13 year study claims severe weather is causing longer power outages, but not more of them

From the “ignore all the severe weather outbreaks in the prior century, we’ve got something to prove” department. Imagine if a climate skeptic skeptic scientists released a 13 year study on ANYTHING related to weather or climate – they’d be excoriated for not having a long enough sample. Note that this is not a peer reviewed study, just something published on their website only. The fact that they cite a 2013 White House report, suggests this might have a political origination rather than a scientific one.

Berkeley Lab releases most comprehensive analysis of electricity reliability trends

New report finds that increasingly severe weather is linked to longer lasting power outages


In the most comprehensive analysis of electricity reliability trends in the United States, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Stanford University have found that, while, on average, the frequency of power outages has not changed in recent years, the total number of minutes customers are without power each year has been increasing over time.

The researchers pinpointed what utilities and their regulators refer to as “major events,” or events generally related to severe weather, as the principal driver for this trend. “This finding suggests that increasingly severe weather events are linked to a 5-10% increase in the total number of minutes customers are without power each year,” said Berkeley Lab Research Scientist and Stanford PhD candidate, Peter Larsen, the lead author.

electrcity-reliability report
Report: In the most comprehensive analysis of electricity reliability trends in the United States, researchers at Berkeley Lab and Stanford University have found that, while, on average, the frequency of power outages has not changed in recent years, the total number of minutes customers are without power each year has been increasing over time.

The researchers analyzed reports for a large cross-section of utilities representing nearly 70 percent of U.S. electricity customers spanning 13 years from 2000 to 2012. Their report, “Assessing Changes in the Reliability of the U.S. Electric Power System,” is available at:http://emp.lbl.gov/publications/assessing-changes-reliabi

Although a 2013 White House report noted that major power outages and severe weather events are increasing, this study is the first of its kind to use econometric analysis techniques to statistically correlate these events with electricity reliability. Most studies of reliability have relied on information that reflects only the largest power outages. Yet, over the course of any given year, the largest events typically account for no more than 10 percent of all power outages. This study, by relying on information for all power outages, both large and small, conclusively identifies a trend that is linked directly to these larger events.

One surprise was that the study did not find a consistent link between reliability and utility transmission and distribution (T&D) expenditures. “We expected to find that increased spending on T&D would lead to improved reliability, but it is possible that a combination of proactive versus reactive utility maintenance policies may be off-setting this effect on reliability,” Larsen said. He anticipates that future research will be able sort this out through more detailed analysis of utility spending practices.


Co-author and Berkeley Lab Staff Scientist Joseph Eto said: “We hope the findings from the study will provide a more solid basis upon which to ground future private and public decisions on the long-term reliability of the U.S. electric power system.”

This work was funded by the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, National Electricity Delivery Division of the U.S. Department of Energy. Other co-authors were Kristina H. LaCommare of Berkeley Lab and James L. Sweeney of Stanford.

Assessing Changes in the Reliability of the U.S. Electric Power System


Recent catastrophic weather events, existing and prospective federal and state policies, and growing investments in smart grid technologies have drawn renewed attention to the reliability of the U.S. electric power system. Whether electricity reliability is getting better or worse as a result of these or other factors has become a material issue for public and private decisions affecting the U.S. electric power system.

This study examines the statistical relationship between annual changes in electricity reliability reported by a large cross‐section of U.S. electricity distribution utilities over a period of 13 years, and a broad set of potential explanatory variables including various measures of weather and utility characteristics.

We find statistically significant correlations between the average number of power interruptions experienced annually by a customer and a number of explanatory variables including wind speed, precipitation, lightning strikes, and the number of customers per line mile. We also find statistically significant correlations between the average total duration of power interruptions experienced annually by a customer and wind speed, precipitation, cooling degree‐days, the percentage share of underground transmission and distribution lines. In addition, we find a statistically significant trend in the duration of power interruptions over time—especially when major events are included. This finding suggests that increased severity of major events over time has been the principal contributor to the observed trend.

UPDATE: WUWT reader Eric adds this in comments:

Having several friends working in the power industry they have repeatedly said that the biggest single reason for the length of outages has to do with utilities reducing the number of personnel available to respond to outages. This has been in response to investor pressures. Now outages which would have lasted a few hours 20 years ago are stretched into days.

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August 25, 2015 5:35 am

Germany finds statistically significant outages due to introduction of wind and solar farms.
Study that

Reply to  Petrossa
August 25, 2015 6:48 am

That was one of my thoughts, that Distributed Energy may be causing this because the Smart Grid isn’t, yet.
However, please document your assertion about Germany.

Ric Haldane
Reply to  Lorne WHITE
August 25, 2015 8:50 am

One of many sites dealing with Germany’s “carbon cleansing” fail. Governments always come up short when it comes to critical thinking and math skills. dissentmagazine.org/article/green-energy-bust-in-germany

Reply to  Lorne WHITE
August 25, 2015 2:07 pm

ric Haldane
that was an interesting article…I was wondering how the german grid was doing….and as I thought…it looks to be a disaster….those greens just have to accept nuclear energy….I’m not crazy about nuclear…but as a compromise I would prefer that over renewables.

Reply to  Lorne WHITE
August 25, 2015 11:00 pm
August 25, 2015 5:44 am

Having several friends working in the power industry they have repeatedly said that the biggest single reason for the length of outages has to do with utilities reducing the number of personnel available to respond to outages. This has been in response to investor pressures. Now outages which would have lasted a few hours 20 years ago are stretched into days.

Reply to  Eric
August 25, 2015 5:55 am

New England and the upper MidWest are union areas. We have seen several times after recent storms (no hurricanes for many years) that the local unions/politicians/Washington “emergency management” supervisors refuse to allow non-union volunteers and workers from the southern states to work in the union areas. Not always, but it has happened several times.
Also, the federal emergency “management” groups DEMAND their rules and regs and controls be used “by the book”. So, hand rules and local knowledge by the operators and truck drivers and local electricians are overwhelmed by the demands for “control and accountability” purposes, rather than “fix it” and “cut the tree” and “drive over the wetlands” and “pump the water” and “get ‘er done” that used to be the requirement.
Keep safe? Always! But when Washington dollars and managers are “brought in”? First thing that happens is “Work stops until we can figure out what to do.”

Sun Spot
Reply to  RACookPE1978
August 25, 2015 11:43 am

So here we have “it’s management maximizing profit” or “it’s those evil unions”, I’m going with management cutting costs, I’ve jus had to much personal exposure to grossly incompetence management.

Ray Boorman
Reply to  RACookPE1978
August 25, 2015 7:18 pm

Agreed there RAC. I have seen same effect with centralised control of bushfire fighting in Australia. Local knowledge is not appreciated by the control-freaks from head office. Who cares if it takes twice as long to put out the fire when you are paid big bucks to feel important by issuing orders to dozens of people & also get to stand in front of media cameras for the tv news? Certainly not the bureaucrats!

James Bull
Reply to  RACookPE1978
August 25, 2015 9:26 pm

Ditto at work if we have an incident (as they like to call it) the first thing that happens is lots of managers turn up and disappear into an office for a conference call with even more managers.
A few years ago during one event (another favorite name) one or two of them came out to tell us what was going to be the next thing we were going to do to sort things out only to find (rather to their disappointment) that a couple of us had looked at site drawings been out and shut off a valve to stop the leak at source. It didn’t stop them going back for more time to discuss their next move, whilst ours was to go get a cup of tea.
James Bull

David Chappell
Reply to  Eric
August 25, 2015 7:08 am

That was my immediate reaction – that it is an infrastructure/manning/maintenance problem, SFA to do with weather.

Reply to  David Chappell
August 25, 2015 12:42 pm

With all the increased wind and solar capacity, surely the weather will be a factor.

Ray Boorman
Reply to  David Chappell
August 25, 2015 7:21 pm

Also, you can bet they did not factor in little things like population increases leading to more power lines to be knocked down by a storm, nor the “green” regulations stopping people from cutting down large trees which are later blown onto the power lines.

Richard Cain
Reply to  Eric
August 25, 2015 8:13 am

This too was my first reaction – ‘undermanning’? During recession? Seems possible.
I think that the author should research the popular phrase “No shit! Sherlock” and think about possible alternative conclusions.
No wait a minute, forget that. There’d be no grant money (or Fed funding) by applying good sense.

Olaf Koenders
Reply to  Richard Cain
August 26, 2015 3:18 am

My immediate thoughts are that they’re blaming “Climate Change©®™” in advance to cover for Obummer and his precious EPA shutting down the coal power plants.
Make sense..?

Reply to  Eric
August 25, 2015 8:47 am

I don’t really know what to make of the paper. I would not identify longer outages as a trend in areas I’m familiar with but rather I’ve seen improving stats. But personnel may be a factor in some areas as might underground distribution. (Underground is less likely to suffer outages, but when they do it takes longer to restore.) Certainly big storms could be a part but so could expanded service to areas that see more sever weather (coastal growth). The small relationship could be impacted by some major cities where infrastructure is near end of life.
One problem is that different entities calculate these indices with different methodologies so they aren’t quite comparable. In order to compare them utilities go through extensive “benchmarking” procedures to get closer to apples to apples. I searched the article and did not see anything about benchmarking, so it’s possible the dependent variables are not consistent which may be dulling relationships or confounding them.
Also there is a lot of discussion about the different regions, but it looks like once the study is undertaken regions is not treated as a variable. That combined with the problem above could produce a lot of artifacts. One could do a lot of speculating from their findings but I just don’t know.
One final point – outages and distribution reliability is different from the reliability of the bulk grid. Those two can go in different directions and one would not expect bad (or good) SAIFI, SAIDI, or MAIFI numbers to be correlated with non-storm bulk grid incidents.

Erik Magnuson
Reply to  aplanningengineer
August 25, 2015 12:30 pm

I wouldn’t be surprised if underground distribution was part of the problem. In the 2010-2012 time frame, our neighborhood experienced three power failures that were due to aging URD cable installed in the late 1970’s. Outages typically lasted 4 to 6 hours. After the last failure, the utility bit the bullet and replaced the remaining old cable, though I’d expect cable to last longer than 30 years.
While URD is immune from autos taken out poles, it not definitely not immune to an auto taking out a pad mounted transformer, which was the source of a 14 hour outage.
For bulk grid outages, I’d point some fingers at state PUC’s and Energy Commissions for blocking construction of adequate generation.

Reply to  Eric
August 25, 2015 9:15 am

I think you have hit the nail on the head Eric. Combined with the war on PCP’s that made transformers less durable and thus contributing to more “small” outages in “weather”

Reply to  Eric
August 25, 2015 9:57 am

As a Utility Distribution employee of 28 years, I confirm that what Eric says above is true. Over the last 10 to 20 years, our Company has reduced the number of personnel who respond to outages by about 60%. No wonder outages take longer to repair. And Berkeley Lab can’t figure this out and instead blames “increasingly severe weather”…BS.

Reply to  Dahlquist
August 25, 2015 10:36 am

And more expensive, as line crews are brought in from neighboring areas to help out even after a minor storm. My 2 cents: Some of the money earmarked for double-time (and per diem) handed out for 16 hour shifts could be better utilized in the spring and summer doing aggressive tree maintenance along neighborhood feeder lines.

Reply to  Eric
August 25, 2015 11:57 am

Having been a line clearance specialist and lineman for 15 years, I can easily tell you why it’s happening in the U.S. These massive power companies have swiftly gotten rid of the long term IBEW workers and replaced them with contract labor. I was IBEW and never once worked for an actual power company. They were not hiring. They were literally firing the company guys and replacing them with cheap contractors like me, then they got rid of us IBEW contractors and went to non union workers. Back when I was working, our crews were all over the map, from city to city, state to state. I saw grown men cut 3 feet off the bottom of a pole because they hit rock while digging pole holes and didn’t want to hammer it or drill/blast it. They knew the odds of them ever coming back to that specific pole was a billion to one. I eventually got laid off and never got another job offer. So I went into telephony. Guess what? The same exact thing was going on there, so I went to work for a private telecom company. America’s infrastructure is going to hades all across the board. It’s going to get worse and it has nothing to do with the weather. It’s greed.

Reply to  Gary
August 26, 2015 7:21 pm

Time to reflect on Greed:

David R. King
Reply to  Eric
August 25, 2015 9:51 pm

Exactly right.

David Cage
Reply to  Eric
August 26, 2015 12:23 am

It is a little more complex that that in that equipment is more reliable and takes less routine maintenance. This means less need for staff that previously could be taken off routine work for serious short term problems. Here in the UK I notice that there are now three teams fixing in a major outage instead of six and I suspect the same is true in the US.
If the original report did not look at the staff levels than the report is a disgrace to the university that did it.
clearly the resources used compared to the damage levels is a basic measure of where the problem lies.

Reply to  Eric
August 26, 2015 9:41 am

This study is bogus. There are too many variables that affect the length of an outage that they did not account for, one being the reason Eric has mentioned. And “statistically significant correlation?” Key word is “correlation,” which is not a causal link.

August 25, 2015 5:57 am

Paris can’t get here soon enough. The almost hourly spin stories are almost too much to stomach.

Reply to  Dinsdale
August 25, 2015 6:13 am

I was thinking the same thing. They sort of implied that there are more and more severe storms, but that’s not true, is it?

Reply to  katherine009
August 25, 2015 9:04 am

No, it isn’t true. In fact, there are fewer severe storms. They’re twisting themselves into pretzels trying to reconcile that fact with their ‘dangerous man-made global warming’ scare.
If they were honest, they would admit that fewer severe weather events is a benefit of global warming. But it would probably make their heads explode if they admitted there was anything beneficial resulting from a slightly warmer world.

August 25, 2015 5:59 am

50 years from now they will have studies to find out how an idea like catastrophic man induced climate change can become a accepted by large masses of the public. i don’t need a study for this though. Especially a “peer reviewed” one.

August 25, 2015 6:12 am

We used to have power outages every winter. It’s been almost twenty years since any were not caused by a vehicle taking out a utility pole.

North of 43 and south of 44
August 25, 2015 6:13 am

When you reduce the number of peons in the company and have an all hands on deck event things will take more time to get fixed. Lots more needs to be considered, as an example my home town used to be able to isolate itself from a number of events that occurred, that capability went bye bye luckily the generators were still in place when the Ice Storm of 1998 hit, After several days they got that facility up and running. Oh when they originally shut it down they also moved the line repair operations some 45 miles further away. Oh well, that is how the electrons flow or not.

August 25, 2015 6:15 am

Another reason for this is that as society grows, and as infrastructure ages and decays, it takes disproportionally more resources, money and energy, to maintain it.

Mark from the Midwest
Reply to  J. Richard Wakefield
August 25, 2015 6:23 am

Exactly, maybe the fact that large parts of the GRID were built in 1948 has something to do with it. It might also be due to the fact that fewer and fewer workers are able or willing to do that sort of work. Look at any website for public utilities, there are a crap-load of openings in engineering and operations.

Tom J
Reply to  J. Richard Wakefield
August 25, 2015 7:58 am

In the Chicagoland area it was a known fact that the number and duration of outages was caused by aging infrastructure that the utility had not bothered to replace.
It’s a sad day when university professors, who have no direct working experience in the societal functions they’re paid to study, believe themselves capable of directing a policy to direct those functions, regardless of how disconnected from reality that policy may be.

Joe Bastardi
August 25, 2015 6:17 am

Companies are being forced to cut back on infrastructure maintenance to hold down costs. Authors should talk to some of the electric companies to understand the staggering pressure they are under overall. Administration energy policies causing it, yet electric companies get blame. This was known several years ago as something that was coming on, and they are successfully trying to deflect blame away from where it truly lies, krappy policy, and throwing it on AGW and evil companies
It is this way across the board, deception and the willingness of people to promote what they want with a media that refuses to dig below the surface to see if there is another answer

Reply to  Joe Bastardi
August 25, 2015 1:11 pm

You make a very good point. In some jurisdictions utility regulations allow the power companies to stock spare equipment for repairs and charge that to the customers. To reduce overall rates the power companies have had to reduce the spare equipment they are allowed to keep on hand. When there is a catastrophic failure switch gear and transformers are destroyed and have to be replaced. If the equipment has to be brought in from a neighboring utility or manufacturer it can take several days to arrive.

Coach Springer
August 25, 2015 6:22 am

Yeah, like they controlled their study for factors like regulatory and corporate policy, aging infrastructure, etc. Also all in the perspective / spin. I am fairly certain that back in 1850, you never had a power outage due to weather and now look at us. Outages, outages everywhere and not a Watt to spare.

North of 43 and south of 44
Reply to  Coach Springer
August 25, 2015 6:49 am


Juan Slayton
Reply to  Coach Springer
August 25, 2015 7:01 am

Speaking of Thomas Edison:
By 1882…he installed the world’s first central generating plant on Pearl Street in New York City’s financial district.
Coach, I’ve told you a hunnerd thousand times not to exaggerate.
: > )

David Chappell
Reply to  Coach Springer
August 25, 2015 7:13 am

But wasn’t it a permanent power outage back then and not a Watt to be seen (except as steam).

August 25, 2015 6:29 am

And did they correlate to the increase in the number/size of the trees? or did they just ignore all factors that make it take longer to get power back to prove their assumption?.

Reply to  usurbrain
August 25, 2015 7:40 am

Excellent point.
I have seen a lot more trees growing up around power lines in North America than I saw in the UK or Australia and a friend from Bosnia (!) said he was amazed that there were still local power lines on poles in downtown Ottawa!
Trees are now a protected species with a city council permit needed to cut a tree over a certain size in Ottawa (I think it is a 15 cm trunk diameter) and getting a tree trimmed near to a power line requires road closures and permits. Consequently, every decent blow results in not just an outage, but many different places where a crew has to replace a downed pole – extending the time the customer is without power.
Way too many factors uncontrolled for in this study – an example of cherry-picking the nutrition epidemiologists would be proud of!

Stuart Jones
Reply to  Rob
August 25, 2015 5:28 pm

Here in South Australia they have contractors cutting the tops off trees within 6 metres of a powerline, they just lop the tops off, owners of trees have no say, the contractors can come on to any private property and just lop off to a limit from the wires, no tree surgery, no arborist reports, no worries! and our power companies charge for “gold plating ” the system, we have to pay extra but at least we have upgraded infrastructure. Of course with a high percentage of wind generation in our state and the closure of our only coal fired power station soon, we will be reliant on interstate connections (supplied by coal) for when the wind stops blowing and despite the high percentage of renewables we have almost the most expensive power bills in the world.

Reply to  Stuart Jones
August 25, 2015 7:55 pm

What are your rates in South Australia, Stuart?
In Ontario, we pay about C$.20 /kWhr, all-in, depending upon the delivery rate charged by your local utility.
The Energy portion of our rate is the same across our very large province.
However, that’s being driven up by costly refits to our 3 large Nuclear generators (eg. $3B to extend 50-yr-old Pickering for 3 years!). They provide ~60% of our electricity ( http://www.gridwatch.ca )
and their costs are touted to be quite low, but we are misled because they do not include:
– Stranded Debt (the outstanding mortgage cost to build the plants)
– In Global Adjustment, the always-over-budget Refurbishment costs are attributed to the Wind and Solar Feed-In-Tariff. Therefore, we know neither the true cost of Nuclear nor of Wind & Solar. ( http://www.ieso.ca )
(Wind rarely provides 5% of our production & Solar doesn’t yet show on the chart.)
– the unknown cost of the unknown system to store 50 years of radioactive fuel rods, concrete & steel
in state-of-the-art containers for 10,000? or is it 100,000? or is it 300,000? or is it 1,000,000 years…?
– the cost of having the public purse pay to evacuate Southern Ontario in the remote event an accident happens to our super-safe CANDU reactors, or if a tsunami strikes Lake Ontario or Lake Huron (what could possibly cause a hole in the water in this brave new world after 2001…?)
In 2013, Canada required our Nuclear operators to raise their liability insurance limits from $100M (the 1960’s limit) to $500M … roughly the settlement of the railway oil tankcar explosion that destroyed the downtown in Lac Mégantic. Why aren’t they carrying $10T, which is a lot closer to the disruption costs caused by any type of Nuclear plant accident.

August 25, 2015 6:33 am

Bahahahahahaha – 5-10% a YEAR??? How much warming do these people think we’re having???? Even the IPCC believes we’re on a trend of 0.025C pa or less, and significantly less – almost zero – currently. And this fraction of a fraction of a degree causes 5-10% changes?? 1 degree would cause -100s of % increase?

Reply to  Andrew
August 25, 2015 12:46 pm

Of course. Don’t you see all of modern civilization collapse with each setting and rising of the sun?
They really should outlaw that thing.

August 25, 2015 6:35 am

Shutting down 10 – 20% of the power plants in a state and forcing the electric utilities to get power from plants two and three times the distance away also causes problems in power distribution and interruption.

August 25, 2015 6:38 am

I would hazard a guess that the increasing age of the electrical infrastructure is having an influence as well. Old stuff in poor condition takes longer to fix.

Pamela Gray
August 25, 2015 6:39 am

Ah. The infamous stench of a grey paper being touted as “research says”. And headed for Paris where it will morph into incontrovertible-doom-consensus-demands-that-we-must-do-something.
And about this longer to fix issue. Not only is it about trimming the work force to please hungry for returns investors, it is also about the complexity of service you can see just by looking up. Remember the days of a simple cross with two wires, one on each end of the cross piece? Sure, you could fix that in hours and watch the guy logger up the pole to do it. Try fixing the overly decorated or buried system in hours now. You have to get a bucket truck, have at least 3 people on the job minimum and have at least three companies working on it, the hardwire phone company, the cable TV company, and the electric company. The cost of fixing one pole downed by a storm is exponentially more expensive so what do you cut to keep a profit margin going? The most expensive item: humans.

Reply to  Pamela Gray
August 25, 2015 5:49 pm

Look at the changes in the requirements for the linemen over the years also. OSH has tripled the regulations. No longer work on hot wires with insulated buckets. Need grounds on all line at multiple locations on both sides of the fallen tree/break, Test to make sure it is not live. etc.
And worse of all the utilities no longer stockpile large amounts of all of the needed parts, pieces, poles, wire, etc. Takes a while for that stuff to get delivered after the “computer recommended allowance” is used up.

August 25, 2015 6:44 am

What or where the heck is this increase in severe weather they are yammering about? The only severe/abnormal weather around here (Edmonton) in 25 years is that this year the River Queen cruise boat has been grounded early on the North Saskatchewan river due to low water levels not usually seen until October. Come on Paris so we can start getting some real news again.

August 25, 2015 6:55 am

I don’t see any mention of the word climate in the article.
Looks like weather.
Still, 10 of the 13 years in the study are covered by the USCRN temperature data, and there has been NO increase in the average temperature of the USA in that period, so any change in outages is not from temperature change.
Yes, most likely aging infrastructure with less maintenance and fewer repair crews.

August 25, 2015 7:47 am

After an entire career as a journeyman lineman to field supervisor, I can tell you the number one cause of the delays is REGULATORY. Anyone that has worked in the field will tell you the same.

August 25, 2015 9:16 am

Did they say that global warming creates squirrels that fry themselves on transformers?

Stuart Jones
Reply to  ShrNfr
August 25, 2015 5:31 pm

perhaps the squirrels (possums here in OZ) are just cold from the drop in temperatures and need a bit of warming up.

Tom J
August 25, 2015 9:19 am

I’ve come to the conclusion that research grants to universities are actually full blown bribes. However, instead of sliding the greased money under the table to an administrative law judge (to get him to issue a ruling which, while it may be injurious to the opposing litigant, is uniquely favorable to the ‘generous’ unethical litigant’s interests) the money can sashay right across the top of the table. The reason is because the only, but vitally important difference here is that the research grants are superficially about science, so these deviants don’t even have to trouble themselves with the ‘sliding that money under the table’ procedure, they can award the bribe right out in the open since they expect the public to know nothing about how absurd the ruling … er, science … actually is.
I mean, seriously, would any sane person really expect Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Stanford University to be better equipped to determine the causes and fixes for power outages than the highly respected North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit which, since the 1960s, has monitored the electrical grid so as to establish best practices to insure the lights go on reliably when you flick the switch. In 2005 NERC fell under the oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). As reported on this blog and elsewhere FERC, under the Obama administration, began investigating the desks at the NERC, and looking for any violations with which to embroil NERC in a legal scandal. All, to no avail.
And, why was this overtly political witch hunt initiated. Perhaps because everyone with any sense (even university professors who haven’t received ‘grant’ money) knows that when Obama shuts down 1/3rd of the electrical generating capacity of a nation there’s bound to be reliability problems. And the honest, ethical NERC reported as such.
What to do when you can’t defrock the NERC’s reputation? Well, just issue a bribe … er, grant … to one’s friends in the university community to come up with a ruling … er, ‘scientific’ research that sets out as truth the exact opposite of what truth is. Have these rent seekers make the absurd claim that CAGW will adversely impact electric reliability when the real thing that will adversely impact it is actually what their Obama administration benefactors claim a ‘fix’ for it would be.
I’m linking here to a previous WUWT post that reports on the FERC’s investigation of the NERC. I must admit that some of what I’ve written above comes close to copying that post word for word.

Reply to  Tom J
August 25, 2015 5:52 pm


August 25, 2015 9:26 am

The timing of the U.S. DOE/Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory report is interesting in that the U.S. DOE recently released a Request for Information (RFI) on the need for electric utilities to adopt a resiliency tool in response to extreme weather events (Federal Register Document 2015-16186, dated July 1, 2015) – https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/07/01/2015-16186/electric-grid-resilience-self-assessment-tool-for-distribution-system . However, the U.S. DOE has retained Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to oversee the RFI initiative. The two – the Lawrence Berkley report and RFI releases – are likely more than coincidental. The U.S. DOE played a role with perceived resource shortfalls during a restoration effort in Connecticut after a heavy snowfall in October 2011 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/01/october-snowstorm-northeast-damage_n_1069251.html . Therefore, the department has expressed a hitherto unknown federal interest in what is wholly regarded as state purview via utility commissions.
While resource acquisition and allocation to a restoration effort is a factor in determining the global estimated time of restoration (ETR), this post’s Update, which asserts “investor pressures” as the driver behind resource reductions, is somewhat misleading. Not all utilities are investor owned – municipalities and co-operatives are operated across the nation as not-for-profits. But the collective number of utility personnel (e.g., overhead line, meter, and substation) has decreased over the past, two decades due largely to grid automation, the leveraging technology, and outsourcing of services (e.g., vegetation maintenance via external tree contractors).
This resource reduction has been both beneficial and detrimental. Beneficial in that electric grid reliability during normal operations (i.e., outages from major events are excluded) has increased, while electric rates have not increased significantly (saved labor costs are shifted to improved automation and technology purchases). Detrimental in that the utilities no longer have an internal, labor pool to draw upon via storm assignments during a restoration effort.
To bridge this gap, which has always existed for major events, utilities traditionally rely on mutual assistance via several, Regional Mutual Assistance Groups (RMAGs), which include private, public, and Canadian utilities – http://www.eei.org/issuesandpolicy/electricreliability/mutualassistance/Pages/default.aspx ; however, moderate events increasingly require retaining resources either inside or outside a utility’s home RMAG, which results in travel times to reach the impacted area. By default, this extends the global ETR. While resources could be pre-staged in response to a forecasted impact (mitigating the travel time), observations don’t consistently align with the forecast (or models), and the resulting damage doesn’t necessarily require additional resources. Yet the requesting utility and ultimately its ratepayers are burdened with the mobilization/demobilization costs of these pre-staged resources.
Utilities could certainly construct an electric grid that is thoroughly resilient to moderate and major events, but the associated electric rates (separate of other costly energy initiatives like grid modernization and clean energy expansion) would be prohibitively expensive – regardless of whether a utility is investor-owned or not-for-profit.

Reply to  Tom Murphy (@t_j_murphy)
August 25, 2015 9:55 am

Correction: The RFI initiative will be overseen by the Argonne National Laboratory and not the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Reply to  Tom Murphy (@t_j_murphy)
August 28, 2015 8:40 am

Update: Apparently, the U.S. DOE received a very limited number of comments on the RFI by interested parties a/k/a utilities (the comment period closed on August 17, 2015). As a result, it has re-opened the comment period an additional 60 days to allow for, “more substantive comment on the significant questions to which DOE is seeking response” – https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/08/27/2015-21244/electric-grid-resilience-self-assessment-tool-for-distribution-system .
The nation’s electric utilities (investor-owned, municipal, and cooperative) submitted a unified response via a Joint Trades comment to the U.S. DOE on August 17, 2015. In light of the re-opening, the Department seemingly desires less utility unity and more diversity on what the U.S. DOE perceives as a need – utility consensus notwithstanding. Interesting.

August 25, 2015 9:50 am

So increased demand from a larger more electricity dependent population, living over a larger ever physically spreading/growing area, with fewer people to fix the problems of an ageing infrastructure when they arise.
Hmmm, no that would of course be far too logical, and honest an explanation.

August 25, 2015 10:44 am

As a retired grid operator the constant increasing size and complexity of the grid leads to longer restoration times. Restoration is getting more and more complex. Protection and control engineers are going batty trying to mix old and new infrastructure along with budget restraints. This being left out shows to me the report is 97% political and 3% ignorance.

David Cage
Reply to  nc
August 26, 2015 12:35 am

I would put it as one third politics, one third ignorance and one third deliberate dishonesty given the lack of mention of staff reserves available for the repairs in the article.

August 25, 2015 10:49 am

I get a LOT of outages here, a lot.
and its tree related.
last 2-3 years, while slightly cooler, here (mid maine) its been wetter and tree branches exploded in growth.

Tom J
Reply to  dmacleo
August 25, 2015 12:50 pm

It’s cooler and wetter because of global warming. So it’s really because of global warming that the trees are growing faster. So it’s not really because of trees that you have outages. Global warming is behind it. And in front of it. And around it. And below it. And above it.

Pamela Gray
Reply to  Tom J
August 25, 2015 6:13 pm

Have you ever noticed that climate talk sounds like bible versus?

August 25, 2015 11:32 am

we find a statistically significant trend in the duration of power interruptions over time—especially when major events are included

Someone probably said this but in case they didn’t:
The trend is most likely because power demand is increasing faster than capacity, increasing the likelihood of power outages due to weather.
The larger the safety margin, the more likely it is that a disturbance (e.g. lightning strike) will be mitigated by routing power around it. When all lines are near capacity, then no reroute is really possible, and attempts to do so will cause cascading trips.

August 25, 2015 12:54 pm

this study is the first of its kind to use econometric analysis techniques to statistically correlate these events [weather] with electricity reliability.

Let’s see we have
– 13 years of weather events
– econometric analysis
– statistical correlation
– electricity reliability
Combine the above all together, ignore all other factors such as manpower and increasing demand, and you have instant evidence of AGW. We must act quick and buy some carbon credits before the next power outage!
It is really amazing how much effort and math is used in the pursuit of stupid.

August 25, 2015 2:13 pm

I work for an electric utility and my storm assignment is Damage Assessor and Outside crew Coordinator.
Couple of things here.
1) Am I understanding the Abstract correctly, that what they were measuring is total customer outage minutes? If so, you could be maitaining or improving restoration times yet still see that number increase due to an increase in the number of customers.
2) Outage restoration increasing due to fewer resources. While it is true that the number of line crews a utility has on hand are decreasing – we have gone from 68 down to 42 – the impact is not as great as some here are saying. Utilities have outside crew resources available to call on and for bigger storm events we do so. The last big winter storm we had I was running 6 crews up from California. Our company sent three crews to New England tfor the winter storm a couple of years ago and for Sandy recovery efforts.
3) Utility companies do not perform failure or root cause analysis following storms. They don’t have the time. The overriding objective is to get services restored, not to perserve evidence and evaluate why a particular pole failed. It is possible that pole failures may be increasing due to their being increasingly overloaded as communications companies push to build out faster networks in a very competative industry. (See Malibu Canyon fire.) It is notable that this study was a crunching of numbers and not a real root cause analysis effort.

Reply to  timg56
August 25, 2015 7:55 pm

The necessity of conducting an after action report (AAR) following a restoration effort varies across the state public utility commissions (PUCs). The majority of PUCs in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states require an AAR be submitted – typically within 30 days of the completion of the restoration effort. In addition, some states (e.g., the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities) have the ability to assess financial penalties for “poor” storm response performance. The AARs, along with input from interested parties via public hearings, are used to determine the thoroughness of the storm response.
With Massachusetts, the penalties are capped at $20M per storm with no annual limit – https://www.cga.ct.gov/2011/rpt/2011-R-0385.htm . Assessed penalties paid by the utility are returned to the ratepayer as a one time adjustment to their monthly electric bill. The penalties must be paid by the shareholder (investor owned) and cannot be assessed to the ratepayers. Interestingly, municipal utilities in Massachusetts (there are no electric co-operatives or public power authorities) are exempt from these penalties. Keep in mind, though, that the penalties are IN ADDITION TO the loss of revenue from the storm itself (if the meters don’t operate, the utility makes no money) and the likely denial of full recovery of storm-related costs (if the performance was poor, then inefficiencies and waste likely occurred which shouldn’t be covered by the ratepayer).
Therefore, a utility – at least in Massachusetts – can lose significant amounts of money whenever a restoration effort is conducted. In 2012, Massachusetts utilities were penalized $24.8M for their responses to two, separate storms in August and October 2011, which were upheld in 2014 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court – https://www.boston.com/metrodesk/2012/12/11/three-utilities-facing-million-fines-for-faulty-response-tropical-storm-irene-and-halloween-snowstorm/SwiaTiLjeXKrO6XvXrmocJ/story.html . Legislators and regulators asserted that such an approach should “incentivize” a utility to improve its restoration effort; however, several variables that affect the global estimated time of restoration are typically beyond the control of the utility (e.g., resource acquisition during a National Response Event – http://www.eei.org/issuesandpolicy/electricreliability/mutualassistance/documents/ma_101final.pdf [p. 5]). As a result, the application of penalties could be construed as largely punitive rather than constructive, as implied by the public advancement of incentivizing the utilities.

Ken L
August 25, 2015 3:28 pm

Preposterous even to remotely connect weather and climate to increasing length of outages. – as comments preceding show. Great example of irrelevant correlation.

August 25, 2015 3:37 pm

During the period of this study 2000-2012, the US wind turbine capacity increased from 2578 MW to 60005 MW .. This represents in excess of 30,000 turbines( assuming 2MW/turbine ) by 2012 that feed the local grids through new and widely distributed transmission lines and control systems . I wonder how much of the delays were associated with the new renewables like wind and solar. Germany has about 25000 turbines and a combined solar and wind capacity of about 72000 MW . They experienced about 3000 times in 2014 when they had to step in and stabilize the grid. With Obama calling for 28% renewable generated electricity by 2030, the number of additional wind turbines could be 100,000 more . More brown and black outs ?

johann wundersamer
August 25, 2015 3:46 pm

‘the length of outages has to do with utilities reducing the number of personnel available to respond to outages’
sounds reasonable – why should the utilities finance the MASKING of the devastating green policies outcomes.
what the EPA orders let the EPA pay.

johann wundersamer
August 25, 2015 4:01 pm

we know Stalins answer to a reaction like
‘what the EPA orders let the EPA pay.’:
‘sabotage !’
waiting for EPA’s reaction.

August 25, 2015 4:19 pm

Study: US Power Grid Has More Blackouts Than ENTIRE Developed World
The United States power grid has more blackouts than any other country in the developed world, according to new data that spotlights the country’s aging and unreliable electric system.
The data by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) shows that Americans face more power grid failures lasting at least an hour than residents of other developed nations.
And it’s getting worse

Richie D
Reply to  herkimer
August 25, 2015 6:46 pm

In a mature industry, it’s simply impossible to grow earnings at double digit rates, year in and year out, without shorting somebody. After you’ve cut staffing and wages as much as you possibly can, you must compromise the product; after you’ve cheapened the product as much as you possibly can, the only thing left is to short the end user. … Power outages in the affluent Dallas suburb where I grew up some decades ago lasted, at most, a few hours —- and that was before “global warming” arrived to end winter as we knew it [sarc]: Last ice storm, a couple of years ago, my parents were without electricity for over a week. …. It’s fashionable perhaps to blame regulation for utility shortcomings, but I think the regulators are doing the utilities’ bidding — they provide cover for management practices that are focused on producing ever higher earnings, not ever better service. …. Did Nixon create the EPA to protect the environment? Or was the real goal to suppress competition by creating a maze of regulations that only the Big Boys could afford to comply with (while also restricting supply which raised prices)? … Americans have simply become a cash cow for the corporate owners of the US government, which structures the business environment to promote their semi-monopolies, and consumers are being milked for all they’re worth. Case in point, the execrable quality and high expense of internet service in the country which invented the damn thing in the first place.

Reply to  Richie D
August 25, 2015 8:24 pm

It’s disingenuous to assert profit as the motive with respect to electric infrastructure neglect, “extreme weather events,” and the duration of associated restoration efforts.
Given that they are heavily-regulated monopolies by necessity (because of the critical service they provide), the best a utility can achieve financially is a fully-allowed return on investment (ROI) rather than “producing ever higher earnings,” as if there is no limit. Utility accounting does not follow private industry accounting. The amount a utility can “make” in “profit” within a given year is typically capped by the state public utility commission. And even then, service quality indices (SQIs) nibble away at the cap, reducing the ROI even further, if the utility fails to accomplish the SQI targets and objectives.
Investor-owned, electric distribution companies represent conservative, financial investments – low risk with low returns because of the regulated ROI caps. Higher returns are seen with electric transmission and power generation because of the increased volatility of those markets – higher risk but with higher returns because of federal and differing oversight from the need to insulate from market manipulation (e.g., the reasons behind the 2000/2001 California energy crisis – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_electricity_crisis ). However, damage to transmission and power generation assets following a major event is minimal compared to distribution assets. Thus, distribution utilities “margins” are historically thinner than their transmission and power generation counterparts.

Reply to  Richie D
August 26, 2015 12:57 pm

“but I think the regulators are doing the utilities’ bidding ”
Yeah, were it only true. I’ve been tasked as subject matter expert on one particular rule making by our Commission. So far commission staff has pretty much ignored all of our comments.
In our state the commision is appointed. In others they are elected. Who do you think elected regulators are most likely to side with, at least on rates – the utilities or the ratepayers (who also go by the name voters)?

August 25, 2015 6:28 pm

Sorry, this study is mostly drivel with respect to its conclusions. Let’s start with this:
“We find statistically significant correlations…”
How many times does it have to be said? Correlation is not causation. The above comments have included a number of key elements in the reasons for longer outages, including ageing infrastructure and more urban distribution infrastructure underground.
Here’s another. Urban transformer stations are carrying much higher load factors today than they were 30 years ago. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the general rule of thumb was that you kept a TS at no more than 50% load. That way, if you lost a transformer, the other could carry the full load.
That was then. These days, the average TS is carrying above 80% of the peak daily load in large urban centres. Lose a transformer, in other words, and the utility is immediately into load shedding. Electrical distribution infrastructure today simply does not have the capacity margins that were in service 40 years ago. There are now entire districts in a large city near me with no local TS. Instead they are being served by long feeders from distant TSs. The effects on power quality can be pronounced depending upon what’s loaded on the system even if large specific loads have proper capacitor banks in place.
Why no local TS? Idiot downtowners who want parks instead of transformer stations. Idiot downtowners who think they are still full of PCBs.
Which brings up another issue. The heavier the load, the more heat stress a transformer will be under. They need a good fire-resistant insulating liquid. PCBs were and still are the best performing insulating liquid for large transformers. But PCBs were denounced as carcinogenic in the 1980s and all was withdrawn from service. The substitutes for askarel, silicone or mineral oil, are all inferior in either electrical breakdown performance or excessive cost. So nowadays, there’s a lot more transformer fires than there used to be.
Here’s an example of ageing infrastructure at work. A large TS had a very large event in the summer of 1994. A metering transformer (quite small, about the size of a small garbage can) sprang a small leak and moisture got in. It collected in a bubble at the bottom of the container where it caused a short circuit. In the words of the official Toronto Hydro report, “it ejected the core and coils.” Meaning it blew up with extreme prejudice. It did so much damage that it weakened the support structures, causing the overhead busbars to crash down on top of the main power transformers, shorting them both out.
The eastern third of Toronto was blacked out for nine hours on a hot summer weekend.
The metering transformer that caused all the problems was over 60 years old.

Reply to  cgh
August 25, 2015 8:57 pm

“The metering transformer that caused all the problems was over 60 years old.”
Most distribution transformers have no moving parts, and power transformers have a separate load tap changer (LTC) – a mechanical moving part – that can be removed separately. Therefore, transformers usually endure well beyond their anticipated lifespans (about 20-25 years). Once a utility has capitalized the cost of the transformer (usually 15-20 years), the ratepayer benefits directly from the unit’s full depreciation over the extended lifespan (i.e., they’re not paying for the capitalization of a replacement unit)
With that said, a utility should also implement an asset management system that monitors performance and failure rates (especially beyond projected lifespans) to determine the ideal time for replacements (i.e., maximizing use while minimizing ratepayer cost). With increased regulatory scrutiny of asset management, as well as ever-expanding environmental regulations, the days of operating an electrical asset to failure have passed, although they were likely still practiced in the above 1994 example.
The great majority of utilities have “some” asset management system established today to mitigate failures resulting in reliability (i.e., customer outage) concerns. Anecdotally, I’m unaware of an increased number or rate of transformer fires attributed to core or casing heating attributed to the performance of contemporary dielectric fluids. Ironically, though, the by-products of PCB combustion and oxidation (e.g., dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans) do present a very real health concern, as opposed to just the PCBs. So, contemporary transformers actually represent an improvement, which doesn’t imply they don’t fail because they do. But again, an asset management system should mitigate those failures better than past practices.

Louis Hunt
August 25, 2015 7:20 pm

“while, on average, the frequency of power outages has not changed in recent years, the total number of minutes customers are without power each year has been increasing over time.”
It’s a good thing we’ve been going through a period of fewer hurricanes and less extreme weather. If that trend doesn’t continue, not only will the total number of minutes customers are without power increase, but the frequency of power outages will also increase. Now, add to that a decrease in reliable fossil-fuel energy production and an increase in unreliable renewables, and the problem will only be compounded. The only question that remains to be seen if that happens is will alarmists and environmentalist seek to deflect blame, or will they applaud the situation and then run for their lives?

August 25, 2015 11:36 pm

I’m more likely to blame our education system for turning out lost human junk who’s livelihoods are threatened by off-shore H-1B labor. I propose we don’t have as many skilled people working in infrastructure as we did not that many years ago (for a given unit of need), and that is why it takes longer to fix the damage. It should also be patently obvious that supply lines for energy are longer and spread deeper into remote areas than ever before. To put it another way, Bonneville Dam has far more customers than it did a few decades ago. There are lush neighborhoods now in areas where people once lived off the grid. The study is complete claptrap. Populations have grown and grown into the forested lands were a wind storm has greater impact than ever. None of this has anything to do with global warming right up to when it stopped 18 years ago. Global cooling that ended in the 1970s had no effect, either.

David Cage
August 26, 2015 12:14 am

…..This finding suggests that increased severity of major events over time has been the principal contributor to the observed trend……
I read an article by a union there showing that the reason that major events take longer to fix is that staffing levels of fully trained staff are lower. This means that although equipment is more reliable on average so you six engineers are needed instead of twelve any major outage has no longer got the staff in reserve to cope with it by delaying routine tasks. They did invite the management to respond but got no takers.
Where is the most basic piece of the evidence in the number of staff and resources applied to dealing with the problem in each case? In the article it does not even merit a mention.
It also fails to mention how much of that increased spending was due to the cost of connection to large area wind farms instead of a few power stations. Where do they show the relevant figure of available resources for tackling major events?
In short a sloppy and amateurish piece of rubbish even for a third tier university.

August 26, 2015 11:30 pm

If you are an academic, your career is based on publications. The criteria is simple: above the minimum cutoff for the tier your university is in, quantity counts more than quality.
One way to get another publication is to find data sources that provide a lot of variables. Run correlations among the variables, and then look for pairings that appear to be significant at the .05 probability level. (If you try enough variables, you will surely find such correlations even if the data came from a table of random numbers.) Examine these “significant” relationships to see if any can be made to fit into a narrative that some journal editors are emotionally committed to. Then write your paper and submit it.
Whatever you do, don’t reveal how many other correlations you saw that were not significant. There might be some referee with enough integrity and understanding of statistics to realize that the “significance” is probably an artifact of the shoddy research methods–data dredging–rather than a true indicator of a relationship.
This particular study looks like it may have done with this approach. The authors couldn’t find a correlation between the number of outages and weather trends, so they looked for something else that did correlate. And they found it. Voila, one more publication on the curriculum vitae.

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