Manassas Power Outage Traced to Faulty Transformer

October 27, 2016

By Steve Anderson - Contributing Writer

Around here, power outages are no real news. We see these happen fairly routinely, and often it's attributable to birds or other wildlife run amok and directly into power transformers. Sometimes it's cars crashing into poles. For Manassas, Virginia residents, however, a recent power outage there had a much simpler and much more insidious cause: a simple failed switch.

The Manassas power outage was traced back to a fault in a ground-mounted transformer known as a padmount switch. When that switch failed, down went the power grid, and area residents were without both lights and heat on a night when temperatures dropped into the 30s and local authorities had issued a frost advisory.

The outage lasted just over 12 hours, as the lights went out at around 9:15 p.m. Tuesday and didn't recover until 9:30 a.m. the following morning. The outage hit residents along the Lake Jackson Drive area, and reports note that “thousands of residents” were hit by this outage.

If this serves as any kind of lesson at all, let it serve as a lesson that the power grid is a fragile thing, and can go offline at virtually any time for virtually any reason. This is a system we all depend upon to carry out even the simplest of operations, from business to entertainment to even something as simple as heating our homes in winter. Having a backup system in place for these operations, therefore, is a vital task, and there are several options to address this.

One such option is the uninterrupted power supply (UPS), which allows a short burst of power that lets users save work and shut down computer systems. It’s a great last-ditch system when the power goes out, and many businesses have gone beyond this. Full generators—including multi-kilowatt systems good for entire buildings like the Generac line—or even green power systems like multiple banks of solar panels or wind turbines, have stepped in to save businesses from complete outages on more than one occasion. Options range broadly depending on the needs on the ground, and businesses can scale systems to match the need. Using a green source like wind or solar can also come with reputational benefits and a means to capture a news cycle or two, at least locally, by showing off the system to local media.

We've all seen how easy it is for the power to go out, and how easy it is for the power to stay out for hours or even days. For those who don't want to lose power—and the business that power allows for—backup systems will prove a valuable resource. The time to look into such systems is sooner rather than later, because who knows when the lights will go out next.

Edited by Alicia Young