The crisp fall air is here, meaning unpredictable wintery weather is just around the corner for many. Though winter months can usher in beauty, they can weigh heavily on the availability of electricity—in some cases, literally.
Plunging temperatures alone can affect power lines, increasing the amount of heat dissipated from the conductors and in turn reducing conductor temperatures and causing power lines to tighten up. In more-extreme circumstances, ice or snow buildup can prompt power lines to snap, representing one of the many seasonal calamities that create power outages.
Regardless of the cause, one thing is certain: an unexpected power outage can turn a winter wonderland into a winter woe. Between 2009 and 2017, Eaton’s Blackout Tracker logged 7,260 winter outages that affected more than 14 million customers over a collective 122 days. Not surprisingly, more than one-third of these outages were attributed to Mother Nature.
Although knowledge is power, it can also be cold comfort if best practices aren’t applied to an uptime strategy. In this article, we’ll explore the dangers that persist in the winter months and provide appropriate action to prepare for power outages.
Assessing Winter’s Greatest Threats
As if dealing with the cold weather wasn’t enough, several winter-related hazards can cause power outages and leave an organization in the dark. Below is a rundown of some of winter’s greatest threats.
- Blizzards: Blizzards bring rapid snow accumulation and bad visibility for those who are out and about—not to mention they can wreak havoc on power systems. One recent climatology study found that annual blizzard counts in the U.S. have increased substantially over the past two decades.
- Ice: An ice storm is characterized by freezing rain that forms when raindrops move into a thin layer of below-freezing air near the Earth’s surface, freezing on contact with the ground, trees, power lines and other objects. Although ice storms have various negative effects, power outages are the most widespread and longest lasting.
- Extreme cold: Usually, electrical equipment will perform sufficiently when subjected to intensely hot or cold weather, provided it doesn’t suffer additional stress. But extreme temperature changes, such as when a dramatic cold front moves in, can make many devices operate less reliably than they normally would, especially when required to work overtime.
- Grid strain/aging infrastructure: The U.S. energy sector faces major challenges resulting from aging grid infrastructure. Breakdowns in supply, security, reliability and resiliency all pose threats during severe weather events, jeopardizing public safety and the national economy. Although blackouts induced by America’s aging power grid can occur during any season, winter is a prime contender.
- Animals: They may be cuddly and cute, but our four-legged friends initiate hundreds of power outages every year. The lion’s share owes to squirrels and birds, but other instigators include bears, cats, snakes, beavers and even mountain lions!
- Vehicles: Considering the treacherous driving conditions generated by winter weather, an increase in the number of vehicle-induced power outages is unsurprising. In fact, 32 percent of all vehicle-related outages logged by Eaton’s Blackout Tracker occurred during the winter months.
As data centers find themselves more vulnerable to downtime threats during the winter, they should take a step back and assess their disaster-recovery processes. A multitude of solutions can enable continuous uptime.
The Formula for Reliable Power Protection
Although power failures can happen because of weather and unforeseen events, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS)—often deployed in conjunction with a backup generator—can deliver reliable power during outages so data centers and IT functions can stay up and running. These systems help organizations avoid both data loss and hardware damage, providing availability for networks and other applications in the case of a power event.
Enhancing the UPS function, power-monitoring and power-management solutions offer data center and IT professionals the capacity to remotely monitor a single UPS up to an entire enterprise network with an array of devices and components from different manufacturers. Even more, they offer a broad spectrum of advantages that contribute to optimized power, including enhanced efficiency, improved data protection and lower overall costs. With adequate backup run time, software can automate the safe and seamless movement of data to a backup site in order to maintain business continuity.
Additionally, remote power management can provide a wealth of advantages, enabling administrators to oversee their entire network from anywhere in the world. Many companies use remote solutions to manage servers at offices and branch locations where no IT staff is present. From powering cycle servers and devices to troubleshooting problems, remote management eliminates unnecessary service trips to isolated locations.
By strategically aligning power-management solutions as well as combining advanced hardware and software systems, organizations can ensure they have robust power protection in case of an emergency.
A Warmer Outlook
Power problems are equal-opportunity threats. In addition to seasonal weather, downtime can occur owing to equipment failures, human error, copper thieves, and even obscure hazards such as drones, mylar balloons, curious squirrels and wayward snakes. Anything that disrupts power can bring business to a halt.
To optimize power systems and avoid the dangers of downtime, organizations and their IT teams need power-protection solutions that keep operations running smoothly at all times. A strategic disaster-preparedness plan that includes protective hardware and software will help organizations prepare for the colder winter months, bundled up and ready for whatever the season brings.
About the Author
Ed Spears is a product-marketing manager in Eaton’s Critical Power Solutions Division in Raleigh, North Carolina. A nearly 40-year veteran of the power-systems industry, Ed has experience in UPS-systems testing, sales, applications engineering and training. He has also worked in power-quality engineering and marketing for telecommunications, data centers, cable television and broadband public networks.