Lights Out: Brownouts vs. Blackouts and Strategies for Dealing with Them

by | May 3, 2024

Lights Out: Brownouts vs. Blackouts and Strategies for Dealing with Them

Power outages can be pretty annoying: especially in this day and age when we all need power for everything. However, you’ll be surprised to know that not all power failures are necessarily blackouts. While most of them tend to be, some of them are brownouts.

It’s important for you to know about both and their differences so you can better handle the situation should they occur—whether at your home or business.

What is an electrical brownout?

A brownout refers to a brief decrease in voltage within an electrical power network, typically lasting for seconds or minutes. During this period, lights get dimmed, and appliances gradually stop operating.

Brownouts typically happen when there’s a notable gap between electricity demand and the power grid’s ability to fulfil it. This gap often emerges during peak consumption periods, like scorching summer days when air conditioners are in high use, or in densely populated regions where the power infrastructure is strained.

What causes brownouts?

In specific cases, utility firms might intentionally implement controlled brownouts as a strategy to regulate power demand during crucial times. Referred to as “load shedding,” this tactic enables utilities to sync electricity supply and demand, averting grid overload and the potential for a total blackout.

The dangers posed by brownouts

Though brownouts are usually briefer than blackouts, they still have the potential to interrupt daily routines and have negative impacts on various sectors, especially those heavily dependent on consistent power supply. These are their potential results:

1.   Diminished performance of electrical appliances

Lower voltage supply during brownouts can lead to decreased efficiency, slower operation, or erratic behaviour in machines. This issue is particularly concerning for motor-driven gadgets such as refrigerators, air conditioners, and fans.

2.   Harm to delicate electronic equipment

Sudden voltage dips during brownouts pose a risk to delicate electronic devices like computers and TVs. Components may fail or become corrupted, resulting in malfunctions or permanent damage.

3.   Data loss and system instability

Brownouts have the potential to disrupt the normal functioning of computer systems and servers, leading to data loss, file corruption, and system instability.

4.   Disruptions to productivity and operations

Manufacturing processes may suffer interruptions, causing delays and potential financial losses. Offices that are dependent on computers and other electronic gear may experience downtime, hindering workflow and communication.

What is an electrical blackout?

Blackouts are the total absence of electrical power in a defined geographical region or across an entire power grid. Unlike the temporary voltage dips observed during brownouts, blackouts involve a complete absence of electricity, casting affected areas into darkness and severely disrupting the usual operations of businesses and public services.

What causes blackouts?

Blackouts may stem from a variety of causes, with severe weather standing out as a prominent factor. Incidents like hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, or ice storms have the potential to inflict substantial harm on power infrastructure, including power lines, transformers, and substations.

Additionally, equipment breakdowns within the power system can cause blackouts. Failures in transformers, generators, or power distribution systems can prompt a sudden system-wide shutdown, leading to electricity loss in the impacted regions.

The dangers posed by blackouts

1.   Communication breakdown

In the event of a blackout, communication channels dependent on electricity, like landline telephones, internet services, and cell towers, could become nonfunctional.

2.   Compromised safety and security

Street lights, security systems, and surveillance cameras may stop operating during a blackout, heightening the risks of accidents and criminal activities.

3.   Economic ramifications

Businesses and industries dependent on consistent power flow might face production disruptions during a blackout, leading to financial setbacks and decreased operations.

electrical brownout

Differences between a brownout and a blackout

The differences are based on these parameters:

1.   Duration and severity of power disruption

Brownouts are characterised by temporary reductions in voltage, usually lasting for brief periods. These voltage decreases impact the performance of electrical devices and appliances. In contrast, blackouts result in a complete loss of electrical power for a specific region or an entire power grid. The duration of blackouts can vary greatly, ranging from a few minutes to several hours or even days.

2.   Voltage reduction

Brownouts entail a specific reduction in voltage levels. The voltage provided during a brownout falls below the standard or nominal level, affecting the functionality of electrical devices. On the other hand, blackouts entail a total absence of voltage supply. Power is entirely disconnected, resulting in no electricity being available.

3.   Regional or localised nature

Brownouts typically affect localised areas, including specific regions or individual buildings. They may occur due to localised power grid overload or deliberate voltage reduction by utility companies to manage excessive demand during peak periods. In contrast, blackouts have a wider impact, affecting larger regions or entire power grids.

4.   Infrastructure and system failures

Brownouts often do not involve significant infrastructure or system failures, although they may reveal underlying issues in the power grid or equipment. Conversely, blackouts frequently result from infrastructure failures such as damaged power lines, transformers, or substations. Factors like severe weather events, equipment malfunctions, or human errors can lead to system-wide outages, calling for extensive repairs and restoration efforts.

Actions to take during a brownout or a blackout

Here’s what you can do to keep your appliances safe:

1.   Disconnect the power source

This protects devices from voltage fluctuations or spikes that come with a brownout. Additionally, refrain from using major electrical appliances until power is restored to its regular levels.

2.   Utilise portable power stations

If available, deploy backup power solutions like the Anker 757 PowerHouse to temporarily supply electricity to essential devices during the brownout. These portable power stations offer a practical means of sustaining gadget functionality until normal grid power resumes.

3.   Stay informed about brownout status updates

Stay abreast of the latest brownout status by contacting your local power provider or checking their website for updates regarding the anticipated restoration of normal power supply.

4.   Don’t use the refrigerator

Avoid opening the refrigerator unnecessarily during a brownout to prevent the cold air from escaping, which can lead to food spoilage. Maintaining the refrigerator closed as much as possible is crucial during such disruptions.

5.   Exercise caution around power cables

After power comes back to normal, be cautious of potential power surges. Don’t handle any exposed wires or cables until you are confident that the voltage has come back to normal as well.

Conclusion

Your appliances and house will be completely safe if you have your basics right and implement them during power outages like blackouts or brownouts. In need of electrical repairs or renovations? Reach out to us at 0411 471 922.

Need Help?

Do you need to have your electrical systems done? Bell Electrical Contractors is happy to help. Call us on 0411471922 or email us at info@bellelectrical.com.au.