Understanding the types of outages — and their causes
Whether it’s due to a tripped home breaker or severe weather, a power outage is never fun. But if you know their causes, you might be able to get the power back on yourself. If not, you will at least know how to be prepared.
We always do our best to communicate about potential outages ahead of time, so be sure to follow us for the most current information.
Below, read about the different types of power outages, including some lesser-known culprits.
Tripped home breaker
Service may be interrupted at your home due to a tripped circuit breaker. Always check your breakers before reporting an outage to PEC. Circuit breakers are designed to protect your home from power surges and electrical shorts. Find more on how to do so here.
Flickers and blinks
If you’ve ever had your power flicker briefly and then come back on, you’re seeing safety in action. That flicker is the function of a device either at the substation or on the line protecting you from an event that could cause a true outage.
When too much electricity comes down the line — whether due to a lightning strike, tree limb contacting a power line, or other conditions — the protective devices trip open, just like the circuit breaker at your house.
With an 8,100-square-mile service territory, a lot can interfere with a line, which is why our protective devices are armed with reclose capacity. This means once the breaker has tripped open, it will automatically try to close again after two seconds. If the problem on the line has been cleared and the amperage and voltage on the line have returned to normal levels, the breaker will remain closed and your power will remain on.
With our service area growing at a record pace, we periodically take certain sections of our system offline to safely perform upgrades and repairs. These outages are usually planned, and affected members are notified via letter and email. You can verify your contact information and check to see if your email address is on file by logging into your account or by calling 888-554-4732.
All large-scale electricity generation goes through the transmission system. The large electric lines that move generation to the PEC distribution system may encounter faults that cause an outage at your home. Outages on these lines may take an extended period to resolve and are almost entirely out of PEC’s control.
When there is very high demand on the statewide electric grid, typically due to extreme temperatures, the supply of electricity generation may not be enough to handle the load. In these situations, PEC — along with other utilities across Texas — may be directed by Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to conserve energy. If the energy conservation requests aren’t enough, ERCOT may conduct controlled service interruptions to protect the grid from a larger failure.
Often, it’s not too hard to imagine the cause of a power outage. We brace for it at the crack of lightning or a howling wind. But when the lights go out unexpectedly on a calm, sunny day, we naturally wonder why. Beyond lightning strikes and high wind, here are our top six outage-causing culprits.
- Animal interference: When large birds, squirrels, cats, snakes, or other animals make contact between two energized lines or pieces of equipment, they create a fault, causing an arc that can knock out your power.
- Fallen trees: Trees don’t only fall during wind storms. Dead or damaged branches can fall and take out a power line or utility pole even on a clear and sunny day, particularly if they’ve been weakened by recent high winds or weather events.
- Auto accidents: One of our top causes of fair-weather outages is an auto collision with a utility pole or with equipment serving underground utilities.
- Contact with lines: Contact with power lines or equipment can cause service interruptions. Tall construction equipment like cranes can clip lines, as can the raised beds of dump trucks. Excavating and digging projects can also damage underground electrical equipment, causing outages as well as the risk of shock or death to the user. Even objects like mylar balloons or fireworks can cause an interruption if they touch or land on power equipment.
- Worn lines on the service side (between our system and your home): These issues at the point of service (your house, for example) are generally issues of wear and tear, such as aging lines or damage due to tree limbs contacting lines on your property.
- Extreme temperatures: As explained above, on rare occasions, extreme temperatures can cause demand to outstrip supply. Plus, extreme shifts in weather can also occasionally cause electrical equipment to malfunction.
If you experience an outage, we want your service restored as quickly as possible. Please report outages by texting “outage” to 25022, calling 888-883-3379 or logging into your account. You can also get updates by visiting the outage center.