How will your business prepare for a blackout this Black Friday?


As Black Friday approaches, many businesses will be gearing up for one of the busiest weekends of the year. Despite the American craze seeming to die down slightly over the last year or so, predictions of a multi-billion pound shopping extravaganza are still rife.  

But while retailers are busy planning on how to maximise revenue, what if the unthinkable happened and, at dawn on Friday morning, the power cuts out? Suddenly, it’s not about the profits you could be making, but the money you’re losing.

A recent survey carried out by British Gas Business found that only 17% of businesses believed power loss would be a threat to their business. Only one in six managers considered a loss of energy as a greater business risk than security issues and only around a fifth had measures in place to mitigate risk of heating and water loss.

It’s shocking that such a small number of business owners are concerned with the impact a loss of power could have. According to the 2015 Blackout Tracker Report from Eaton, 22 days were lost as a result of power outages in 2015, affecting more than 2.5million people across the UK.  

Steven Spicer, PQ channel sales manager at Eaton commented that he hoped these findings would “act as an incentive for organisations to take preventive measures and ensure they have a reliable power infrastructure solution that can protect against costly and potentially devastating power failures. It is only by doing so that business continuity can be maintained and any disruption minimised.”

Due to a lack of economic data available, it’s hard to put an exact figure on the impact a 24-hour blackout would have on the UK economy, however we can make an educated guess.

According to a London Economics report, compiled for OFGEM and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (now Department of Businesses, Energy and Industrial Strategy), the study found out the amount of money an SME was willing to pay to avoid a power outage for one hour, was around £90-£100. Multiply this by the number of hours of business in a day, and the number of SMEs in the UK (around 5.4 million in 2016) and the costs would run into billions!

This isn’t even considering transport disruption, supply chain delays and IT failures. The cost of a loss of power should surely be more of a concern for those 99.9% of UK businesses who depend on power to carry out their daily operations. It’s a symptom of modern times.

The estimate that costs to the UK economy would run into the billions is supported by a further study from the Royal Academy of Engineering who compiled a report for the Council of Science and Technology in 2014, claiming that:

“At the upper end of the range, a longer outage (12+ hours) affecting the majority of the UK could result in costs stretching into the billions.”

Continuing to note that, “The economic impact completely depends on the characteristics of the outage. Impacts of a loss of supply vary according to the length of the interruption and the frequency with which it occurs.”

A modern-day case study would be that of New York City in 2003. The Northeast blackout, lasting just over 24hrs, cost the Big Apple’s economy £680m. It was estimated that 14.3 million people in New York City and the surrounding areas were affected.

Given that the UK has a population of just over 65 million and a geographical area of 243,610km sq., compared to New York City’s 789km sq., it’s easy to see how much more damage could be wrought if the whole of Britain experienced a blackout.  

IT retailers are at more risk than anyone when it comes to power outages, due to the reliance on computer systems and automated delivery processes. According to a survey from Avaya, who polled over 702 IT professionals with 250+ employees across eight European countries, network outages cost companies an average of £54,750 per year in 2015. Multiply this by the number of e-commerce businesses and the fact that, last year, online Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend sales made over £2.2bn, you can imagine that the amount of money lost would be astronomical.

So, what can businesses do to protect themselves from a blackout this Black Friday, and in the future?

1)      Safety First

A loss of profit shouldn’t be a business’s top concern if there is a power outage – safety is key. Business owners should audit their premises and create a priority list of power-dependent equipment. This could be your security system, refrigeration facilities, waste systems or any safeguarding equipment you may have.
Once a priority list is drawn up, you have a better idea of the potential impact a blackout may have and you can begin to make the necessary preparations.

2)      Get a Back-Up

The most common form of back-up power for businesses is a generator, but this may not be the best option for every business. Generators carry risks of their own and need to be serviced regularly and tested for 20 minutes every fortnight. They require frequent maintenance, especially in the winter months. So, what are some alternatives?

Solar panels are great for producing small amounts of energy in a decentralised system, and so could be set up to support high priority equipment, in times of emergency. Battery powered back-up lighting is also a quick win. Just like you’d use torches in your home, this is a way to maintain power on a larger scale.

3)      Cyber Security

One of the biggest risks that a power outage can have on modern businesses is loss of data. It’s important that data is backed up regularly, ideally in two forms. A loss of data may not only lead to disruption of processes but it could also put sensitive information at risk.

Especially for e-commerce businesses, having a data back-up facility is not just handy for hypothetical power shortages, it’s a vital long-term requirement too. There are many impartial experts out there who can help you find the best solution for your business needs.

4)      Consider your Employees

Another factor to consider is the impact a blackout would have on transport. If your employees reply on public transport to get into work, odds are that a power outage would stop these from running.

The best way to mitigate this risk is setting up a flexible working alternative, should employees find themselves unable to get into work. Setting up remote access for key members of staff and educating your workforce on what will happen should something like this occur is vital, if disruption is to be minimised.

It should be noted that a nationwide blackout, while not impossible, is unlikely. Having said that, we believe the most successful businesses are those that are prepared for every eventuality. As energy capacity and supply are increasingly subject to uncertainty, due to global socio-economic and environmental factors, it’s time that businesses started taking this possibility seriously.

In the meantime, the best thing a business owner can do for their energy supply is to check that they’re on the right tariff. At Love Energy Savings, we compare over 150 different tariffs from 18 suppliers to find your business a cheaper deal.

To check how much you could be saving just enter your postcode here to get started or call one of our energy experts on 0800 9888 375.

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