Exceedance Probabilities and Recurrence Intervals for Extended Power Outages in the United States

Sean Ericson, Jordan Cox, Michael Abdelmalak, Hannah Rabinowitz, Eliza Hotchkiss

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Power outages cause significant economic and societal impacts. An increasing likelihood of extreme weather coupled with aging grid infrastructure is leading to a higher prevalence of extended power outages, which can leave customers without power for multiple days or even weeks. Planners at the facility, local, state, and federal levels are interested in resilience solutions to reduce the impacts of extended power outages. Resilience solutions - such as installing backup systems, integrating microgrid solutions, weatherizing buildings, and hardening distribution and transmission components - can reduce the consequences of extended power outages, but these solutions come with increased capital costs. Conducting cost-benefit analyses is important for determining which steps to take to mitigate the impact of power outages without investing in ineffective and cost-prohibitive resilience solutions. The expected benefits of resilience investments depend on the frequency of power outages of various durations, particularly extended outages lasting several hours, days, or weeks. A significant barrier to resilience planning is the lack of publicly available data on the frequency and duration of extended power outages. The absence of outage duration information severely limits the ability to conduct quantitative cost-benefit analyses of resilience investments. This report provides estimates of recurrence intervals and conditional exceedance probabilities for major power outages by U.S. region between 2015 and 2021. Additionally, we provide estimates for grid management, particularly outages caused by California's public safety power shutoffs (PSPS), and for natural outages caused by major hurricanes. Outage recurrence intervals are the average number of years between outage events, and conditional exceedance probabilities are the likelihoods that a customer who experiences a major power outage will experience an outage exceeding a given duration. Major outage events are those that affect 10,000 or more customers, as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Electric Emergency Incident and Disturbance Report, called OE-417 (DOE 2020). These results can be applied to determine the likelihood of experiencing long-duration outages, which can be integrated into cost-benefit analyses of resilience solutions and broader energy resilience studies. We developed a methodology to estimate customer outage durations for extended outage events using publicly available data on customer outages. Shorter-duration power outages are relatively common, with customers experiencing on average more than one power outage each year lasting fewer than 12 hours. An outage event lasting between 1 day and 1 week is expected to occur between once every 16 years and once every 42 years, depending on the region, with an average recurrence rate of once every 32 years across the contiguous United States.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages47
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5R00-83092


  • electricity
  • outage durations
  • power outage
  • resilience


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