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Phoney fear over power cuts

Since the very first DCD conference near Tower Bridge we have been talking about power shortages in the UK, causing rolling blackouts, doom, gloom and disaster. Every year, every month, yet another prediction arrived that the lights were about to be turned off. The fact is that the predictions never turned into reality, so far at least. Why don’t people talk about the 20 percent reduction in domestic power over the past five years or our old heavy industries that gobbled up our power but have been decimated by cheap imports from places that have cheap labour, scant regard for their environment or workforce conditions, health or safety?

I guess everyone has an agenda – just like the press release the other day from a well-known (and usually respected) German electrical conglomerate advising us Brits that we should stay in the EU. They clearly want to make sure that our market remains open to them – even though they make most of their goods in China and have exported German jobs, to the detriment of their own country, in the process (but enough of that)

Power lines

Source: Thinkstock / zhengzaishuru

Power outages - really?

The reason for putting pen to paper today is the catchy headline ‘UK hit by rising number of power outages’ that appeared in a trade-mag ‘Power & Cooling, Energy Management’ on Apr 22nd. Could it be that the regular prediction is turning into reality?

Having read the whole thing, I don’t think so. It transpires that, according to Eaton’s ‘Blackout Tracker’, the number of power outages in the UK rose dramatically last year: ‘In total, there were 640 outages in 2015, a marked increase on the 537 incidents recorded in 2014’ and that a total of 2,564,827 [Amazing accuracy!] people were affected by the outages, which lasted for an average of 50 minutes.

50 minutes? I live at the end of a long overhead radial feed up in the hills and I expect outages but an ‘average’ of 50 minutes implies hundreds of the usual short 3-second interruptions and quite a few much longer than a couple of hours. I don’t recognise the UK in these numbers so I read on with interest…

According to the article, 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’.

This is of course just a sales pitch for PQ (power quality) spending. But the ‘Tracker’ appears to track news items about blackouts, not data from the network - and then the following statement in the report hit me firmly between the eyes:

“For example, on average, a medium sized data center will experience over three downtime events each year, with the average power cut lasting over three and half hours… with the ability to cause irreparable damage and irretrievable loss of revenue in a matter of minutes, downtime is, in a word, disastrous.”

Ten hours per data center?

That is over 10 hours per year on ‘average’ per facility. Do you recognise this statement? The utility has no way of targeting data centers so every other facility in the vicinity will suffer the same. That is the neighbourhood of over 100,000 ‘medium sized’ data centers. I think not but would love to get your comments.

Of course a blackout in a ‘medium sized’ data center won’t lose anything as that is what their generators are for but I haven’t heard of every data center in the country last year burning 10 hours of diesel. Anyway, until I hear to the contrary, if you want to have fun with your calculator perhaps you could rationalise the report’s claim that; ‘Based on this, the total cost for downtime will be over €66,170 per hour’? Have fun but try and match the accuracy of that figure, down to the final €170 euros.

In conclusion I can only speculate that the editorial office of the magazine did not suffer a blackout . Maybe it’s  they aren’t near a data center.





Readers' comments (1)

  • Interesting article. Most of the outages I have experienced have been as a result of failures within the power protection systems within the data center not the grid. Aren't these the very systems that are supposed to protect the data center from external failures!

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  • Good point!

    Of course, we may never know how many potential outages you didn't see, because the power protection systems happened to work that time... :-)

    Peter Judge

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