Difference Between a Blackout and a Brownout

 Difference Between a Blackout and a Brownout

I am sure that almost everyone reading this post has experienced a loss of power at some point in the past. You will probably also already know what a blackout is, but what about a brownout? Do you know the difference between both a blackout and a brownout?

What is a Blackout?

A blackout can be defined as a complete loss of electricity for an extended period of time and will usually affect people over a large area. They will occur without warning and are generally caused by catastrophic equipment failure or severe weather.

A rolling blackout will usually come with at least some warning and they are deliberately caused by utility companies when there is not enough power being produced to meet demands. In other words, during a rolling blackout, the electricity supplier chooses to cut the power.

These types of blackouts will usually be spread over several service areas to ensure that no specific area suffers substantially more than any other. These can also be used for:

  • Scheduled maintenance
  • Preventing systems from being over-taxed

What is a Brownout?

A brownout can be defined as a decrease of power by an electric company. They are often used by suppliers to prevent a blackout from occurring. During a brownout, power could be reduced by up to 25% for a limited time (from a few minutes to a couple of hours). Other reasons that an area may experience a brownout include:

  • Poor quality of power due to outdated electrical lines
  • Relieving voltage requirements to over-stressed systems

Most of your primary electrical functions such as lighting and heating won’t be affected but things like computers may be due to them needing an exact voltage. You can still use them but they may be worse than before the brownout. A brownout can sometimes happen unintentionally also. Fluctuations in electrical voltage do not always count as brownouts, but a sustained reduction can qualify. These voltage fluctuations can severely damage or even destroy factory equipment that requires a stable energy supply.

What to do if the Power Goes Out

The Consumer Energy Center offers the following safety tips:

  • Do not call 999/911 unless there is a real emergency such as someone injured or downed power lines.
  • If you see any downed power lines, keep well clear and call your electricity supplier. Check to make sure that no children or animals go near the wires; they could still be electrified and therefore are lethal.
  • Drive carefully. Traffic signals may not be working during a rolling blackout. Consider each intersection to be a four-way stop and drive defensively.
  • If a power line falls on a car, stay inside the vehicle until first responders arrive to assist.

And here are some power outage tips to help you become better prepared:

  • Have a number of flashlights with spare batteries where you can easily locate them in the dark if needed.
  • Have a battery-operated or hand crank radio so you can listen to the local news and weather announcements for the latest updates.
  • Have the emergency number for your electric provider in a handy place, or stored in your phone contacts, in case you need to call.
  • Have an ice chest available to store needed medications and special foods that must remain cold.
  • If you are given advance warning, fill the bathtub with water. The water can be used in an emergency if properly sterilized.
  • Have a household first aid kit in a prominent location.

During a power outage:

  • Open open the fridge or freezer when you know exactly what you need and don’t keep the door open for any longer than is necessary. This will end up letting the warm air in and the cold air out which may lead to quicker food spoilage.
  • Leave one light on so that you’ll know when power comes back on, but won’t overtax your system by having everything come on at once.
  • Turn off any electrical equipment that you were using when the power went out.
  • Do not run a generator inside a home or garage
  • If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect the generator to a home’s electrical system.

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