Blackout Watch

Blackout Watch – Issue 052 June 2020

System Power Outages

Analysis of system power outages can help us learn and avoid similar events in the future. If you have information on any blackouts, please e-mail to:

Santiago, Chile (3 February 2020): A massive blackout hit several areas of the capital city around 2:00pm, leaving 400,000 customers without power. It lasted for over 30 minutes, and according to power company ENEL, it was due to a fault in a high voltage line. In a sign of the times, the Undersecretary of Telecommunications reported on Twitter that the mobile signal ‘may be being affected’ and recommended residents to use text messages to communicate in the immediate aftermath.

New South Wales, Australia (8 February 2020): A torrential rain that lasted over two days caused flash flooding across Sydney and North South Wales that led to prolonged outages across the area. Roughly 140,000 residents were without power at its peak, and in some areas the loss of power lasted for six days. The storms damaged properties and infrastructure, which required crews to clear trees and vegetation to re-energize the network. The NSW branch of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) claimed the delays in restoring power were the result of 5000 job losses in the sector since 2015.

Wellington, New Zealand (12 March 2020): A flashover at a substation crippled parts of the region and cut electricity to 94,000 homes just before 8:40am. At first it was reported as an explosion, however there was no fire and no equipment had actually exploded. During the morning’s switching, incorrect earth was applied during routine maintenance that resulted in an arc of electricity, not unlike a flash of lightning. This was followed by a loud bang and a smoke screen blanketing the area. Crews were able to bring electricity back online two hours later.

Brunswick, North Carolina, U.S.A (12 March 2020): An outage struck the southernmost county of North Carolina around lunchtime and cut power to nearly 50,000 residents. Duke Energy stated a contract maintenance crew was performing work on a transmission line that delivers electricity when the outage occurred. Electricity was restored within the hour.

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (4 April 2020): The entire island experienced an electrical service interruption just before 5 am. The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority said in a statement that an electric fault in a switchgear at the Estate Richmond Power Plant tripped the plant and all electrical feeders. This came less than 24 hours after an earlier island-wide blackout had knocked out the lights for all 50,000 island residents.

Lake Victoria, Uganda (14 April 2020): A nationwide blackout was triggered by a floating island of vegetation that clogged the turbines of Nalubaale Hydro Power Station on Lake Victoria. The lake’s rising water levels, which are nearing a record set in 1964, may have caused the nearly two-acre mass to break free. According to power utility company Eskom Uganda, the area has for decades been invaded by water hyacinth, however this mass movement of vegetation was unprecedented and completely blocked the water intake pipes used to cool the generating machinery. Authorities tried to shift some of the power generation to another station, however both were eventually lost due to an unstable system frequency. They were then forced to switch off the entire country because the remaining turbines were not equipped to handle the situation.