Experts worry about the heat and energy demand increase that could cause a power outage. That formula of heat and a power outage could feasibly kill thousands of people and send even more to the emergency room.
“A blackout during a heat wave is probably the most threatening climate event we can imagine,” said Brian Stone Jr., the lead author of the study and a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of City and Regional Planning.
Phoenix city officials and electricity providers say the power grid is reliable, but given the growth of the area, age of the infrastructure and increased demand, are you sure you want to count on them?
Yes, they admit the risk of a grid failure is heightened during a heat wave like this current one. Two-thirds of North America is at risk of energy shortfalls this summer, particularly during periods of extreme demand, according to a report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.
Meanwhile, 108 million Americans are under heat alerts as temperatures cook much of the Lower 48. In addition to the Southwest, where temperatures could climb as high as 130 degrees (Death Valley, record is 134 degrees in 1913), the nation’s three most populous states — California, Texas and Florida — are facing triple-digit temperatures. The extended duration of the current heat wave is setting records.
“We can call it [power outage/heat wave scenario) overly dramatic, but we’re breaking local and global heat records every day now it seems, so we have to take it seriously,” said Michael Webber, a professor and energy expert at the University of Texas at Austin. In Phoenix, he said, the grid is “robust,” but the stakes for failure are high.
The study’s researchers also simulated what would happen if the residents of Phoenix, Atlanta and Detroit were struck by a heat wave and a complete blackout that lasts 48 hours before power starts to be incrementally restored. The outcomes were deadly.
“Phoenix has a resilient electrical grid, there’s no doubt about it,” Stone said, back at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of City and Regional Planning. “But they really haven’t prepared sufficiently for that low-probability but very high-impact event.”
Meanwhile, power grids will face increased demand for electricity during the summer months while being stressed by these heat waves, hurricanes and wildfires. Since 2015, the number of major blackouts — power outages lasting more than an hour and impacting more than 50,000 customers — have more than doubled, according to the study. Electric grid failures likely contributed to hundreds of deaths and thousands of emergency room visits during the historic 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave, the study said.
In a statement, Mayor Kate Gallego said the outage scenario presented in the study is “extremely unlikely” to occur and did not consider existing emergency management resources. “We are lucky to have a very reliable electric grid in Arizona and city personnel who work day in and day out to ensure we’re prepared for complex emergencies, she said.
The Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service, the two main electricity providers in Phoenix, also said they are ready to handle the extreme heat, using power derived from hydropower facilities, natural gas plants, nuclear reactors, wind farms and other sources.
The Salt River Project is forecasting demand that could exceed the record set last year, but the utility is confident it has enough capacity to meet that demand, according to Pam Syrjala, the director of supply, trading and fuels.
We can help with standby and emergency power. Generator Mart offers large portables and whole home standby generators that run on natural and LPG gas. These units can power your entire home when the grid fails. Click here to get started.
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