Blackouts Require a New Look at Backup Power

Blackout black and white zigzags cable out

A major shift in preparedness that construction executives should consider in future planning.

April 6, 2020
John McBride - Construction Executive

Recent blackouts on both East and West coasts are causing commercial property owners to reassess their need for backup power. The likelihood of more-frequent blackouts means backup power must evolve from ensuring the safe exit of office workers to enabling core business functions to continue uninterrupted. That’s a major shift in preparedness that construction executives should consider in future planning.

In New York City on July 13, 2019, a Con Edison blackout left 72,000 customers in Manhattan and Queens without power primarily because of a flawed connection at an electrical substation. Eight days later, a second Con Edison blackout left more than 50,000 customers, mostly in Brooklyn, without power due to high usage during a heat wave. These events occurred even though, as Con Edison stated, the New York City grid is one of the most complex and technologically advanced in the world and contains multiple layers of redundancy.

In northern and central California in late October, 2019, intentional blackouts were implemented by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) on a massive scale in response to out-of-control wildfires. “Never before in California history have more than 2 million people gone five days without electrical power because of the intentional safety policy of a utility,” reported the Los Angeles Times. It was the second massive blackout in California in two weeks, after PG&E had earlier shut off power to almost 2 million people in rolling blackouts.

The blackouts on both coasts are remarkable not only for their breadth but for the range of causes—from limiting wildfires sparked in part by faulty, above-ground, power lines to a flawed connection at a substation to overuse during a heat wave. The conditions creating those causes are not likely to subside, and Con Edison warned this summer of more service outages to come. In California, The Washington Post writes, “blackouts are redefining the prosperous state.”

Reprinted courtesy of John McBride, Construction Executive, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. All rights reserved.


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