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Takeaways from Eaton’s 2017 Blackout Tracker

Since 2008, power equipment provider Eaton has collated and released an annual report called the Eaton Blackout Tracker. This report compiles annual power outage causes and associated impacts in the United States. The report’s purpose is to provide greater awareness of the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid, the types of losses outages can cause, and the importance of managing risks associated with outages. The most-recent 2017 Blackout Tracker Report compiles data from more than 3,500 outages across all 50 states. This report is based on reported power outages from various news services, newspaper reports, websites and personal accounts. The 2017 report marks the 10th and final year that Eaton will provide this report. Here are the 5 main takeaways to pay attention to when reviewing this year’s report.

        1. Downtime from Power Outages Costs More and Affects More People Than Ever

The total number of outages is 9% less than last year’s report, but the number of people affected by outages more than doubled, increasing by almost 19 million over just 1 year.

A new Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) study estimates that, currently, every 60 minutes of downtime costs a company an average of $100,000. Since 2008, this cost has gone up more than 25%.

In addition to straight monetary losses, negative effects on a company’s reputation can have reverberating effects for years in lost revenue. Many additional factors can determine how much your company is affected by an outage, including total annual revenue, business type, the number of people affected, outage duration, and time and day of outage.

Here is a quick snapshot of the main power outage data overview from Eaton’s 2017 report:

Total Number of people affected by outages= 36,179,833

Total duration of outages= 284,086 minutes (or 197 days.) Remember: every 60 minutes of downtime costs a company an average of $100,000. That’s about $472,800,000 worth of loss!

Total Number of outages= 3,526

Average number of people affected per outage= 10,261

Average duration of outage= 81 minutes

California has had the most reported outages for the last 3 years of the study. California is also the top state for weather-related outages from 2014-2017. Texas was number 2 and New York was number 3 for the same 3 years.

data center, unhappy man, outage
The cost from prolonged data center outages can easily sink an unprepared company.

       2. Data Center Outages Can Sink Your Company

One type of business that can be especially affected by power outages is data centers. In 2016, the Ponemon Institute released their most recent Cost of Data Center Outages report.

-63 organizations were polled that had experienced outages within the last 12 months.

-The average cost of a data center outage was $740,357. This number was up 38% from 2010. The increase in downtime costs over the same period was far greater, up 81% to $2,409,991.

UPS failure, including UPS units and batteries, is the number 1 cause of unplanned data center outages, accounting for 25% of these events. It is critical to have well maintained, monitored, and properly sized UPS equipment in any data center space.

-Cyber crime is the fastest growing cause of data center outages, up from 2% in 2010 to 22% in the current study.

The most expensive costs from data center outages may be the lasting effects post-outage. Business disruption, lost revenue, end-user productivity, IT productivity, ex-post activities and equipment costs all came up as difficulties in the report for businesses after an outage.

       3. Outages From Natural Disasters are Becoming Larger and More Frequent

Of the top 10 most significant U.S. blackouts cited by the report, 9 of the 10 were weather related and 3 of the 10 were related to a large natural disaster. Hurricane Irma (a Category 5 hurricane,) Hurricane Harvey (a Category 4 hurricane,) and the Sonoma County, California wildfire collectively affected over 8 million people with power outages and took weeks to restore power.

       4. Man Made Outages Can be Lengthy and Can Cause Additional Health Hazards

Some man made outages, such as those related to construction, can cascade into additional hazards that take much longer to resolve. On July 27, 2017, a company charged with building a bridge in North Carolina’s Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands drove a steel casing into underground transmission cables, effectively cutting off all power to the islands for 8 days. On March 11, 2017, a power outage in Commerce City, Colorado, caused malfunctions at a nearby oil refinery, which triggered large releases of hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide gas into the air. City streets were closed and air monitoring trucks had to be set up in nearby areas until the gas dissipated.

       5. Innovation is Helping to Reduce Power Outage Issues and Improve Preparation

Speed and precision are key to helping areas affected by outages recover. Many communities are now making use of drones to help assess power grid damage, and to provide fast transmission of video from affected areas and to aid visual inspections. Drones also cut down on manpower requirements for utilities in remote and rural areas, and can bolster the security grid through routine flights. Oklahoma Gas & Electric is reviewing using drones to inspect the inside of power plant equipment, like boilers and stacks, for increased safety.

drone, phantom 4
Drones may be key to improving power outage prevention.

Other communities are looking at hydrogen fuel cell generators for production of auxiliary power. Fueled by cylinders of industrial grade hydrogen, these generators emit no carbon dioxide and run 10 times longer than existing power sources. They can also recharge batteries until the grid comes back online.

Aside from innovation, how can you help your business combat potential outages? The key is to be as prepared as possible. Take time annually to assess your current back-up power solution and disaster recovery/business continuity planning and test it out. Make sure your UPS, generator, and back-up lighting equipment is sized properly and maintained and tested regularly.

Not sure where to begin? Contact the Certified Power Quality Professionals at QPS to help assess potential issues and come up with the best solution for your business.