Argentina’s blackout and the storm-battered future of the grid


Enlarge (credit: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Early Sunday morning, all of mainland Argentina lost power in an “unprecedented” blackout event that left most of the country’s 44 million citizens in the dark until the evening. The blackout also extended to Uruguay (which is connected to Argentina’s power grid) and limited parts of Chile. Although the exact cause of the blackout is still being investigated, Argentina experienced heavy rains over the weekend, and there is reason to believe that the inclement weather played a starring role in the largest blackout in recent history.

Extreme weather events are a leading cause of blackouts around the world, and the blackout in Argentina is a reminder that our electric grids aren’t ready to handle the increasing intensity of storms resulting from climate change. Although the United States isn’t likely to see a nationwide blackout like the one that hit Argentina, localized blackouts in the United States have increased in both frequency and duration in recent years. This is due in no small part to massive forest fires, snow storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes that cause localized blackouts often affecting tens of thousands of people.

“There is clear evidence that extreme weather events have increased over the past 20 years, and so have the number of outages and the number of customer hours out of service,” says Alison Silverstein, an independent energy consultant and previous advisor to the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “We need to accept this and do a better job at helping customers and communities survive these growing outages and threats.”

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