Following news last month from South America, where the majority of electrical power was lost in areas of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, which left 50 million people without electricity.
Following this calamity, we have had a think about whether this sort of catastrophe could ever happen in the UK, a country which is seemingly ran off electricity, from businesses operating from computer systems, down to the youngest generation playing video games and talking on Facebook.
So far, an entire grid shutdown has never happened in Britain, but there have been warnings that this could soon change, and the odds on such happening over the next five years have never been lower.
One of our biggest manufacturers, Riello, have created their own Blackout Report which looks at possible causes of power supply issues, consisting of extreme weather such as flooding or strong winds impacting the transmission lines, terrorists targeting electrical infrastructure such as substations, and geomagnetic space weather storms that play havoc with global satellite systems.
Whether you believe in global warming and climate change or not, the United Kingdom has seen some different behaviour in the weather over the past couple of years, from snowing in April to heatwaves the following March.
Alongside these physical issues, there is also a massive vulnerability from cyber terrorists, such as hackers and malware creators, that target our power supplies and smart grids, which have seen a dramatic increase in demand following the vast increase of internet connected devices in the country. An example of the impacts that this could have follows the Russian cyber-attack of 2015, which left 250,000 Ukrainian residents without power. The potential damage that this holds now have been branded the name ‘Cyber Cold War’, which has also had rumours to being linked to president Trumps appointment in 2016.
Before you think, ‘Will this ever happen to the United Kingdom?’, the UK actually experienced its own minor power grid cyber-attack on 8 June 2017, the same day the country voted in the General Election.
So what would happen then if the grid was to go down?
If the grid was to go down, then the protocol the nation’s experts would follow is known as a ‘Black Start’, which states it could take potentially a week for the power to be 100% restored. During this procedure, the power would be rationed by limiting electricity to certain areas of the country for three hours at a time each day, which is similar to the famous “Three Day Week” in 1974.
Riello’s report has outlined some of the potential drastic consequences of the United Kingdom being without power, which consists of:
Mobile phone coverage lost within a couple of hours
Transport systems grind to a halt
Hospitals and care homes overwhelmed as electrical devices stop working
Businesses crippled with electronic payment systems offline
And ultimately a breakdown of law and order as panic spreads