Climate and capacity: Why power outages are surging around the world (2024)

-- Countries in Europe, Africa, Middle East, South Asia and other parts have experienced large-scale blackouts in recent weeks -- Main cause is high demand spurred by adverse weather combined with inadequate generation capacity, says energy expert Ian Dobson -- Frequency and severity of blackouts expected to rise, leading to more fatalities and greater economic effects, warns Dobson ISTANBUL

Many countries have been experiencing large power outages in recent weeks, raising concern about why these disruptions have been happening.

From the Balkans to the Middle East and Africa, countries are feeling the effects of these blackouts.

They are struggling with power grids that are under pressure and facing higher demand due to heat waves and extreme weather.

Some Middle Eastern countries are facing heat waves, while many have started to schedule power cuts to lighten the load on their electricity grids.

Iraq has reduced public office hours by an hour due to a severe heat wave and long-lasting power cuts, leading to widespread public protests.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani announced the emergency measure on Saturday to safeguard residents from the extreme heat and persistent electricity shortages.

The power cuts have left many Iraqis without air conditioning or refrigeration during the hottest times of the day, and protesters have taken to the streets urging the government to restore electricity.

Big cities in the country have power cuts that can last up to 10 hours every day, and rural areas have even longer blackouts.

Kuwait also announced that it will introduce more power cuts to lessen electricity use due to high demand as temperatures soar in the summer.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy released schedules showing when and where power will be cut from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the busiest times.

The power outages will extend up to two hours if necessary.

Egypt has also been facing electricity shortages since last summer.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly apologized for the ongoing three-hour daily power cuts across the nation, which will revert to two hours starting this week amid high electricity consumption.

He said the power outage crisis was caused by a 12-hour stoppage at a natural gas station in a neighboring supplier country.

The increased power consumption has placed additional pressure on the natural gas supply required for generating electricity in Egypt.

The country will import mazut, a heavy, low-quality fuel oil used in generating plants, and natural gas worth approximately $1.18 billion to address the power cuts, Madbouly said.

The Balkans region also experienced a significant power outage amid a major heat wave.

A major electricity blackout struck Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Croatia, disrupting daily life and causing discomfort.

In May, Zambia reduced daily power supply by an extra four hours, giving consumers only 12 hours of electricity per day. Officials blame low water levels at dams for the shortage.

The critical energy-dependent landlocked southern African nation is the continent's second-largest copper producer but has been significantly affected by a drought triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon, impacting most regions of the country.

High demand, adverse weather, insufficient generation capacity

Regarding the reasons for power outages in different countries, experts say that blackouts tend to occur when the power grid or power generation is "highly stressed."

"Blackouts occur when there is not enough power generated to supply the load, or when the power can be generated but cannot be transmitted through the grid to the loads," Ian Dobson, a Sandbulte Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University, whose core research areas include electric power and energy systems, told Anadolu.

"Blackouts are rare but impactful in highly developed countries. Heat waves stress the grid because the air conditioning load increases. Some power systems have their peak demand for power in the summer for this reason," he added.

"Heat also causes the grid components (such as transmission lines and transformers) to underperform or fail in the heat," he said.

"Extreme weather stresses grids by wind damaging or blowing debris into transmission lines, heat and drought exacerbating wildfires that cause short circuits, or flooding damaging substations and the foundations of poles."

He said in countries with insufficient power generation relative to demand, blackouts may occur during periods of high load or when generators are unavailable or not performing optimally.

Dobson added that the main cause of the blackouts is a combination of high demand and adverse weather, sometimes exacerbated by inadequate additional generation capacity for peak loads.

"The stresses on the power systems can vary in different countries, and the money invested in upgrading and maintaining the power generation and transmission also varies."

Climate change steadily increases the frequency and severity of heat waves, said Dobson, adding that it also gradually raises ocean levels, causing storm surge flooding to worsen.

"Climate change is melting most of the world’s glaciers, and this can affect and limit the water available for hydro power and for cooling power generation plants."

"Heat waves significantly increase the maximum load on power grids," Dobson emphasized.

He warned that the frequency and severity of blackouts are expected to rise "gradually but surely" due to climate change impacts.

While power generation and the grid can be reinforced against these effects, Dobson said that such improvements and investments require money and time.

"I do not expect the improvements to easily catch up with the increased stresses," he added.

Deaths from blackouts expected to increase during heat waves

Regarding the consequences of power cuts, he cautioned that blackouts could lead to fatalities and significant economic shutdowns.

In some instances, they may also trigger social unrest, looting and riots that increase the impact, he added.

"It is quite common for governments to be voted out of office or lose public support if blackouts are severe and are blamed on the government.

"However, blackouts cause more money to be invested in power generation and transmission, so this effect tends to reduce blackouts."

He added that highly developed countries generally have reliable electricity, but they also rely more heavily on it.

"In some ways, less developed countries are more used to power being out and the citizens find ways to work around it.

"I expect blackouts to generally slowly increase, but there will also be some adaptation to invest in power generation and transmission that counters this."

A combination of governments and their citizens will determine how much they are willing to pay for electricity reliability, he added.

Climate and capacity: Why power outages are surging around the world (2024)

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