Electrical Review: What Could Cause A UK Power Cut?

In the aftermath of the huge power failure in South America, we explore whether a UK power cut on the same scale could ever happen?

Only a few weeks ago, 50 million people across Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay were left without electricity following a power failure described by the President of Argentina Mauricio Macri as “unprecedented”.

The incident occurred shortly before Riello UPS launched the Blackout report, our investigation into the likelihood of a prolonged UK-wide power outage.

Our free to download 50+ page document explores what could cause such a power loss, how long it could take to fix, and what the consequences would be for businesses and society at large.

For Electrical Review magazine’s annual Suppliers Guide, we share the 5 most likely causes of a UK power cut.

What Could Cause A Nationwide Power Failure?

The first factor is large-scale systems failures and accidents. This broad category covers everything from software crashes and component fault, through to human error.

Threat number two is space weather, which relates to all the phenomena originating from the Sun i.e. magnetic storms, asteroids, and meteors.

The biggest recorded space weather incident on earth called the Carrington Event took place in 1859. There’s a 1% annual probability for a repeat event on such a scale today, which would cause chaos with telecoms and satellite systems.

SHINING A LIGHT: the Blackout report by Riello UPS explores the likely causes and potentially catastrophic consequences of a prolonged UK-wide power cut

Extreme weather caused by climate change is another major hazard. Current trends point to more weather at extreme ends of the spectrum, such as torrential rainfall, stormy winds, scorching heatwaves, and cold snaps.

High winds cause trees to knock out transmission lines, flooding damages infrastructure and impedes engineer efforts to fix faults, and fluctuating temperatures lead to dangerous spikes in demand.

The final pair of power posers are infrastructure attacks and cyber-attacks. The first of these focuses on the threat of terrorists targeting substations or transmission lines with explosives or other physical weapons.

The latter covers the so-called “New Cold Cyber War” where hackers view power grids as increasingly legitimate targets. Malware shut down 30 substations in Ukraine in December 2015, leaving 250,000 people without power.

While leaked security documents reveal the UK’s electricity network was infiltrated on the day of the 2017 General Election.