Brownout vs. Blackout: What's the difference and how do you get your electricity back?

Let’s face it - there is nothing more annoying than your power suddenly going out. 

It always happens at the least convenient time. 

While it is most often a blackout you’re experiencing, the lack of electricity could actually be the consequence of a brownout. 

Never heard of it? This is what we’re talking about…

What is a brown out? 

A brown out occurs when the electricity demands on the grid have reached capacity or are too high for it to handle. 

When this happens the electricity supplier may reduce the flow of electricity to certain areas to prevent a blackout. 

Electricity will still be flowing to your property but at lower than usual voltage levels. 

A brownout may cause some electrical items and appliances in your home to malfunction. 

A brownout is characterised by things like:

  • Dimming of incandescent light bulbs 
  • Flickering lights
  • Electrical appliances quickly switching on and back off again
  • Intermittent internet connections

Brownouts can last anywhere from minutes to hours. Generally after this time the electrical demand will have dropped and the normal flow of electricity can be restored. 

How does a brown out occur?

Brownouts generally occur in severe weather conditions such as the height of summer or the depths of winter. 

This is because everyone using heating or cooling systems at the same time can put undue pressure on the grid and result in a brownout. 

But in our modern society we would assume that electricity supply is assured. So why are electricity suppliers being blindsided by any events that require more electricity?

Demand for electricity is always fluctuating, and electricity companies use their network of generators, substations and transformers to make sure they’re producing and distributing electricity at the right levels. 

When demand is near or above their maximum output capacity, they may intentionally restrict the flow of electricity in certain areas resulting in what is referred to as a brownout. 

This is done in order to prevent major damage to the grid or the properties it supplies with energy. 

A blackout can do much more damage than a brownout which is why the electricity provider may intentionally cause a brownout to avoid a blackout. 

Are brownouts common in Australia?

Brownouts are not that common in Australia.

Generally, they occur more often during heavy storm systems and the cold winter and scorching summer days when there is increased power use.

How do I protect my property from brownouts?

Brownouts can cause damage to your properties electrical system and all appliances plugged in at the time the brownout occurs. 

We recommend getting a surge protector installed in your property as this will ensure when the power is restored to its normal levels it doesn’t cause a momentary surge that can frazzle your stuff. 


What is a blackout?

Unlike brown outs, electrical blackouts occur when there’s a complete main power supply failure. 

In the event of an electrical blackout (also commonly referred to as a power outage), the power in your property will go out completely for the duration of the electrical issue. 

Electrical blackouts can last anywhere from milliseconds to minutes to hours and in some cases even days. 

How does a blackout occur?

Electrical blackouts or power outages are often the result of major technical issues, severe weather (storms, lighting, etc.), fallen power lines, and more. 

This means that the power can no longer be safely channelled into properties and there will therefore be a power outage until the damage or disturbance has been dealt with. 

However, blackouts can also occur when the demand for electricity outweighs the capacity of the energy supplier, shorting the system and potentially causing damage to the grid (hence why companies sometimes instigate brownouts instead). 

How to protect your home from blackouts 

While most blackouts or power outages in Victoria don’t last more than a day it is important to be prepared in case they do. 

Just think back to the storms in winter, 2021 - in some rural areas the power was out for weeks due to fallen power lines and damage to the electrical grid. 

As the weather and rain seems to accelerate, it is more important than ever to be prepared for the potential of a power outage. 

The best way to prepare for a blackout is to get a whole home backup generator installed. 

Electricity generators will turn on to restore power to your property within seconds of the power outage. 

Generators for your property should alway be installed by a qualified electrician to ensure safe and reliable power. 


Is it a power outage or is the issue just in my home? 

It is important to know if a power outage is the result of a problem with the electrical supply to your area or if it is a problem with your property that may require fixing by an electrician. 

The first way you can do this is by looking at your electrical providers website to check if there is an outage in your area (and an indication of when the electricity will be returned) 

Find the electricity provider for your suburb and visit their website here => POWER OUTAGES VICTORIA

If there is no issue reported in your area, take a look outside to see if it looks like the electricity is out for everyone else. If it is then you will need to call your electricity provider to report the outage so they can start to work on it. 

If it seems like the outage is only occurring on your property you will need to call a licensed electrician. They will be able to locate the root of the electrical problem in your property and fix it. 


Dealing with damage caused by blackouts or brownouts

Unfortunately, both blackouts and brownouts can cause damage to your property. 

If you think your property has sustained damage after a blackout or brownout you will need to get a qualified electrician to assess the damage and ensure the safety of your electrical system. 

Here at 181 Electrical, our team of qualified Melbourne Electricians are trained to respond to all manners of electrical emergencies including power outages, brownouts and power surges whether your property is residential or commercial.

Contact us on 0403 734 299 or use the button below to book an appointment now!

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