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Remote working and the energy crisis – do we need to worry about blackouts?

23rd Jun 2020
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A few days ago, Bedfordshire experienced a downpour of tropical rain that filled our water butts up within minutes.   We also lost electricity and the disruption lasted for much longer than the rain.  The entire neighbourhood was affected, with house alarms going off, video conferences being dropped and home schooled children loosing their focus.

The incident was a rude reminder that those of us working from home must now add the reliability of power to the list of critical issues that impact the resilience and continuity of our businesses.

We were warned that the coronavirus lockdown could cause blackouts due to staff shortages in power networks.  We were warned that population growth, phasing out of old power plants and slow pace of building new ones will come back to haunt us especially in the winter.  Are we sleepwalking into complacency?

Here is what saved me this time around:

Internet: 2 fully charged tethering devices with 4G network access.

Computer: A fully charged laptop.

Power: A portable power bank for mobile devices.

Servers: We are already 100% cloud based and use highly resilient and secure AWS infrastructure for client data storage.

The above allowed me to keep working for an hour and a half – just long enough to see the power come back on.  

How can I cope if the shortage lasts for longer?  In full lockdown conditions, probably not very well.  Without a lockdown I could have driven to a friend or a relative with a spare room and a working power socket.  This could work as a one-off but with repeated requests, reciprocity arrangements and concomittant social interations the scheme would quickly evolve into a party.  I am actually quite starved of those but on this occasion I am more worried about business continuity.

How about a more permanent solution such as solar panels combined with a home-energy storage system?  The technology is relatively new and rather expensive.  Suppliers include Tesla, Samsung, EDF Energy, Eon and Ovo. Which? Analysed the market and reported that most consumers paid £4,000-£7,000 for the storage system.  Solar panels cost between £3,000-£15,000.   At a first glance this does sound expensive although reframing the investment as an ‘insurance against losing large deals’ makes it look rather affordable.  Especially if my accountant confirms that I can treat it as a business expense.

On a more general note, micro energy production and storage is likely to become a major element of 'the workplace of the future' irrespective of where it is located: in your converted garrage or a downtown office.  

So, how ready are you for the next blackout?