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Large blackouts in North America: Historical trends and policy implications


  • Hines, Paul
  • Apt, Jay
  • Talukdar, Sarosh


Using data from the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) for 1984-2006, we find several 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 186,000Â MW.

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  • Hines, Paul & Apt, Jay & Talukdar, Sarosh, 2009. "Large blackouts in North America: Historical trends and policy implications," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(12), pages 5249-5259, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:37:y:2009:i:12:p:5249-5259

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Greenberg, Michael & Mantell, Nancy & Lahr, Michael & Felder, Frank & Zimmerman, Rae, 2007. "Short and intermediate economic impacts of a terrorist-initiated loss of electric power: Case study of New Jersey," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 722-733, January.
    2. Talukdar, Sarosh N. & Apt, Jay & Ilic, Marija & Lave, Lester B. & Morgan, M. Granger, 2003. "Cascading Failures: Survival versus Prevention," The Electricity Journal, Elsevier, vol. 16(9), pages 25-31, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Eto, Joseph H. & LaCommare, Kristina H. & Larsen, Peter & Todd, Annika & Fisher, Emily, 2012. "Distribution-level electricity reliability: Temporal trends using statistical analysis," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 243-252.
    2. Kelly Klima & M. Morgan, 2015. "Ice storm frequencies in a warmer climate," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 133(2), pages 209-222, November.
    3. Künneke, Rolf & Groenewegen, John & Ménard, Claude, 2010. "Aligning modes of organization with technology: Critical transactions in the reform of infrastructures," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 75(3), pages 494-505, September.
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    5. repec:eee:energy:v:147:y:2018:i:c:p:1256-1277 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Ding, Ning & Duan, Jinhui & Xue, Song & Zeng, Ming & Shen, Jianfei, 2015. "Overall review of peaking power in China: Status quo, barriers and solutions," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 503-516.
    7. Moroni, Stefano & Antoniucci, Valentina & Bisello, Adriano, 2016. "Energy sprawl, land taking and distributed generation: towards a multi-layered density," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 266-273.
    8. Bo, Zeng & Shaojie, Ouyang & Jianhua, Zhang & Hui, Shi & Geng, Wu & Ming, Zeng, 2015. "An analysis of previous blackouts in the world: Lessons for China׳s power industry," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 1151-1163.
    9. Evan Mills & Richard B Jones, 2016. "An Insurance Perspective on U.S. Electric Grid Disruption Costs," The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance - Issues and Practice, Palgrave Macmillan;The Geneva Association, vol. 41(4), pages 555-586, October.
    10. repec:eee:reensy:v:175:y:2018:i:c:p:283-305 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Zhang, Lijun & Xia, Xiaohua & Zhang, Jiangfeng, 2014. "Improving energy efficiency of cyclone circuits in coal beneficiation plants by pump-storage systems," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 306-313.
    12. repec:eee:reensy:v:99:y:2012:i:c:p:161-171 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Mudasser, Muhammad & Yiridoe, Emmanuel K. & Corscadden, Kenneth, 2015. "Cost-benefit analysis of grid-connected wind–biogas hybrid energy production, by turbine capacity and site," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 573-582.
    14. Lueken, Roger & Apt, Jay & Sowell, Fallaw, 2016. "Robust resource adequacy planning in the face of coal retirements," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 371-388.
    15. Johansson, Bengt, 2013. "A broadened typology on energy and security," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 199-205.
    16. Dowds, Jonathan & Hines, Paul & Ryan, Todd & Buchanan, William & Kirby, Elizabeth & Apt, Jay & Jaramillo, Paulina, 2015. "A review of large-scale wind integration studies," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 768-794.
    17. David Ward, 2013. "The effect of weather on grid systems and the reliability of electricity supply," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 121(1), pages 103-113, November.


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