to oscillate and a condition known as “galloping” occurs. The result can mean loss of electrical power to your house or place of business.

Even without high winds causing line galloping, the weight of ice, if it builds up on power lines, can cause them to break. Power lines can also be broken when trees fall on them because the ice build up was so heavy, the trees were unable to withstand the weight.

Wind Related Power Outages

It is not only ice that you need to think about when preparing for winter time power outages. While ice storms are a major cause of an outage, you can experience them without this condition. Winter time often brings howling winds at high speed and force, and while it may sound romantic to sit inside while listening to the winds blow outside, they can cause major damage to the electrical grid causing you more than just an inconvenience. Winter power outages in fact can be quite dangerous if they continue for an extended length of time!

When the wind is blowing, the dangers of power lines being broken by the wind, or even by trees blowing onto the lines, increases. Wind can also cause damage to other components of the electrical grid and you might be without power for a long time during this season, if you don’t have standby power generation at your home or business. The dangers include not being able to heat your home and having to suffer through a long period of cold. You may also experience water pipes bursting if you failed to turn off your water main because you hoped the power outage would be short.

Winter power outages, both local and widespread are a real and frequent hazard to those of us that live in the Greater Toronto Area. Power outages can happen at unexpected and usually, at totally inconvenient times. Preparing for them is a necessity and having a plan of action in case the outage ends up being an extended one over hours and even days, is important.

Of course, having a standby power generator installed will ease much of the potential hazards to your home or business and can give you peace of mind. Even a portable generator can be helpful during these times of winter outages so that you have some way to power a few of the electrical components in your home.

Summer Weather Related Power Outages

Those of us that live in an area that experiences extreme summer weather events are very familiar with lightning induced power outages. Just like winter related outages, they can be widespread or localized, and can be of a short duration (even just a moment – but this has it’s own issues) or be of an extended period involving hours and even days before power is restored.

Lightning Strike Power Outages

Like any piece of equipment, electrical equipment can degrade with age, and lightning striking electrical equipment can weaken them causing premature aging and making them more susceptible to early failure. Lightning is an electrical force that contains enormous power and when it strikes some equipment, can totally destroy it.

While most public electrical utility equipment is grounded to protect against lightning strikes, it is virtually impossible to account for all the possibilities of where lightning can strike, so often, this type of storm will suddenly take out the electricity of small or even large areas. Excessive current on utility equipment can cause breakers to switch off – sometimes they will not reset on their own and utility companies must dispatch workers to reset them. Depending on their location and travel conditions, this can take anywhere from minutes or hours.

Because breaker switches are often the front line of defense against lightning induced power surges, this is why you will sometimes experience a “blip” of power loss, when you lose power for a second or two before it comes back on.

This blip can cause it’s own problems however, especially for electronic equipment not plugged into surge protectors. When the power does return, it can return with a surge of current and damage the electronic parts of your equipment. (Surge protection with a UPS can help prevent against such damage, but a high-quality transfer switch with a standby generator that has been installed by a professional who understands your electrical needs, will help you the most in protecting against such damage).

Often though, lightning can cause much more damage than breaker switches being tripped, and such damage must obviously must be repaired before electricity returns to your home.

The dangers of an extended summer weather power outage should be planned for ahead of time. Consider the following when dealing with an extended summer outage:

  • Food that requires refrigeration
  • Food that is in the freezer
  • Health conditions if your residence or business becomes too hot due to lack of cooling
  • Food supplies that require cooking
  • Health related equipment that requires electricity
  • Do you have a flashlight ready with fresh batteries? Flashlights are safer than candles.

This is not an inclusive list and everyone should have their own plan for their unique circumstances ahead of time when extended power outages hit. Of course, these considerations also apply to power outages in other times of the year or that have different causes.

Non-Weather Related Power Outages

While weather related power outages can have some predictability in that we know they are more likely during ice storms in the winter, or during thunderstorms in the summer, power outages can result for other reasons as well, and therefore can take us by even greater surprise. Do you remember 2003 and The North-East Blackout? For many regions, it was a beautiful summer day and without warning, the power went out. For most of us, we did not even know why, and because there were no extreme weather symptoms, many assumed it was some minor local outage.

It is possible that something similar could happen again, in the future. Let’s look at some non-weather related power outages that many do not think about are as a result, not prepared for:

Power Outages Due To Animal Damage

Animals are often the cause of power outages that at the time, seem mysterious or unexpected. You might be surprised to learn that animals are responsible for millions of dollars in damage per year and a multitude of power outages that last for an extended time. Animals can cause damage to electrical equipment and wiring both in our homes as well as in electrical utility buildings and installations. Wiring can get chewed, nests are built on power lines and/or insulators and as the animal waste increases, it can cause electrical damage.

Sometimes tracking down the cause or location of an electrical outage caused by animals can take a longer time. Utility companies have many animal related outage prevention techniques and solutions as they have learned over time, just how animals can cause damage and resulting outage. For home and business owners, building and property maintenance can also go a long way to preventing power outages due to animals – but no matter what, they still are likely to occur from time to time.

Again, a professionally installed standby generator will help you to keep the power on while the damage is being repaired saving you time and money and the need for taking other actions because of the outage.

Vehicle Accidents Can Cause Power Outages

On a summer day in Toronto in June, hundreds of homes and businesses were left without power in the Parkdale community of Toronto because of a car accident. Almost 1,000 Toronto Hydro customers were affected and it took over three hours to restore power. Those who had no standby generators installed were required to deal with the inconvenience of a power outage, most likely at a most inconvenient time for them.

Vehicle accidents are the cause of many power outages and are often not weather related so the outage occurs when we are least expecting them. They can cause local or wide-spread power failures and can also take a long time to repair, depending on the extent of the accident and the police investigation requirements. Serious accidents can mean that utility workers don’t even have access to repair the site until the investigation is completed.

Utility & Power Grid Failures

The big blackout of 2003 was not caused by weather or vehicle accident but due to a bug in some software that was in use to manage the electrical grid. Overloaded transmissions lines should have caused an alarm to alert electrical grid operators, but the alarm was not activated. This ended up causing a power outage for a vast area of North America and millions of people were affected for up to two weeks. While many people had their power restored within two days, the little bug in the software was responsible for damages in places that took two weeks to repair.

Sometimes, utility companies are required to conduct unscheduled maintenance on power lines and equipment. On July 16th, 2019, homes and businesses on Islington Street in Vaughan were affected by a power outage due to maintenance requirements. Those who were not informed and/or had no standby generator installed suffered the inconvenience of no power to their home and/or business in the area.

A Standby Generator Provides Reliable Power For An Unreliable World

We’ve looked at some of the many reasons why a power outage occurs – and we know that these outages can and have occurred at the most unexpected of times, for a variety of reasons. We often associate power outages with weather related events, yet the largest power outage ever in North America occurred because of a software bug!

With any power outage, whether it is local or widespread, or for a short or extended time, they all carry with them risks of damage, inconvenience, loss of money, food, and other problems ranging from an inconvenience to serious problems.

Amp-Trak installed standby and portable generators provide reliable power in this unreliable world of electricity generation that will reduce the risks of serious loss – whether that is money, life, or health, and help to also keep your life normalized even during the worse outages.

Once you have an Amp-Trak installed Cummins generator, you’ll have much more peace of mind and can better plan for other unexpected events or occasions while also maintaining your lifestyle during a power outage.

Call us today at (519) 941-6740 or contact us here.