How Frequent Are Power Blackouts And What Causes Them?

Last year, there were 94 significant power outages reported across Australia and New Zealand, according to the Eaton Blackout Tracker. The causes ranged from rampaging hot air balloons to kamikaze possums. Let’s dig into the statistics.

Candle picture from Shutterstock

The Eaton Blackout Tracker is an annual power outages report published by power management company Eaton Industries. The report is based on data collated from the media and personal accounts. In 2012, 94 power outages were reported across Australia and New Zealand, with four-out-of-five blackouts caused by extreme weather.

The North Island of New Zealand reported the most power outages (30), followed by New South Wales (18), the South Island of New Zealand (16), Queensland (12), Victoria (9), Western Australia (5), South Australia (3) and the Northern Territory (1). The ACT, meanwhile, did not report a single significant power outage.

Some of the year’s most notable blackouts occurred in June, including a powerful Perth storm that damaged Western Australia’s electricity network and left more than 161,000 homes without power, and the cyclone-like winds that caused havoc across much of Sydney.

According to the report, the other main power outage culprits in 2012 were faulty equipment, planned outages, human error, animals and accidents involving vehicles.

One of the year’s most tragic blackouts was the 2012 Carterton hot air balloon crash in Auckland, which left 3,800 homes without power and 11 people dead. Some other unusual blackouts highlighted in the report include a New Zealand milk tanker truck that crashed into a power pole (cutting power to 150 people and spilling more than 12,000 litres of milk into a nearby river), a crane that struck a power line while being carried on a barge near Swansea in New South Wales (cutting power to 18,000 people) and a possum that came into contact with electrical equipment at a Sydney at a substation (cutting power to 12,000 people).

Two outages were also reported at data centres — services at Google’s Sydney data centre were briefly knocked offline in June, with no explanation given for the outage. Equinix’s Sydney facility also went down in November due to an issue with its HVAC cooling systems. The latter caused delays of up to three hours for thousands of airline passengers flying with Tiger Airlines, Virgin and Jetstar.

“In addition to lost revenues and disruption for the businesses and their clients, outages frequently involve costs for detection, containment and recovery,” explained Eaton marketing manager, Michael Mallia. “Given the importance of the data centre to business continuity, every organisation should actively mitigate risk by ensuring their centre is properly equipped with surge protectors, uninterruptible power supplies and generators.”

On the plus side, blackouts were generally fixed much quicker in 2012 compared to last year’s report, with the average blackout lasting under two hours (down from seven hours in 2011).

What is the longest time you’ve been stuck in a blackout for? And what did you do to pass the time? Let us know in the comments section below.

Eaton Blackout Tracker [Eaton Corporation]

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