Expert warns millions of remote workers face blackouts this winter

Alison Hammond discusses potential blackouts

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An expert has made an alarming prediction after the cold snap triggered major blackouts across the UK, which he said should come as a warning for millions of remote workers and vulnerable Britons who could face more power cuts this winter. As the freezing Arctic air arrived on UK shores this week, thousands were left without heating in Shetland, which was plunged into -5C temperatures as significant snowfall triggered power cuts. 

Over 2,800 residents had no power overnight as they waited for more engineers to arrive on the island this morning. But even down south, the cold Arctic wave managed to trigger outages across Surrey, Sussex, Kent, London and Essex over the weekend, according to operator UK Power Networks. 

Andrew Lawton, CEO at Reskube, the infrastructure resilience expert, said these events should come as a warning for millions of vulnerable people and home workers could fall into the same predicament as temperatures plummet.

He said:As we are now seeing, power cuts are a reality for millions across the UK each winter. That’s with the threat of widespread blackouts still looming large.

“This toughest of winters comes at a time when remote working is firmly embedded across the British workforce. It means that power and network outages are more than just a passing irritation.

“They are a significant business threat. Workforces face a real risk to their operations and productivity as critical and day-to-day work is affected. This isn’t just an issue for the at-home office worker.”

But it is not just the cold weather that has raised the prospect of blackouts. In fact, National Grid has drafted an emergency plan which would see Britons subjected to three-hour periods of rolling blackouts in the coldest winter months if the UK fails to shore up enough energy imports from Europe. 

Meanwhile, the alarm was raised this week when the National Grid put two coal units at Drax’s Yorkshire power plant on standby as a backup in case the grid was unable to cope with plunging temperatures and slashed imports from France. However, it later canceled the order and urged people to keep using energy as normal. 

Although the supplies were kept secure yesterday, there is still a small chance that National Grid’s plan could come into effect in January and February on the “deepest, darkest winter evenings”, the operator’s boss has previously warned. 

Under the plan, which can be found in the firm’s Winter Outlook, blackouts would be rolled out across different regions at different times to avoid a complete outage and shutdown of the grid. People would likely not be able to use power or heating during peak hours, typically 4pm to 7pm. 

But Mr Lawton stressed that power cuts can be devastating, particularly for those who spend the majority of their day inside their homes. He said: “It impacts groups such as vulnerable people who may need to work away from the office, people providing in-home care, or satellite locations like remote medical centres.

“Earlier this year, two in three UK remote workers said they had suffered from a recent internet or power outage. It’s entirely likely that this winter, that number will be even higher. But the vast majority of remote workers do not currently have a setup that is comparable to an office environment.  

 “Put simply, employers and their workforces must assume that it’s a question of when, and not if, outages affect them. Now is the time to ensure their infrastructure is ready to deal with it.”

But there are steps people can take to keep their power running even if they have been shut-off from the grid. For instance, a portable battery pack known as the as the 757 Powerhouse model costs around £1,400 and can recharge a portable fridge for 22 hours.

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Anker Innovations Technology usually sells its power station products to the US, which experiences a higher volume of power cuts, but UK customers have reportedly been flocking to order the power back-ups at alarming rates. In October, the firm said its sales were up to three times higher in October than in the previous month.

Anker’s PR manager Lorna Smith told Bloomberg: “It has been a slow uptake in the UK because we haven’t had [storms and blackouts] before, but now we’ve seen quite an increase over the past couple of months with all the warnings of power cuts.”

Another battery made by Anker, the PowerHouse 1229Wh, can provide power backup for lights for eight hours, the fridge for 2.7 hours, the TV for nine hours and a microwave for an hour and a half.

Despite the warnings from the National Grid, ministers have stressed that the UK’s “highly secure and diverse gas and electricity system” has prepared the country for “all and every eventuality”. 

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