A Guide to Rolling Blackouts & How to Stop Them Disrupting Your Life

You may have only come across the term ‘rolling blackout’ within the last year or so, but do you know why they happen? Keep reading to learn more about these short-term outages, why they happen, and how to prepare for them. 

Storms over a cityscape

What are rolling blackouts?

Rolling blackouts, also known as rotating outages, are usually short, intentional disruptions of power. The outage 'rotates' through different neighborhoods to avoid lengthy blackouts in just one area. They are implemented in several situations to prevent a complete, long-lasting grid shutdown or, in the case of a storm, when there may be an additional strain. 

How long do rolling blackouts last?

Rolling blackouts intended to prevent a grid overload should last around an hour. Those occurring in extreme weather situations can last days or even a week, depending on the severity of the situation. 

Are they planned?

Governments or states plan rotating outages, although utilities and neighborhoods are often given little to no notice to prepare in advance. They tend to happen during peak hours of 4-7 pm on weekdays, but they can happen anytime. 

What is the cause of rolling blackouts?

Many developing countries, such as South Africa, don't produce enough power to support the country's needs. Ghana saw a 55% increase in power access for its population in less than three decades, but they're still rationing power to cope with outdated equipment.

In the USA, much of the current power grid dates back to the 1950s, with some facilities going back to the late nineteenth century. America's power grid has been pushed to the limits due to its aging infrastructure, overbuilding, and additional strain placed on it during extreme weather conditions. 

Where do rolling blackouts occur?

Although most rolling blackouts occur in developing countries, the US is now experiencing more rotating outages than ever before.

Apart from vital institutions and facilities, such as hospitals, fire stations, and airport control towers, most places can experience a rolling blackout. 

Rolling blackouts in California

In August 2020, the government turned off the power for hundreds of thousands of Californians during a blistering heatwave. Severe heat caused the power grid to overwork, and scheduled blackouts were enacted to reduce pressure on the grid. Although California has recently acquired an additional 3500 megawatts of capacity, the population may still need to conserve energy or find a power alternative if temperatures continue to soar. 

Rolling blackouts in Austin, Texas

The frigid winter temperatures of 2021 caused Texas and much of the Midwest to crank up their heaters to stay warm. The icy conditions pushed the grid over its limits, not only knocking out the state's gas-powered power station but froze wind turbines, forcing the government to implement rolling blackouts. The Texas grid might be ready for soaring summer temperatures but fails to cope with freezing winters. 

According to the LA Times, California uses 95% clean, renewable energy, but this isn't enough to prevent blackouts, especially during the summer months. Similarly, if winter storms are increasing in Texas, electric grids will continue to fail, putting people in the dark for long periods. While there are ways to prevent these problems, such as purchasing power from neighboring states or winter-proofing wind turbines with heaters, these are expensive solutions. 

It may be time for homeowners to take power into their own hands, storing energy for emergencies or powering their own homes using portable power stations and solar panels. 

DELTA powering a family home during a rolling blackout

Portable power stations or solar generators, as they're also known, harness the power of the sun to turn green energy into power for your home and your outdoor adventures. They're safe, clean, and unlike gas generators, you can use them inside during a blackout. EcoFlow's DELTA range of solar generators offers reliable, home backup solutions that range from occasional outages to long-lasting blackouts. 

Are there rolling blackouts in my area?

Although some certain areas experience more blackouts than others, they can occur almost anywhere. To check whether your state is currently experiencing rotating outages, view this power outage map

Preparing for a rolling blackout

Since blackouts can hit anytime, preparing in advance is crucial, just in case it lasts longer than expected. Here are a few basic things you can do to prepare: 

  • Prepare water and dry food.
  • Back up your computer files regularly to avoid losing data.
  • Consider a communication alternative in case landline or mobile service providers also lose power.
  • Prepare fuel for your generator or recharge your portable power station.
  • If you require refrigerated medication, make sure you have a way to power your fridge or use a mini-fridge instead. A DELTA mini can power a refrigerator for up to 10 hours, while a DELTA Pro can keep it running for up to two days. 
  • Make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are working

What should you do during a rolling blackout?

Here are some basic things to do during a rolling blackout, but you can learn more about preparing for a blackout and staying safe here. 

  • Unplug any appliances connected to the grid when the power goes out. When the power returns, there'll likely be a power surge that can permanently damage your devices. 
  • Grab your portable power station to keep powering your home or let your backup power kick in. 
  • If you're not using your power station to power your freezer, avoid opening it. Food will stay frozen for several days, handy if the blackout goes on for a while. 
  • Stay warm or cool (depending on the situation) and drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid using a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home, as there maybe a build up of carbon monoxide. Instead, wear multiple layers of clothing or use blankets to keep warm, or use a wood burning fire or stove if you have one. 
  • For prolonged blackouts, fill the bathtub with water in case the water gets turned off too.

Here are some basic things to do during a rolling blackout, but you can learn more about preparing for a blackout and staying safe here

Some tips for using a portable power station during (and after) a blackout

  • Be wary of power-hungry appliances, such as Air Conditioning units and space heaters.
  • Take advantage of the countdown on the portable power station’s LCD screen or via the app to see how much power you have remaining and for how long.
  • When the power is back, turn X-Stream on for super-fast recharge speeds.
  • Adjust the recharging range to 0-100%.
  • Use solar panels or a solar powered EV charging station to recharge your portable power station instead of putting pressure on the grid. 

How can we prevent rolling blackouts?

While we can’t really prevent blackouts ourselves, there are ways that each of us can take pressure of the grid by making small adjustments to our day to day lives. Making sure we turn off appliances, washing laundry on a low temperature and air-drying our clothes are just a few ways we can make a difference. 

Since rolling blackouts aren't going anywhere soon, preparing for the ones to come in the future is your best option. Whether you're experiencing the inconvenience of a short outage on an evening, or you're out for several days, keep powering your home right through with a portable power station. 

Take a closer look at our range of portable power stations:

DELTA Series Comparison