home brownout

What’s a Power Brownout?

A severe storm hits town, and you bundle up on the couch with all your candles, flashlights, and non-electrical entertainment picks at arm’s length. You may be prepared for a blackout, but are you prepared for a power brownout? 

Understanding the difference between these two types of power outages is key. What you do during a brownout can affect how quickly you can bounce back from it.

Below, we’ll dive into what you need to know to deal with a brownout without a huge hassle. No matter what, you can count on Vault Electricity to deliver the power solutions and resources you need to make a smart choice.

Key Takeaways

  • A power brownout is a type of power failure caused by an intentional or unintentional drop in voltage capacity.
  • While power isn’t completely gone during a brownout, it’s limited enough to cause consequences like equipment failure and safety risks.
  • Brownouts are usually fixed with a combination of user-focused and company-focused changes. Relying on alternative energy sources is one of the easiest ways to avoid the downsides of a power outage.

What’s a Power Brownout?

A power brownout is like the little sibling to a power blackout — a blackout occurs when you fully lose power, but a brownout happens when you can use only a very low voltage of electricity. When a utility company reduces the voltage capacity consumers can use, only some electrical devices and systems can function correctly.

Utility companies may intentionally or unintentionally lower the voltage customers have available. Unintentional cases usually stem from excessive electricity demand, malfunctions, or severe weather. Intentional brownouts might be used to reduce the load companies manage in emergencies or to prevent a total grid power outage.

The term “brownout” refers to the phenomenon that occurs when voltage levels decrease. Many incandescent lighting dims in response, giving off a muted, “brown” look that’s reminiscent of the lighting of the past.

How Does a Brownout Differ From a Blackout?

The key difference between a brownout and a blackout is the extent of the power loss that occurs. A blackout causes homes or businesses to completely lose their power supply, but a brownout only causes some loss of electricity.

Depending on the severity of the brownout, in some cases, electrical appliances might be unable to function. Motors may slow down, and heat or cooling sources might become less efficient. 

Additionally, a general dimming of lighting usually occurs. Overall, the low voltage of electricity available during a brownout isn’t enough to support most electronic devices. So while power might not be entirely gone, it’s likely lacking enough to affect daily life.

Brownouts and blackouts also tend to happen for different reasons. Since brownouts don’t cause a complete loss of power, their triggers tend to be shorter-lived. Temporary voltage drops due to utility maintenance or a bad storm, for instance, might affect homes for a few days.

But a power outage is more likely to come from significant damage that can’t be fixed quickly. Damaged or broken power lines, faults at power stations, and similar circumstances can render a power grid all but useless until repairs are made. 

So, brownouts are usually shorter-lived, less severe, and less disruptive than blackouts. They’re essentially a milder form of the same phenomenon, but because they don’t completely shut off power, they’re usually easier to fix.

How Serious Are Brownouts?

While brownouts are generally less severe than blackouts, they’re still worth taking seriously. Intentional and unintentional voltage drops can harm electrical equipment and disrupt daily life. Home appliances that run improperly, for instance, might threaten your food supply or make it impossible to do things like take showers or wash clothing.

The consequences of a brownout usually relate to its duration. The more time spent without a reliable power supply, the higher the chances of disruptions. There may also be a risk of power surges that damage equipment. So it’s best to treat a brownout as you would a blackout — take action to protect your home and stock up on candles, flashlights, and safe foods to help you through.

How Are Brownouts Fixed?

Both power companies and electricity users can help mitigate a brownout once it occurs. The process usually involves a combination of demand management and public awareness. 

When consumers are aware of other power options, they can diversify their energy sources to shift some of the demand away from electric companies. Below are some more steps that can help fix a brownout.

  • Updating Infrastructure: Keeping local transmission lines up-to-date can help ensure they have the capacity and durability to meet power demands. Likewise, using large batteries can help power companies store excess energy during off-times to create a supply to rely on during brownouts.
  • Rolling Blackouts: To help balance demand with supply, power companies can use rolling blackouts, which involves cutting power from some areas for a short period to reduce the overall load on the power grid.
  • Introducing New Power Sources: When too many people rely on the same electrical power supply, chaos is sure to ensue. Power companies and individuals can benefit from using multiple power sources, such as solar or wind power. Some companies offer incentives to encourage consumers to make the switch and cut back on the demand the power grid feels. Companies can also buy back excess energy from homeowners to supplement their electricity supply.
  • Using Energy Management Systems: Systems automatically tracking and reducing energy use can help keep things manageable during peak times. Other options include uninterruptible power supplies, which deliver short-term power to protect things like computers. Voltage regulators can also help consumers ensure the voltage they receive stays consistent even if the main power supply fluctuates.

In most cases, fixing a brownout doesn’t happen overnight. It often takes long-term planning and changes to truly address the underlying causes of power shortages. This is especially true for developing areas still establishing their power systems.

Overall, a power brownout is nothing to scoff at. It might not be as all-encompassing as a full-blown blackout, but it’s still worth paying attention to. Taking steps to limit your dependence on the electrical grid can help you avoid brownouts for good, but even if you still find yourself experiencing one, being aware of the risks you might face can help you keep yourself safe.