EIA: US electricity customer outage minutes trending up

With more volatile weather and more major storms, US electricity customers are experiencing longer outages.

According to the recently released U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Annual Electric Power Industry Report, electricity customers in the states experienced on average just over eight hours of electric power interruptions in 2020, the most since the organization began collecting electricity reliability data in 2013, it said.

The average U.S. electricity customer experienced nearly 20 more minutes of power interruptions in 2020 than in 2017, the year with second-longest duration of interruptions in EIA records. When major events are excluded, the average duration of interruptions customers experienced annually from 2013 to 2020 was consistently around two hours.

Different factors cause power interruptions, including weather, vegetation patterns, and utility practices. Utilities can report interruption duration values with major events (including snowstorms, wildfires, and hurricanes), without major events, or both.

One metric used to measure the reliability of U.S. electric utilities is the System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI), which measures the total time an average customer experiences a non-momentary power interruption in a one-year period. SAIDI is often paired with the System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI), which measures the frequency of interruptions.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Electric Power Industry Report

Electricity customers in the District of Columbia, Arizona, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Dakota had the shortest total time of electricity interruptions in 2020, ranging from 44 minutes in the District of Columbia to 101 minutes in South Dakota.

Customers in Alabama, Iowa, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Louisiana experienced the most time with interrupted power in 2020, ranging from almost 29 hours in Alabama to 60 hours in Louisiana. The long interruptions were largely because of major weather events. The United States experienced 14 hurricanes in 2020 and 11 major storms, making for an extremely disruptive Atlantic weather season.

Louisiana experienced the most active storm season in the state’s history, including Hurricane Laura, which was the state’s second-most costly storm after Hurricane Rita in 2005. Alabama was also hit with several hurricanes. Tropical Storm Isaias severely affected Connecticut, leaving about 750,000 electricity customers without power, some for over a week.

A derecho affected Iowa and other parts of the Midwest, causing widespread power outages and damaging grid infrastructure. Damages from the derecho resulted in the early retirement of Iowa’s only nuclear power plant, the Duane Arnold Energy Center, ahead of the plant’s scheduled October 2020 decommissioning. In Oklahoma, an ice storm in October 2020 resulted in widespread power outages.

Maine, historically a state with long electricity interruptions during the winter, is a heavily forested state where power interruptions resulting from falling tree branches are common. In 2020, Maine saw the highest average number of power interruptions.

Electricity reliability metrics are explained further in EIA’s video guide on SAIDI and SAIFI and in its Annual Electric Power Industry Report. In 2021, EIA also began publishing reliability statistics in a new “Reliability” chapter of the Electric Power Annual.

Principal contributors to the EIA report are Anodyne Lindstrom and Sara Hoff.

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Jennifer Runyon is a Senior Content Director at Clarion Energy, writing, editing and posting content on POWERGRID International and planning conference sessions for DISTRIBUTECH's live and virtual events. She is the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH International. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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