FAQ: What’s the Difference Between a Blackout and a Brownout?

When it comes to the flow of electricity, things aren’t always black or white.  We consider them black or brown.  Chances are you’ve experienced a blackout in the past, but what about a brownout?  And what exactly is the difference between the two?

We define a blackout as a complete power loss affecting many electric users over a large area for an extended period of time.  Residents and businesses lose power and the entire area temporarily goes black.

A brownout is a little different.  It’s a controlled power reduction or loss of electricity to pockets of customers.  A brownout is caused by a state of “poor power quality” in which a utility may reduce line voltage in order to deliver more electricity to meet increased demand.  These voltage fluctuations can severely damage or even destroy factory equipment that requires a stable energy supply.

A factory in Hamburg, Germany experienced a situation like this in 2012.  The electric grid weakened for a millisecond and damage to several machines cost the factory over $12,000.

So how do you prevent these voltage fluctuations?

Unfortunately, there are only a couple ways to avoid this situation.  If you absolutely need to keep your equipment running at all times, you could look into an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS).  This solution offers an alternative source of power during short interruptions, but prices can vary from $200 to $2,000 depending on your equipment.

A more economical option would be to look into joining a demand response program.  When the electric grid is experiencing an increase in demand and the utilities are unsure if they have enough supply, participants will be notified ahead of time that voltage fluctuations may occur.  This will give you enough time to shut down any equipment or machinery that would otherwise be damaged.

An intense jump in electricity demand does not happen often, but you want to make sure your business is prepared for any possible threats.  It’s time to get your backup plan ready, before you’re left in the dark.

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  • Syranus

    This is very helpful and a good explanation of the difference between brownout and blackout.. Thank you very much.

  • Sand Roc