Electricity: How long could we survive without it?

Imagine life without electricity. Would you be able to get to work, cook, or heat your house? If you live in an urban area the answer is most likely no. Digitalisation is changing the way we live, with more automated and internet-connected devices than ever before, making the effects of power failure far greater. European cities are poorly prepared for power outages. The report “Electricity: how long could we survive without it?” explores how our cities would be affected by extended power outages and how vulnerability to power failures can be reduced.  

Power outages occur for many reasons. Power lines can be brought down during storms or by heavy snow, falling trees or even bent branches. Power lines are also susceptible to extreme heat. Power plant operators present a human error risk, and ageing components in electricity infrastructure may also cause power outages. In the most severe cases, power plants may be affected by an accident or, for example, fire, where malfunction of a single piece of equipment may result in widespread disruption, potentially resulting in fuel shortages or a lack of other important resources. Climate change will likely result in more extreme weather, increasing the risk of power outages.

Power outages pose serious problems in terms of safety, domestic life, transportation, work, heating, nutrition, leisure and healthcare. European cities are dependent on electricity to function. How can we become less vulnerable to power failures and mitigate their effects on urban areas?