There was a major power outage in Amsterdam early yesterday. That left about 360,000 homes without power. And it kept commuters in the Dutch capital trapped in cars, trains, trams, and stations as traffic signals went dark.
This is yet another example of how even the simplest problems and the shortest interruptions to core infrastructure can have expensive and wide-ranging effects on people and businesses.
The Amsterdam outage was apparently caused by component failure in a TenneT power station. Of course, severe weather is frequently the culprit of power outages, as are critters who chew into cables or change settings as they move around.
An August 2013 study by The White House estimates the annual cost of power outages caused by severe weather between 2003 and 2012 was between $18 billion and $33 billion. And the number of outages caused by severe weather is expected to increase as climate change becomes more pronounced, the report noted.
A 2015 article in Johns Hopkins Magazine references a study by Whiting School Associate Professor Seth Guikema that says more cities will be more likely to have storm-related power outages going forward.
“As these storms become more intense,” Guikema is quoted as saying, “they penetrate further [north and] inland before dying out, and you have new areas getting storms that haven’t experienced blackouts before.”
Guikema said the cities most likely to experience more power failures due to more intense hurricanes are New York, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Virginia Beach, Hartford, Orlando, Tampa, Providence, Miami, and New Orleans.
All this points to the need for governmental entities to invest in power backup systems. In fact, some cities, such as Toronto, are discussing what minimum backup power ought to be put in place.
“As Torontonians are living in taller buildings and as extreme weather events are expected to increase in frequency and severity, improving backup power in [multi-unit residential buildings] will strengthen the city's overall resilience by allowing people to remain in their buildings during area-wide power outages,” the report says. “This will provide safety and comfort, especially to vulnerable populations, and may potentially reduce added demand on public services, infrastructure, and facilities during nonemergency situations.”
That would seem to hold true for any city and any type of building.