The number of power outages in the UK has more than doubled in the past year, potentially costing UK businesses hundreds of thousands of pounds according to Eaton’s latest Blackout Tracker report. In 2013 there were 505 reported outages, compared to 246 in the preceding 12 months. Over 2.2 million people were affected with the average outage lasting just over three hours.
The consensus from the energy community is that the situation will get even more severe. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, in a report produced for the government late last year, the threat of blackouts will grow as the UK faces a diminishing capacity margin and insecurity of supply. The capacity margin, the difference between the amount of power that can be generated and peak demand, is likely to fall as older coal-fired power stations come out of service in 2015 and newer power stations scheduled to take their place are not coming on stream fast enough. In addition, the UK now relies heavily on gas to generate electricity, with 15 per cent of imports from Russia travelling through pipelines from the Ukraine region.
Aside from the macro influences, according to the Eaton report the cause of blackouts can range from explosions to sneezes. An explosion at Regeley Power Station in the West Midlands left 120,000 customers without electricity, while in Billericay a Range Rover driver blamed a sneeze for a crash in which he collided with a wooden electricity pole leaving 600 homes without power.
Exact figures on how much power outages cost UK businesses are hard to come by, but according to Dunn & Bradstreet, 59% of Fortune 500 companies experienced a minimum of 1.6 hours downtime a week costing them $46m annually. Even for smaller enterprises the benefits of investing in power back-up solutions to protect critical systems would seem to be a business imperative.
Regionally the South East of England topped the list with 93 outages, the third consecutive year it has fared the worst, but it was Scotland that suffered the greatest rise with five times the number of outages it had suffered the previous two years. The annual report uses reported power outage information from news services, newspapers, websites and personal accounts to analyse the impact of power outages in the UK.
The report advises that the most important thing a business can do is to develop a power protection plan. This can range from small uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) to models for large data centres. Other options include standby and portable power generators as well as surge protection devices.