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Brownouts Versus Blackouts: What You Need To Know!

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We in the Southwest are learning some painful lessons in 2020 from brownouts and blackouts. We sheltered in place when the coronavirus first arrived in the U.S., and when we attempted to reopen, there was a massive resurgence of the pandemic. There has been unprecedented civil unrest with a record number of consecutive days with protests. The Bush wildfire was one of the largest in Arizona’s history. And, we have had a record-setting heatwave. July 2020 was the hottest month on record for Phoenix. To date, during the summer of 2020, we’ve had forty-three days with temperatures of 110° or higher, shattering the previous record of thirty-three days and counting. The situation is the same in California, with several cities setting records. In Death Valley, the temperature soared to 130°, an all-time August record on Sunday, August sixteenth. All of this in the face of one of the driest monsoon seasons in history.

According to the Arizona Emergency Information Network, several of these factors have played a role in the 198 power outages experienced year-to-date in areas serviced by APS (Arizona Public Service) and SRP (Salt River Project).

In this “What You Need to Know” article, we will define and contrast “Brownouts” versus “Blackouts” and introduce “Rolling Blackouts.” We’ll explain why these types of power outages occur and provide resources that can guide you in preparing for and surviving these emergencies. Finally, we will provide our recommendation for a viable, long-term solution for home and business owners in the Southwest.

Also, in this article, we will touch on California’s plan to turn Hoover Dam and Lake Mead into their state’s source of energy in emergencies and how that impacts neighboring states.

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Power Outages – Brownouts Versus Blackouts

The Pew Charitable Trusts has published an exhaustive study regarding the “The Changing Utility Landscape.” In their report, they acknowledge that power outages, primarily weather-related, have been on the rise in the United States for the past decade, to the point that the U.S. now “experiences more electric outages than any other developed nation.” Outages cost an average of $18 billion to $33 billion per year in the United States.

Given the magnitude of the issue in the U.S. and the preponderance of outages in the Southwest, we felt it important you understand the differences between the types of disruptions.

Energy Brownouts Versus Energy Blackouts

A “Brownout” is an intentional reduction or restriction of available power to an area, initiated by the utility, also known as a voltage slump. In a brownout situation, overall system capacity may be reduced by 10% – 25%. During a brownout, electricity still flows to your home, but at lower than usual levels, causing incandescent lights to dim, hence the name, brownout. These intentional outages usually last for a few minutes to a few hours.

A “Blackout” refers to a total loss of power to an area for an undetermined period, usually without warning, typically weather or accident-related. For information relating to weathering an outage visit

Utilities will use a brownout strategy in certain conditions, to prevent a system blackout or to avoid the need for “Rolling Blackouts.” The rolling blackout is a third type of power outage deployed to cope with peak power demands that cannot be met by existing electric supplies and to ease the strain on an overtaxed electrical grid temporarily. Usually, the provider will provide some warning of rolling blackouts and advise the appropriate length of time the outage will be in effect.

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Power Shutoffs in California

In August 2020, the Southwest heatwave has forced intermittent power shutoffs in California. The California Public Utilities Commission, for the first time in 19 years, declared an emergency and shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers for several hours.   

AZ Utilities Ask Customers to Reduce Power Use

As reported by, Arizona’s big three utilities, SRP, APS, and TEP (Tucson Electric Power), have asked customers to cut power usage during peak consumption periods to reduce the potential for blackouts. Wildfires in the area have exacerbated the heatwave situation.


What Causes Power Outages

Although the weather is the leading cause of power outages in the U.S., our aging infrastructure is another liability.

A brownout occurs when a utility determines that electricity demand is at or above a utility’s production capacity. Once this happens, the utility, at its discretion, may intentionally reduce the flow of electricity to prevent a blackout.

Blackouts occur due to severe weather, accidents resulting in damage to the utility’s equipment, or equipment failures. The term blackout refers to more extensive disruptions.

Solutions to Power Outages

Updating the country’s power grid infrastructure is an obvious solution; however, that will cost trillions and take years. For savvy businesses and homeowners, there has never been a better time to invest in onsite power solutions, such as solar energy. 

  • The cost to install solar has declined by more than 70% over the last decade
  • Prices in the first quarter of 2020 were at their lowest levels ever
  • Federal subsidies will be reduced in 2021 and drop to zero in 2022
  • There is the potential for a significant emphasis on solar in government economic recovery packages from the pandemic

A home solar system with battery storage keeps your appliances running at night or during the winter when the sun isn’t shining. Perhaps even more importantly, solar battery storage can provide emergency backup energy during power outages. Given the number of outages thus far in 2020, we consider these systems a prudent investment in the Southwest. And, those utility company requests to reduce energy use during peak consumption periods are a non-issue with a solar battery system.

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More Weather-Related Power Issues – Hoover Dam / Lake Mead

Another consideration brought about by the continuing drought in Western states is the Hoover Dam / Lake Mead issue related to Los Angeles’ proposed use of the Dam as their personal battery system to generate power for their city.

Los Angeles is considering investing an estimated $3 billion on a massive, underground pumped hydropower storage system connected to the Hoover Dam, the result of state-mandated cuts in fossil-fuel use. We applaud the concept of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy production such as wind and solar. However, the system, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and the Colorado River, provide water and energy to seven Western states, and LA’s proposal would restrict the flow of water in the Colorado River.

The ongoing drought has already reduced water levels in Lake Mead to a point where Hoover Dam’s turbines produce less electricity, and climate scientists predict the volume of water in the Colorado River will continue to decrease. Bad news for states, such as Arizona that rely on the Colorado River for water.

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In Summary

Even in these unsettled times of a pandemic, record heatwaves, wildfires, and power outages, there has never been a better time to go solar before federal and state incentives decline, and utilities revise their solar policies. Switching to clean, renewable solar today relieves dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil.

PEP Solar Since 1978

We hope this article has been informative and increases your consideration of solar energy. We are a full-service solar company and have been installing, servicing, inspecting, and repairing solar for homeowners and businesses in Arizona since 1978. Our mission is to provide complete solar power solutions that perform beyond your expectations for the life of your system.

At PEP Solar, we partner only with the best-in-class solar manufacturers to deliver your best solar solution. Let us design and supply your system using the best products in the solar energy market.

We can help you become a “prosumer,” a homeowner who produces and consumes solar energy.

For more expert information on all things solar, visit us online at and also by contacting us or by calling us at: (623) 806-8806.



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