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What can cause power outages (and how to protect against them)?

A reliable power supply is crucial for factories to maintain uninterrupted operations. Any power outage can lead to delays in production, resulting in significant losses in terms of productivity and revenue.

Understanding the causes of power outages helps you to prepare effectively for potential disruptions. Appropriate measures can be taken to mitigate the impact of outages and ensure continuity of essential services.

What causes power outages?

Power outages and disruptions can occur for several reasons and it’s important to understand all potential causes and the likelihood of them occurring.

Natural causes: Severe weather conditions such as storms, lightning strikes, and heavy snow or ice accumulation can bring down power lines. Power can also be affected by geological events such as earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions (although these types of events are less likely in the UK).

Equipment failure: Ageing infrastructure, mechanical breakdowns, and overloading or overheating of systems and equipment can cause power outages. Inadequate or faulty wiring will also impact power quality.

Human error and interference: Power outages can also be caused by accidental damage to power lines or equipment, or construction work interference. There’s also a risk of intentional sabotage, vandalism, or cyberattacks.

Grid vulnerabilities: The UK grid is pretty robust, but it’s not immune to faults. Issues with centralised or localised power distribution systems, lack of redundancy and resilience, or vulnerabilities to cascading failures could all disrupt supply at a national or local level.

The importance of a reliable power supply

Long-term power outages can cause major financial problems for manufacturers, but even short-term power fluctuations can be detrimental, especially if surges or outages are frequent.

Equipment functionality: Frequent power fluctuations or outages can damage machinery or equipment, leading to costly repairs or replacements.

Quality control: Many manufacturing processes require a stable power supply to ensure consistent product quality and compliance with industry standards. Fluctuations in power can result in defective products or inconsistencies in production output.

Employee safety: Power outages can pose safety risks to your employees, especially in environments where heavy machinery or hazardous materials are involved. Reliable power can minimise the risk of accidents.

Supply chain management: Disruptions in power supply can lead to delays in fulfilling orders, impacting the entire supply chain and potentially damaging relationships with clients.

How to protect against power outages

While you might not be able to prepare for every possible eventuality, there are steps you can take to protect your business from the negative effects of a power outage.

Risk assessments: The first step to protecting your business is understanding the risk. What are the most likely causes of a power outage in your factory? How can you reduce the risk of power outages? How would your operations be impacted by a power outage? Where are you most vulnerable? How long could your business operate without full power? Understanding the risks and assessing the impact can help you put a business continuity plan in place.

Resource allocation: Understanding the potential causes of power outages will help you allocate resources more efficiently. You can prioritise investment in infrastructure upgrades, maintenance, and resilience measures based on the most likely causes of outages and the areas of your factory that would be impacted most significantly.

Policy development: What policies do you have in place to protect operations against power outages? Do you have a business continuity plan and emergency procedures to minimise the impact? Who is responsible for investigating (and potentially resolving) power outages? Who is responsible for implementing the business continuity plan?

Infrastructure upgrades: If your infrastructure is outdated, your business will be more vulnerable to power supply issues. Consider modernising your infrastructure and implementing smart grid technologies.

Regular maintenance and inspections: Don’t scrimp on maintenance. Keeping your equipment and machinery in optimal condition can prevent unnecessary breakdowns and faults that could have a knock-on effect on your power supply.

Diversify energy sources: Consider generating your own power using renewable sources such as wind or solar, either as a main source of energy or as a backup. Battery energy storage systems (BESS) can be used to store excess power and reduce reliance on the grid.

Invest in surge protectors: Surge protection devices, such as surge suppressors, can help mitigate the risks associated with power surges. These devices should be installed at critical points in your electrical distribution system.

Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems: UPS systems provide backup power during voltage fluctuations, power outages, and surges. They safeguard against immediate disruptions and give you time to shut down equipment or switch to alternative power sources safely.

Combining a UPS with a generator system can be beneficial – the UPS will keep connected devices operational until the generator kicks in.

Battery storage systems can also be configured as an uninterruptible power supply. They can only store a limited amount of power, but this can be enough for you to safely shut down critical systems or transition to your backup power supply.

MD Lee shaking hands with Ben on 10 year's service in front of AES van

Work with AES

AES offers all the electrical contracting services you would expect, coupled with specialist services specifically for manufacturing businesses. We are also CompEx accredited, allowing us to work in hazardous areas.

We can install, maintain and service any electrical wiring and equipment, including power surge protection devices and UPS systems. Plus, we can conduct a power quality assessment to help you identify potential vulnerabilities and areas of improvement.

Our services can be scaled to meet the needs of your business, from ongoing planned maintenance and fault repair to machinery installation and factory relocation.

And we provide expert advice and recommendations on energy reduction, control and automation, and safety compliance.

Contact our friendly team to discuss your electrical requirements.