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CEIC-09-01

"Large Blackouts in North America: Historical Trends and Policy Implications"
Paul Hines, Jay Apt, and Sarosh Talukdar

Abstract:
Using data from the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) for 1984-2006, we find several notable trends. We find that the frequency of large blackouts in the United States has not decreased over time, that there is a statistically significant increase in blackout frequency during peak hours of the day and during late summer and mid winter months (although non-storm-related risk is nearly constant through the year) and that there is strong statistical support for the previously observed power-law statistical relationship between blackout size and frequency. We do not find that blackout sizes and blackout durations are significantly correlated. These trends hold even after controlling for increasing demand and population and after eliminating small events, for which the data may be skewed by spotty reporting. Trends in blackout occurrences, such as those observed in the North American data, have important implications for those who make investment and policy decisions in the electricity industry. We provide a number of examples that illustrate how these trends can inform benefit-cost analysis calculations. Also, following procedures used in natural disaster planning we use the observed statistical trends to calculate the size of the 100-year blackout, which for North America is 186,000 MW.

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