UK businesses hit by rising number of power outages

21 Apr 2016

The number of power outages in the UK rose dramatically last year, resulting in widespread productivity losses across industry, the latest Blackout Tracker report has revealed. 

In total, there were 640 outages in 2015, a marked increase on the 537 incidents recorded in 2014. The report also found that a total of 2,564,827 people were affected by the outages, which lasted for an average of 50 minutes. 

The statistics in the Blackout Tracker highlight the problem of unreliable electricity supply at a time when the UK’s ageing energy infrastructure is coming under increasing pressure. 

A report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) warns that as many older coal-fired power stations are shut down, the UK is facing a 40-55 per cent electricity supply gap, resulting in the likelihood of more frequent power outages. 

Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and lead author of the report said as the UK population rises and with the greater use of electricity use in transport and heating it looks "almost certain that electricity demand is going to rise". 

He said, “However with little or no focus on reducing electricity demand, the retirement of the majority of the country’s ageing nuclear fleet, recent proposals to phase out coal-fired power by 2025 and the cut in renewable energy subsidies, the UK is on course to produce even less electricity than it does at the moment.” 

Fragile networks

Steve Spicer, IT Segment Lead, UK, says that the spike in the number of outages highlighted by the Blackout Tracker report emphasises how fragile the UK power networks are becoming, increasing the need for businesses to develop an adequate power protection plan. 

Spicer said, “Businesses are being hugely inconvenienced by an unreliable power supply. Outages lead to downtime, and that costs money. For example, on average, a medium sized data centre will experience over three downtime events each year, with the average power cut lasting over three and half hours. 

"Based on this, the total cost for downtime will be over 66,170 euros per hour. With the ability to cause irreparable damage and irretrievable loss of revenue in a matter of minutes, downtime is, in a word, disastrous. 

“Eaton has been using the Blackout Tracker tool to report on power outages for eight years, and the number of incidents has risen steadily over time. That upward trend suggests this is not a problem that is going to go away any time soon and both reports indicate that unreliable power supply could have a huge impact on British businesses over the medium-term. Company owners need to ensure that continuity can be maintained when these outages do occur.”

In terms of geographic regions, the South East of England suffered the most blackouts, with 124 incidents in 2015. The South West of England endured the second highest number of blackouts (98), while the North West of England saw the lights go out 75 times across the year. 

The Blackout Tracker reveals that the most significant outage occurred on 10 January 2015 when one million people across the North East of Scotland were left in the dark after a huge storm toppled power lines. 

On the 21 July, meanwhile, 135,000 people in and around Havering in Greater London were left without power after a fire damaged electrical cables. 

The report also highlights some of the more unusual causes of outages, including a combine harvester bringing down power lines in Diss, Norfolk, and a squirrel chewing through power cables in Yeovil, Somerset, cutting electricity to 1,000 customers. 

Companies can also make the most of Eaton’s Blackout and Power Outage Tracker, an online tool that enables users to discover how vulnerable the power grid in their area is to outages.

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