Two million, too many?

MJ Deschamps assesses the likelihood of outages in London during the Olympics when an extra two million people will be in the capital.

As thousands of athletes and tourists flock to London this summer for the 2012 Olympic Games, some commercial customers of utilities and data centres based in the UK capital fear the inevitable strain the event will put on the power grid. Power outages are of such concern that some businesses have been relocating outside the city. Verizon Business, for example, recently opted to locate its flagship European database in Amsterdam rather than London, due to concerns about Olympics-inspired power shortages.

In April, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Locog) and the Cabinet Office issued a planning information guide for businesses – Preparing your Business for the Games. This suggested that companies develop a business continuity plan to ensure support for homeworking, and that internal systems and internet service providers are included in the planning process for demands on the system to be understood and managed.

National Grid is not worried about service interruptions, however. “We are confident that our networks are resilient and can continue to help deliver power supplies throughout the summer period and beyond,” says spokesman Antony Quarrell. “Demand surges are something we are always prepared for. And though we don’t predict any major surges over the summer period, we continue to analyse demand forecasts.”

He adds that to ensure all eventualities are considered, National Grid has carried out additional tests on its networks and increased manpower at its substations. “We have full confidence in our gas transmission and distribution networks, which are robust and able to deliver safe and reliable gas supplies,” says Quarrell, adding that on the high-voltage network there is not much concern about potential power outages during the Games, and that his company has worked closely with event organisers to minimise disruption.

Frontier Technology, a London-based provider of hosted business continuity and data archiving services, is not so confident. It believes that with an estimated influx of two million people in the city at any one time for the duration of the Games, it will not be business as usual. It is offering organisations the Frontier Olympic Cloud – a three-month cloud computing package that transfers a company’s business systems to Frontier’s data centres located outside London for the duration of the games.

Frontier marketing executive Divina Tumlos says a number of companies and datacenters in London are concerned about power outages during the Olympics. “The most common approach to this is to set up a remote working facility, which enables employees to access servers and to work from any location outside the office,” she says. “There is no need to relocate with a flexible working solution in place.”

While some data centres temporarily relocate the brains of their operations outside London, initiatives are also taking place within the city to reduce pressures on the grid and expand energy efficiency through more renewable energy generation.

The London 2012 Energy Centre is around 30 per cent more efficient than traditional heat and power generation methods, and has been using a number of technologies including a 3MW biomass boiler, ammonia chillers, high efficiency gas boilers and a combined cooling, heat and power plant (see feature, page 24) to power venues on the Games’ main east London site since 2010.

During the Games, the Energy Centre will provide heating and cooling to the Olympic Park and village, exporting low-carbon power to the national grid. The Olympic Delivery Authoriday (ODA) has also installed solar panels on the roof of the main press centre. Renewable initiatives such as this well help reduce pressures on the grid, and in conjunction with the Energy Centre’s biomass boiler, the solar panels will enable the ODA to deliver approximately 11 per cent of the post-games Olympic Park energy requirements from renewable technologies.

MJ Deschamps is a freelance journalist

Burst case scenario

To manage risk successfully during the Olympic Games, utilities must focus on mitigating the risk of customer service failure rather than concentrating on the risk of asset failure, so that if and when an asset fails (and assets often fail at the most inappropriate times), the probability of service failure as a result of asset failure can be minimised.

One risk assessment approach worth consideration is the use of fault and event trees. Between them, these provide a robust method of translating the probability of asset failure into the probability of service failure. The undesired event in both fault tree and event tree analysis is defined as the failure of the assets to provide a minimum acceptable level of service to customers. The way a utility responds to an incident can reduce the probability of asset failure (the output value of a fault tree) to give the residual probability of service failure (the output of an event tree). The probability of service failure therefore takes account of the success of one or more contingent actions being available. Mitigative actions taken in advance of an undesired event can also be factored in.

It is important to understand how long an operational team and control centre has to respond before a service fails. This window between asset failure and service failure is crucial to determining which contingent actions are available and which are never going to be implemented before service failure occurs.

To complete utilities’ understanding of risk of service failure, consequence modelling is also required. Let us say a water main bursts in the vicinity of one of the Olympic venues. This could result in travel disruption, disruption to businesses, loss of amenity, inconvenience to the public and so on. In consequence modelling, each type of consequence is linked to individual service failure types – such as loss of supply, inadequate pressure or flooding of potable water from supply assets – so that an understanding of the respective severity ranges of each type of consequence is developed.

These risk assessment approaches can enable utilities to understand where the greatest probability of service failure exists and help determine the robustness or otherwise of identified contingent actions. Firms can then be confident in the knowledge that, should asset failure occur, the risk of service delivery failure to customers will be mitigated and any consequences minimised.

Kevin Poole, principal consultant, and Mark Kowalski, senior consultant, at WRc

This article first appeared in Utility Week’s print edition of 29 June 2012.

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