Losses, breakdowns, downtime: the consequences of an emergency power outage and ways to neutralize them

Stable electricity supply remains a sore subject for humanity, and not only developing countries suffer from its interruptions and sudden blackouts. For example, in 2019, in the list of 20 countries with the highest quality of electricity supply, the United States took the last place, behind Bahrain, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. Russia did not even enter this top 20. Therefore, in this post we decided to talk about blackouts, accidents and unplanned power outages, as well as their consequences for ordinary residents and businesses.

Electricity is the most important resource today. We realize this when one day we discover that without electricity we have no water, no heat, no fresh food, no connection with the outside world at home, and there is no normal traffic and lighting in the city. This is a very unpleasant picture for an ordinary person, and for business and industrial enterprises there are also colossal losses. One could object and say that planned outages and accidents do not occur so often, but world statistics refute this.

Power outages statistics in Russia and the world

According to the data of the interregional distribution grid companies (IDGC) of the Russian Federation, the number of power outages not related to planned repairs and modernization of power grids in Russia in 2017 alone exceeded 20,000 in some regions. This is about 55 outages per day, albeit geographically dispersed across the vastness of the country. Translated into the “footage” of power supply networks, for example, in IDGC Center and Volga Region, this is 108.29 outages per 1,000 km of serviced networks (or 29,368 outages per year).

The COVID-19 epidemic this year did not improve the situation: during the period of self-isolation, people began to spend more time at home, in connection with which the load on the electrical network increased, which began to lead to accidents and power outages. In the Moscow region alone, in April 2020, the number of emergency outages increased by 42% (490 cases in 2020 against 345 in 2019). The epidemic also complicates the maintenance of networks and the fight against accidents due to concern for the health of personnel and the reduction in the number of electrical engineers on duty for the period of self-isolation. And this is happening all over the world – in particular, in March and April, messages of this kind appeared on Bloomberg.com and in the UK media.

The economic situation in the country has no less influence on the frequency and intensity of the shutdown. Thus, according to data for 2019, due to power outages in South Africa, “planned” outages regularly occur, which are in fact associated with the energy crisis and the inability of generating and grid companies to fully meet the needs of the population and industry. As a result, the country’s GDP decreased (by 3.1% in the first and by 0.6% in the third quarters), mines – a key part of the country’s economy – were idle, as well as problems with transport and exacerbated political situation.

And in the more economically stable Germany, the active use of “green” energy, on the contrary, led to the fact that the average shutdown time per user per year decreased from 15.0 to 13.9 minutes (over 7%) and continues to fall. However, this is not surprising, given that Germany is one of the countries with the most stable electricity supply.

The main causes of emergency shutdown

To understand the origins of this statistics, it is worth considering the power supply system itself and the causes of accidents in it.

Electricity is generated at power plants of various types, which can be located at a huge distance from the consumer, both for safety reasons and because of the location of the necessary resources. Then this energy is directed through high-voltage transit networks to substations and transformer stations and through distribution networks to direct consumers. The total length of these networks across the country reaches tens and hundreds of thousands of kilometers, and an accident at any major hub means that the end consumer has a chance to be left without electricity.

It should be understood that the causes of accidents and interruptions can be not only “mechanical” effects, but also, for example, a sharp imbalance between the production and consumption of electricity in a certain region. Due to such an imbalance, a decrease in the frequency of the current in the network and its voltage can occur, which leads to a failure of automation at substations.

Conditionally, the causes of accidents can be divided into several types:

  • a sharp increase in electricity consumption – too active use of air conditioners in summer and electric heaters in winter can overload the power grid, creating the same imbalance that leads to accidents and failures in the system;
  • wear and tear of equipment and the human factor – untimely repair and modernization of equipment, lack of resources for constant monitoring of the state of networks and errors in setting up and repairing power supply subsystems also often lead to accidents and even large-scale blackouts around the world;
  • natural phenomena and disasters – wire breaks during storms and hurricanes, lightning strikes to distribution booths, power lines and substations, and their destruction due to natural disasters regularly cause accidents and power outages.

Blackouts big and small

The most large-scale result of power outages is considered to be a blackout, that is, a massive power outage in a relatively large area with a significant coverage of users.

In Russia, large blackouts do not happen often, but among the well-known ones it is worth noting the accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station, which occurred in August 2009 due to fatigue and destruction of metal structures, and led to a short-term shutdown of a number of industrial enterprises in Siberia and a lack of power supply in settlements of several regions of the country.

In the United States, one of the largest blackouts was the “Night of Fear” in New York in July 1977, when lightning during a major thunderstorm struck several substations on the banks of the Hudson at once and the city was de-energized for almost a day. This blackout got its name not because of the shutdown time (about ten in the evening), but because of the riots and looting that swept the city. Interestingly, on the same day, July 13, already in 2019, another large-scale blackout took place in the city, but without such catastrophic consequences.

The causes of accidents and blackouts are sometimes innocuous enough. For example, in Florida in 2019, a blackout and almost 40-minute delay in a major baseball game was caused by a bird’s nest falling into a local substation, and in May of that year, a snake climbed into a circuit breaker at a substation in Green County, Tennessee, leaving no electricity. 000 consumers.

Implications for electricity consumers

From funny (and not so) cases of major accidents and blackouts, let’s move on to their consequences for consumers, which cannot be called funny anymore. For the average citizen of the country, a short-term power outage can be an unpleasant surprise, as a result of which, for example, a smartphone, laptop or tablet is discharged, and food in the refrigerator will defrost. It is much worse if there was a sharp power surge before the shutdown, and there are no automatic switches installed at home that can compensate for this. Then in the consequences you can add burned out household appliances and electrical appliances, the replacement and repair of which will cost much more.

For business and production, the consequences are usually much more serious: firms lose access to their documents and databases, transferred to the “cloud” or simply in digital form, network infrastructure and communication with servers are disconnected, reputational risks and problems with clients arise. which it is impossible to sign a contract on time or transfer funds in financial software. The consequences for socially important areas, for example, for medicine, are even more severe.

The US Department of Energy estimates that losses from accidents and power outages cost the country’s economy $ 150 billion annually. How are these numbers obtained? They consist of individual losses to businesses and citizens. For example, for a medium-sized data center, every minute of downtime back in 2016 cost almost $ 9,000, that is, a day without electricity due to a large-scale blackout would cost more than $ 12 million!

In production, these figures turn out to be even higher due to the fact that some of the industrial facilities are simply not adapted to an abrupt power outage. Power system disruptions can lead to costly equipment breakdowns and production downtime, supply chain disruptions, huge missed deadlines and repair bills. For example, a January shutdown at a home appliance factory due to a blackout lasting just a minute, according to experts, could cost several million, and a half-hour downtime in 2018 was estimated at almost $ 44 million.

Preventive measures and methods of dealing with the consequences

As with the consequences of outages and blackouts, methods for preventing and mitigating the impact on business and users should be divided into several categories.

For the state, the most important part of preventing blackouts and accidents is to stimulate energy companies to carry out preventive measures and timely maintenance. Monitoring the condition of all infrastructure facilities, adequate funding, monitoring and control of the level of production and consumption of electricity will help to avoid accidents due to the human factor, obsolescence and breakdowns of equipment, and reduce the impact of natural phenomena on electricity supply.

For business, the protection of infrastructure and equipment comes first, therefore the most important methods of struggle remain power redundancy, especially at critical facilities, which ideally should work despite a power outage. This can be helped by specialized UPSs for medium and small businesses. In particular, Eaton’s UPS includes the 5 Series, which includes Eaton’s 5P and 5PX models to protect IT and network equipment.

The Eaton 5PX is a 2200 VA line-interactive UPS with up to 99% efficiency designed to protect servers and network equipment, storage systems and VoIP. Source: Eaton

For consumers, the most important thing is to reduce the impact of sudden voltage surges and preserve their equipment, so that the best solution for residential buildings is high-quality circuit breakers and other protective devices that are able to instantly respond to short circuits, voltage surges and power outages. UPSs and generators are less important in this case, but they will help to correctly shut down PCs or laptops, charge your devices or wait out a short power outage.

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