Power Outages Summer 2020

In California and New York, power outages triggered by heat waves and equipment failures led to hours of outages that could have been avoided. 

California Rolling Blackouts, August 2020

In mid-August 2020, states in the western U.S., including California, Nevada, and Arizona, all faced an extreme heat wave, causing increased demand for power to keep air conditioners running. Energy supply was not able to meet the increased demand in California; because of this, California’s Independent System Operator ordered California utility companies to invoke rolling blackouts, in which almost 4 million customers lost power for 1-2 hours during peak times. Rolling blackouts lasted two days, and were set to continue for at least a week. However, thanks to California electric utility companies’ encouragement, residents conserved energy during peak hours and avoided further power outages.

California is amid a transition from a grid dependent on fossil fuels to one that relies fully on renewables, with a goal of meeting 100% of the state’s electrical needs with renewable energy sources by 2045. As part of this transition, electric companies are closing fossil fuel generating stations and relying more on in-state renewable energy production plants, as well as imported energy from surrounding states. Unfortunately, these transitional shifts likely led to the August 2020 outages.


Because surrounding states were also experiencing a heat wave, residents in those states used more energy than usual, and extra power was not available for California to purchase. This led to a deficit in available power in California. Additionally, certain natural gas power plants have remained inactive but available should the state need extra power; however, when called upon, only very plants were able to provide extra power to the grid.

New York City Blackouts, July 2019 and August 2020

New York City has experienced blackouts in recent years due to a number of events, including hurricanes, equipment malfunction, and human error. On July 13, 2019, equipment failure led to a power outage in Manhattan that lasted about 5 hours, impacting 70,000 customers. The outage occurred around 7:00 in the evening, and reportedly impacted evening commuters on subways and elevators, as well as Broadway shows and concerts in the area. In this incident, an underground burning cable failed to trigger a protective relay system, which should have prevented the major outage from occurring.

Then, in August 2020, another blackout caused by equipment failure occurred, impacting residents throughout all five boroughs. Initial reports stated that the power outage was caused by a lightning strike, but it is likely that protective relay systems again were not triggered, as was the case in the July 2019 blackout. This outage followed closely on the tail of blackouts caused by Tropical Storm Isaias, which left millions of residents in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut without power for several days.

Prescient’s power outage prevention predictive analytics can determine power system responses to triggering events such as those described above. Our innovative technology can prevent wide area blackouts from occurring. Contact us to learn more about how to increase the resiliency of your power system.