Riello UPS, a manufacturer of uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), has published a report entitled ‘The Blackout report’, which explores the likelihood of the UK experiencing a nationwide electricity grid failure.
Only last month, a massive power failure across Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay left nearly 50 million people without electricity. According to the report, official government risk assessments state there is a 1-in-200 chance of the UK power grid experiencing a similar complete shutdown in the next five years.
The company’s in-depth report explores the most likely causes of such an incident, from the increased threat of extreme weather including flooding or gales knocking out the network infrastructure, to terrorism, industrial accidents, and geomagnetic space weather storms that play havoc with satellite systems.
It also poses the question as to whether the shift towards ‘smart’ energy grids heightens the UK’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks – similar to when Russian hackers shut down 30 substations in Ukraine in December 2015, leaving 250,000 people without electricity.
State-sponsored hackers, believed to be the Russian-based Dragonfly group, are said to have already infiltrated the UK grid on June 8, 2017 – the day of the General Election. The report addresses this and the rise in fears of an escalating ‘cyber cold war’ – where countries including the US can insert high-grade malware inside energy networks which could potentially be used to turn off entire electricity supplies at a moment’s notice.
The report goes on to examine the process for rebooting the electricity network if a complete system failure ever occurs. Known as a ‘black start’, worst-case contingency planning is that it could take up to five to seven days for power to be fully restored.
Such an incident is likely to be accompanied by rota disconnections, which essentially ration power by cutting off electricity for blocks of three hours at a time. This was last seen on a wide-scale basis in the UK back in the 1970s, notably during the infamous ‘three-day week’.
The Blackout report also investigates the catastrophic consequences of a world without power: mobile phone coverage lost within a couple of hours; transport systems grinding to a halt; hospitals and care homes overwhelmed as electrical devices stop working; businesses crippled as electronic payment systems go offline.
Leo Craig, General Manager, Riello UPS, comments, “We’ve never been as reliant on the internet and interconnectivity, but without the electricity to power this digital world, our whole way of life falls apart at the seams.”
“Many will look at the recent blackout across South America and think ‘that could never happen here’. It’s not necessarily complacency, more perhaps the belief that our infrastructure is more robust and that we’ve committed enough resource towards planning for the worst,” he adds.
“The Blackout report investigates whether these assumptions are true. By thinking the unthinkable, it also poses some critical questions for the Government, the power industry, and wider society, such as whether we’re truly prepared for the ever-changing threats to our electricity supply.”