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The failure of two major power generators in the UK on 9 August saw the loss of electricity for minutes but the consequences lasted for days. This article looks at the prospects of a national outage and possible coping mechanisms.

The main points of the article are:

If a predicted and prolonged cold snap this winter makes heavy demands on electricity, while light winds limit turbine generation and other generating units fail at the same time, then there is the real prospect of power interruptions and possibly a major outage. Thankfully, such a combination of events is rare in the UK, but the resilience of the National Grid has been tested recently.

Even though National Grid described a recent major outage (9 August) as “˜unusual’, a similar incident of two generating units failing at about the same time also occurred in 2008. Since then, there have reportedly been three “˜near misses’ when the stability of the power system came under stress. Clearly, the resilience of the grid is finely tuned.

A Black Sky

Concern by the government at the prospect of a widespread power outage is reflected in the grading given on the National Risk Register (2017) – 4 out of 5 for impact and 3 out of 5 for likelihood in the next five years. Such an event is referred to as a “˜Black Sky’ event requiring a “˜Black Start’ – the term used for restarting the grid from a total power down. While the UK has not experienced a national blackout to date, other developed countries have experienced such incidents.

Coping Mechanisms

One positive action that can be taken involves increased risk or situational awareness. Employers and employees alike should develop insight into the possible consequences of major disruptive events, while not needing to know the details of each and every risk. This means building coping mechanisms, namely personal and emotional resilience, into our lives for all eventualities.

Awareness should not be confined to local situations and based on the assumption that others (including the emergency services) will be on hand to help. It is more than likely that parts of the normal infrastructure, including telecoms, will not function so alternatives will have to be found or created. This includes thinking about supply chains and service dependencies, especially in the context of wider community resilience.


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