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]


Comments

    We live in a valley that only has a single power feed and we often get blackouts, particularly in wild weather. The longest this year was about four hours (although last year we have one that went for a day and a half). As we work with laptops and wireless dongles, we still have internet access when the power is down and so we can keep ourselves entertained (till the batteries go flat) . We have torches in every room, so there is never one far away if the lights go out. We also have some LED lanterns. Since we are on tank water, if the power goes off, so does the pump. We have a 20l drum of water on standby for such occasions. We also have a generator that we plug the fridge into if the outage is too long. (Starting the generator normally makes the power come back within the next few minutes). We are building a new house and it will have solar power and a battery backup to power the essentials for up to two days. Then hopefully inconvenience from blackouts will be a thing of the past.

    A week, following cyclone Yasi in 2011. After the rain stopped the humidity started, which quickly became unbearable. We slept outside on the verandah with a fan going (luckily, we had a generator) at night. Cooking wasn't a problem because we have gas and therefore I was able to have my morning coffee, which would have been truly tragic if I'd have had to go without that.

    After the heat, the worst thing was no internet. Gah! When the zombie apocalypse comes I'm going to let myself get bitten, at least then I won't care about no internet (probably inevitable anyway because of my appalling lack of cardio).

    Both links to Eaton are :-
    a) Wrong, (404 - Page not found) and
    b) Lead to the US site, not the Australian one

    I work in an electricity network control room. We have lots of frequent outages caused by bird strikes on lines but these are relatively short. Right through to major storms as mention causing extensive network damage leaving some customers off for a fair bit longer. Rest assured every job is logged, accounted for, and managed by how much of an actual hazard it is to the public. A couple of guys who had to work during one of the storm clean ups didn't have power themselves for 7days.

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