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Facilities Are Hit Hard when Extreme Weather Disrupts Power

Feb 14, 2024 | Public | 0 comments

This winter, frigid temperatures, high winds, and frozen precipitation across the country triggered record blackouts for homes and businesses, disrupted travel plans, and even delayed the meticulously scheduled NFL playoffs. As extreme weather events grow in frequency and intensity, power outages are becoming more common. These disruptions lead to essential businesses shutting down and lost revenue. Additionally, they can negatively impact health and safety. One solution to these disruptions is on-site backup power.

What Types of Losses Might Facilities Face?

Business losses from power outages can vary. For manufacturing facilities, a power loss can not only disrupt production, but it can also lead to defects that render products unusable. Electric motors and other electrical equipment are susceptible to damage even when the power is only out for even a few minutes; not to mention the time it takes to restart production.

Losses of power can also cause health and safety issues for employees and customers. If the weather is extreme, workers can get overheated or experience hypothermia. In hospitals, medical devices can fail, or workers may be unable to sterilize equipment properly or keep medicines at the proper temperature. For this reason, there are mandates in place requiring hospitals with patients on life support to have backup generators in place, but these only provide protection for a portion of the facility, leaving unprotected areas exposed to risk.

Water infrastructure is also vulnerable to power outages. An outright loss of power makes water pumps entirely unusable, cutting off water supply to the community. Additionally, the resulting loss of system pressure is harmful because there is a risk of microbes and bacteria infiltrating the water supply. This may prompt the utility to issue a boil water notice until the water supply is returned to normal.

Loss of reputational risk is another broad category of loss, causing customers and the public to lose faith in the organization’s ability to provide quality service. But the inverse is also true. If a business doesn’t lose power when others do, that business can become a beacon for the community and see greater market share. For example, during a lengthy power outage, a neighborhood grocery store offering fresh food, water, medicine, and gasoline becomes critical infrastructure—as critical to public health and safety as military facilities and hospitals, and as vital to the continuance of modern life as airports and data centers.

What Is the Financial Cost of a Power Outage?

Naturally, all the aforementioned factors can contribute to lost revenue and profit, though the amount can vary based on the industry and other factors. Businesses often don’t realize what their potential financial loss from a power outage will be until they experience one. For example, a plastic manufacturer saw the value of backup power for their business when a short power outage caused the equipment to gum up and operational recovery took weeks.

Technology- and service-oriented businesses may face reduced productivity or a complete halt to operations during an outage. Companies relying on digital systems may experience data loss or corruption, necessitating data recovery efforts and potential financial losses associated with downtime. Businesses dependent on a smooth supply chain operation may face delays in deliveries, leading to potential penalties or contract breaches. Disruptions like these can result in a loss of revenue upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour.

What Backup Power Options Are Available and How Do They Compare?

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind are becoming increasingly common for cleaner grid supply. But they can be space intensive and intermittent, meaning that battery storage is required to have continuous power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Unfortunately, most batteries that are available today can only supply energy for a few hours, and while costs are decreasing, energy storage systems can still be a costly upgrade for facilities.

Diesel generators are the standard backup power solution for businesses, but not only do they require fossil fuels, they aren’t as reliable as people think. Rarely do businesses properly maintain their generator to keep it ready when it is needed. When the power goes out, the diesel generator may fail to start, or they may find that the fuel is gummed up or contaminated. Unfortunately, by the time they learn the generator isn’t working properly and that maintenance is required, it’s too late, leaving them stranded without backup power.

Facilities with diesel generators can also experience fuel shortages or run out of fuel entirely during extended outages. When this occurs during extreme weather events, they may face additional obstacles like high demand for a limited supply of fuel and impassable roads due to ice, flooding, or downed trees. Dual-purpose microgrids powered by natural gas have a dependable and generally unlimited fuel supply through existing below-ground infrastructure.

Dual-purpose microgrids not only generate backup power for the facility; they can operate in support of the grid at large during non-power outage periods when the grid is stressed. This keeps the microgrids tuned up and ready for when they’re needed. They are typically powered by fuel sources that are cleaner than diesel, such as natural gas or even renewable natural gas, and are equipped to integrate with any on-site renewables—such as solar and batteries.

Extreme cold isn’t the only factor that can put stress on the grid; extreme heat is equally taxing, causing loads to be higher than the grid can support. Additionally, if a transmission line is out, that can also cause a shortfall of supply to end users. By monitoring these conditions, owners and operators of dual-purpose microgrids can even generate a revenue stream by selling power back to the grid during times of high demand.

How Can We Prepare for the Future?

From EVs to smart buildings, it has become clear that society will continue to adopt electrification. As a result, demands on the grid will only intensify. And while today’s power grid lacks the capacity to support those needs, business owners, utility providers, and communities are becoming acutely aware of the growing dilemma. Distributed energy resources like microgrids, which can be deployed today, are proving to be viable solutions that can deliver reliable and sustainable backup power for a wide range of energy consumers.

With more than 30 years of experience in commercial and industrial energy services and technology, Allan Schurr is chief commercial officer of microgrid solutions provider Enchanted Rock. Schurr is also a registered Professional Engineer in the State of California and a co-inventor on seven patents related to distributed energy.

The post Facilities Are Hit Hard when Extreme Weather Disrupts Power appeared first on Facilities Management Advisor.

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