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Causes of Power Outages

Published by Jason Koffler on 07 March 2019

Unfortunately, as businesses, government, and other organisations have discovered, the increasingly sensitive technology necessary to run modern devices and systems carries more vulnerability. Fluctuations in power supply can cause tremendous damage. Those businesses which rely heavily on IT infrastructure such as datacentres or servers, can find the damage devastating if recovery does not happen quickly.

Understanding potential sources and solutions to power problems can help organisations prepare for, and recover faster from, equipment issues related to power.

Natural Causes

Most threats to power supply come from Mother Nature herself. Sometimes, dramatic and powerful events can cut off power to individuals, communities, and sometimes, in severe cases, an entire grid network.

Severe Weather and Other Natural Disasters

Almost everyone has experienced a weather related power outage. High winds and accumulations of ice can destroy power lines and poles. Snow and rain can create conditions that cause vehicle accidents that also damage power infrastructure.

More threatening to IT infrastructure, however, are direct lightning strikes that can destroy computer systems instantaneously. When lightning hits buildings, electrical lines, or telephone lines, power can surge and overwhelm circuits. Experts recommend that, if possible, owners of computer systems or other electronic gadgets unplug devices during severe thunderstorms to protect against these damaging surges.

Any natural disaster can cause power outages and possible damage to electronics systems. If possible, disconnect any devices from electrical outlets during times of storm or disaster. This will help organisations to avoid damage caused by surges, and other potential problems.

Threats From the Natural Environment Around Equipment

The best environment for electronic devices, the dry climate of the desert, exists nowhere in the British Isles. Instead, many areas experience fluctuating levels of humidity across the year. Humidity and direct exposure to water pose a serious threat to any electronic systems, potentially causing short circuits and power failure. Sensitive systems used in a very damp environment may require installation of specially sealed circuit protection devices.

Dust buildup can also threaten the integrity of power systems. If owners of electronic devices fail to prevent dust buildup around sensitive areas, they could also see short circuits and other issues that could cause power loss and damage.

Grid Issues

Other power supply problems stem from issues with the grid itself. One must remember that these issues can occur due to equipment malfunction or also in connection with natural events, such as lightning strikes. Damage from power fluctuations can threaten sensitive electronics as surely as a natural event.

Brownout

A brownout occurs when overall voltage drops, but does not cease. The most visible sign of a brownout comes when lights dim, but do not go off entirely. Brownouts can occur due to equipment failure or unanticipated spikes in electrical usage in an area.

Brownouts pose serious threats to electronics systems due to fluctuations in voltage. In particular, induction and three-phase electrical motors have high sensitivity to brownout conditions and may overheat.

If a brownout occurs, immediately turn off sensitive devices and, if possible, unplug them from outlets.

Blackout

Blackout refers to a total loss of power in a given area. These most often come as a result of natural weather activity, equipment malfunctions, or incidents such as a vehicle hitting an electricity pylon.

Most of the time, power gets restored without incident. In some cases, however, repair efforts can create similar dangers to those that occur a brownout if the repairs do not bring full voltage to the grid immediately.

Short Circuit

These occur when wiring insulation gets compromised and the electric current begins to follow an alternative path to the original design. Also short circuits can happen when another conductor, such as water, enters the circuit.

Short circuits can lead to damaged components at best. At worst, they cause explosions and fires due to a sudden surge in electricity going into a place not designed to channel or contain it.

Damaging Effects on IT Infrastructure

In recent years, a study indicated that almost a quarter of business IT outages in the United Kingdom occurred because of unreliable power supplies. IT outages can cripple a business or other organisation, as well as harming other companies and individuals relying on their services. As the nation and the globe grow increasingly interconnected, failure in one area has serious consequences in another.

Experts urge any organisation using IT equipment in an essential capacity to have a disaster recovery plan. These plans, when prepared well, provide step by step instructions on how to restore function as quickly as possible.

Even more important than disaster recovery, however, is investing in the kind of equipment that can reduce or eliminate potential damage during times of uncertain power supply. This includes high quality wiring installed by a professional, as well as equipment that can provide consistent voltages while protecting against the damage done by power surges.

Solutions That Save Time and Money

One of the best ways to protect valuable and essential IT infrastructure lies in power management devices and systems.

First, the Riello UPS (uninterrupted power supply) system can help to protect systems from power surges that can occur during lightning strikes, or when service fails and then returns. A UPS system provides seamless transition to battery power in case of outage, while regulating the flow of current to prevent surges from damaging vital electronics. As an approved reseller and service partner for Riello UPS Systems in the UK, we offer their complete range including the Multipower modular UPS, Multisentry, NXE and MHT High Efficiency UPS Solutions.

Eaton markets a variety of products designed to protect from power interruption and its potentially damaging after effects as an approved Reseller and installer for Eaton Solutions we provide free of charge site surveys to help you selec the right product. In addition to UPS systems, we also offer their full range of automatic transfer switches, power management software, and a variety of other products designed to ensure constant and safe flow of electricity.

Edge computing can help to alleviate the dangers caused by centralised data collection and analysis. An edge computing system relies on multiple devices connected to IoT – or Internet of Things – technology. These collect and process data at the “edge” of the network before transferring information to central processors. Decentralisation of function can help boost recovery time since it is highly unlikely that all functions would suffer a power outage at the same time.

As the world grows increasingly interconnected, it relies more heavily on devices vulnerable to power fluctuations. Understanding the sources of outages, the damage they can do, and how to avoid this, can help save time and money.