BLACKOUTS – The Power Outage

Ever thought about blackouts? When the electricity supply at the consumer end is cut due to some reason, it is called a power outage; however, if the power outage occurs at a large scale (an entire city or an even larger region), it can be regarded as blackouts.

In general, a consumer receives power that is being generated at the same time at a generating station then transmitted via transmission lines towards load centers, and finally fed to the consumer through distribution. There are stations in the path (called grid stations and sub-stations) where parameters such as voltage, current, and frequency are adjusted to ensure a stable system operation and avoid power losses.

Nowadays, power systems (based on AC) are spread over wide areas and the whole network is usually synchronized at one frequency, voltage, and generator rotor angle for the purpose of sharing the load. In such a case, chances of fault occurrence at any point in the power systems network are high. If a disturbance in the system is not addressed immediately, it may lead to cascading failure resulting in a blackout.


The initial cause of the blackouts may be bad weather, animal short-circuiting the equipment, technical fault, negligence of system operators, sudden rise or fall in electricity demand, etc. Such events cause an imbalance between power generation and demand, and if not managed well, may lead to emergency situations; for example, increase or decrease of the system frequency, system voltage dropping below the threshold, loss of synchronism, overloading of generators, or transmission lines leading to tripping, fault at substation or in power distribution equipment. These events, occurring one after another, can cause the whole system to collapse and it may take several hours in restoring the power supply.

The timely operation of power systems protection schemes is important to avoid cascading failures. The main function of a protection scheme is to isolate the affected part of the system from the rest of the system in order to prevent the fault from penetrating further and cause more damage to the system.

There are different protection schemes for different situations; for instance, the Under Frequency Load Shedding (UFLS) scheme is employed to maintain system frequency if the frequency falls below the accepted threshold. The operation of protection devices is crucial as a small delay can allow the fault to spread to cause serious damage to the system.

To conclude, the operation of power systems is critical: ensuring a continuous supply to the consumer while dealing with frequent disturbances. A minor fault/mistake can turn into an enormous blackout and bring about severe losses to the system.

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Author: Haris Shahbaz | Member R&D

One thought on “BLACKOUTS – The Power Outage

  1. Bilal Hameed says:

    Very nicely explained. In depth information!
    It’s not only good for consumer but also opportunity for service provider to rectify the errors and weakness of system.

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