Driving Utility NUTS: Squirrels Power Outages?
There are many causes of power outages: storms, falling branches, and lightning. But you probably won’t believe us when we tell you that one of the most common causes of electrical power loss is the nut-loving squirrel you typically find in your backyard. In fact, squirrels were placed second in the list of “Top Causes of Power Outages” that The American Public Power Association published. The main questions are: how and why?
How do squirrels cause power outages?
Electric power disruptions caused by squirrels are widespread and common in various states. These furry menaces are reported to cause electrical damage by tunneling and chomping through electrical wires.
According to Joe Gehrdes, director of Huntsville Utilities, squirrels usually mount utility poles and make contact with electrical equipment at different electrostatic potentials. He said that the body of the animal becomes an energy conductor. With one bite or slip-up to the power line, the ill-fated squirrel meets an untimely death while causing a blackout to an entire community.
While some people may joke about the occurrences, the scope of this threat is rather grave. Cris Thomas, a strategist at Tenable Network Security, spearheadeda project called CyberSquirrel1. The project shows a petrifying map of squirrel attacks on America’s power grid. As of today, the website has already listed 1,252 power grid damages caused by squirrels. The reports on the map are based on published news reports.
Although some people may not be aware of the electrical damages that are caused by squirrels, these aren’t a new problem for utility companies. According to The Washington Post, The American Public Power Association, which constitutes community-owned electric utilities, actually tracks power failures on a “squirrel index.” The service organization claims that storms cause larger and longer power outages. However, squirrels are still the most common reasons for outages.
Perhaps the only good news is that squirrel-caused power outages are inclined to be more confined or localized. They can also be fixed quickerthan the disruptions caused by violent storms. This is because these tiny animalscan only chew through a few lines.
How many power outages are caused by squirrels?
The most significant number of outages was probably recorded in 2016. According to The American Public Power Association, there were about 3,456 squirrel-related power outages that cut off the electricity of more than 193,873 customers in 2016 (1). A lot of those electrical outages took place in Gastonia, the biggest city in Gaston County, North Carolina.
In 2018, Joe Gehrdes reported there were 260 power outages caused by squirrels.
Animals aren’t really a surprising nuisance for us, it’s just a fact of doing business in the electric industry,
These numbers are alarming, but they are only the tip of the iceberg.
According to Cris Thomas, animals not only cause dangers to our power grids. They also kill people. He published that in January 2017, there have been eightdeaths in the US that are related to the interference of animals with electrical infrastructures.
What is the percentage of power outages caused by squirrels?
The American Public Power Association reports that squirrels caused more than 8% of outages in 2018. This figure is based on reports by 277 public utility companies.
Cantega Technologies Inc. released a report on the cost of animal-induced outages. According to the article, electrical outages caused by animals have direct and indirect damages to utility companies, residential energy consumers, and vital public establishments. They published the cost of the outages, which range from “Low Impact” to “Catastrophic Plus Impact” (2).
The average cost for Low Impact scenarios is around $0-$250. On the other hand, the average cost for Catastrophic Plus Impact is approximately $1M or higher.
According to Cantega, the variables change based on the following factors:
- Animal Type
- Load Type
- Protection Schemes
- Equipment Design
- Time of Day
- Weather Conditions
What Electricity Companies Do
Some electric companies now apply plastic coverings on electric poles where wirings interconnect. They also use arrester caps so the rodents won’t clutch on the power lines longer than usual.
Conclusion: Watch Out for Squirrels Power Outages
In general, squirrels are pretty harmless as there are very few accounts of squirrel attacks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also doesn’t consider squirrel attacks to be a significant threat to human health and safety (3). However, it’s not the case when you see these rodents mounted on electric wires. You might want to shoo them off when you see them scurrying across a power line.