Going Dark: An Aging Power Grid

Keeping warm during cold winter months can be a challenge in the best of times. When the cold becomes frigid, it goes from being a challenge to a near impossibility. At least, that is, for those without heat or power.

This is important to consider because the US Department of Energy says power outages are on the rise nationwide. According to the government, the reasons are pretty cut and dry.

“An aging infrastructure, combined with a growing population and more frequent extreme weather, are straining the electric grid.”

Another frightening statistic is that the five-year annual average of outages has doubled every five years.

  • From 2000 to 2004, there was an average of 44 reported grid outages per year.
  • From 2005 to 2009, there was an average of 100 reported grid outages per year.
  • From 2010 to 2013 (a four year period), there was an average of 200 reported grid outages per year.

As the trend continues to climb, it’s important to ask yourself the question, “Am I prepared for an outage?” In the winter, the most important thing is to stay warm. That’s because, according to accuweather.com, temperatures indoors can plummet without ongoing heat. When that happens, though, there are a number of things you can do to hold heat within your walls.

  1. Make sure to keep all doors to the outside shut.
  2. Use towels to block drafts coming in from window and door cracks.
  3. Insulate windows with black blankets. The black draws heat from the sun. If the sun's beams are coming through the window, put the blankets on the floor where the sun is directly shining instead.
  4. Running a bathtub of hot water also draws in heat to the house. Keep in mind that without power, your water heater could be down. If that’s the case hot water is limited.

These are important factors to be sure, but blackouts don’t only affect people’s homes. They also impact their businesses. According to global corporate insurer Allianz, this as a growing problem.

“Power cuts are becoming more and more frequent. Large-scale, supraregional blackouts are increasingly a realistic scenario. Even small outages can have disastrous effects on unprepared businesses.”

What makes this even more concerning is that outages aren’t always just a short downage. With an aging electrical grid, the outages could be much more damaging to a company’s bottom line.

“While the majority of power failures from national grids last only a few hours, some blackouts can last days or even weeks, completely shutting down production at companies and critical infrastructures such as telecommunication networks, financial services, water supplies, and hospitals.”

While this article mentions outages causing downtime, what it doesn’t mention is the real concern for lost assets. As many of our customers are well aware, a loss in refrigeration or a reliable climate control system could force companies to toss hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product it can no longer guarantee is safe for public use and consumption.

The food industry would be an easy example of where this could potentially be a major issue. The USDA does a great job of discussing the science behind temperature’s impact.

“Bacteria exist everywhere in nature. They are in the soil, air, water and the foods we eat. When bacteria have nutrients (food), moisture, time, and favorable temperatures, they grow rapidly, increasing in numbers to the point where some can cause illness. Understanding the important role temperature plays in keeping food safe is critical. If we know the temperature at which food has been handled, we can then answer the question, "Is it safe?"

While you may be familiar with the danger zone in food, that’s temperatures between 40° and 140°F, you may be unfamiliar with just what that means. Again, the USDA is here to educate.

“Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 ° and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is often called the "Danger Zone." That's why the Meat and Poultry Hotline advises consumers to never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out for more than 1 hour.”

Even with food well stored during a power outage, according to the Red Cross, if your freezer is half-filled and is not opened the entire time that the power is out, the food in it will remain sufficiently frozen for up to 24 hours. If it is completely filled, your food should remain safe for up to 48 hours.

Food isn’t the only industry where ambient conditions are critical to its success. As many users of our services know, the worlds of healthcare and pharmaceuticals rely on temperature monitoring devices to not only remain compliant to industry standards but to maintain standards that ensure their patient’s and customer’s safety. That’s important, because, as a New York Times article stated in 2014, a single vaccine refrigerator could hold up to $70,000 worth of inventory. Leaving the viability of those drugs up to whether or not your local grid can maintain power is a dangerous, and potentially costly, proposition.

The BCG vaccine that is primarily used against tuberculosis, for example, becomes fully degraded after 48 hours at room temperature. That means that a single weekend away from the office could force a clinic or office to replace its entire stock if not properly monitored.

According to Dr. Lance Rodewald, the director of immunization services at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, waste costs the $2 billion-a-year federal Vaccines for Children Program about $20 million annually. The biggest single cause? That would be improper refrigeration. Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, Iowa epidemiologist, echoed this sentiment.

“We will get months and months and months of vaccine refrigerator logs where the refrigerator is out of the temperature and nobody has done anything except every day markdown it’s out of temperature,” she said.

Power outages may not be the only cause of the losses, but they’re a part of them. Should historical trends continue unchecked, blackouts will only cause these numbers to grow in the future. Preparing in advance can keep you, and your inventory, from feeling left out in the cold.