Just when I thought I heard it all, I learned about brown outs. I came across an article that was titled, “Black Outs vs Brown Outs” and I thought, “Brown Out? Does that mean the power goes out…but everything turns…brown?” I had to investigate!
Apparently brown outs are very common and happen all the time. I had no idea this phenomenon occurred as frequently as it did, and I have been completely unaware of its existence my whole life. So, if you are like me, don’t worry, I’ve got the whole scoop for you!
What the Heck is a “Brown Out”?
After doing a deep dive, this is what I learned: brown outs are a close cousin to a black out. A brown out is a partial voltage outage intentionally carried out by a utility company. This partial outage is about 10-25% voltage reduction for a short period of time. The companies do this to prevent black outs from happening. Black outs can happen when the grid is overloaded due to a high demand for electricity.
Unlike a black out, a brown out doesn’t fully shut off the power. Some signs of a brown out in your area can manifest in the form of flickering lights, appliances repeatedly turning off and on, or a spotty internet connection. Brown outs can last for hours or days depending on your region.
Why Do We Have Brownouts?
Brown outs are nothing to worry about. The utility companies plan brown outs in advance to make sure we don’t have a full-blown black out. Though they are inconvenient, its better to deal with the occasional brown out than a black out.
Brown outs will take place when there is a high demand of energy, severe weather conditions, or electricity grid damage. The first two events typically happen in the depths of winter or summer. These seasons have extreme temperatures and appliances like heaters and air conditioners use up a ton of energy. Remember your electric bill you got last summer? Thanks to our air conditioners and other appliances, the grid gets put under pressure to provide for our homes. That means all those appliances’ power demands add up, and your electricity bill goes up too.
As far as grid damage is concerned, this mainly happens due to equipment falling into disrepair, solar flares, and other events that would cause physical damage to the grid. This is the least common of the three reasons, so I wouldn’t worry about it that much.
How Do I Know When My Next Brown Out Will Be?
While you can’t always predict when your area is going to have a power outage, you can typically see a schedule of your area’s planned outages on your local power grid’s website.
Our office is located in Los Angeles County, so we refer to Southern California Edison, or sce.com and head over to the outage cernter (https://www.sce.com/outage-center/check-outage-status). Scroll down an select the “Upcoming Scheduled Outages” tab and select either your county or your city. For us, we chose Los Angeles County. As of February 1st, we are able to see that the next scheduled outage is for February 6, 2023 from 8:30-3:00 PM in the city of Pico Rivera. If our office was located in that city, we would know ahead of time to prepare for the outage. In addition to checking the website, areas that have planned outages may receive written notice in the mail as well.
Do I Need to Be Concerned When They Happen?
No one needs to be concerned when a brown out happens. Brown outs are not very common and when they do happen, its done so to prevent major inconvenience to the grid and community. If we never have scheduled brown outs, black outs would be a lot more common and even more inconvenient. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have an occasional reduction of power over a total power loss any day. Remember that brown outs are temporary, are good for the grid, and are always scheduled ahead of time.