The threat that Hurricane Matthew is posing to Florida is a stark reminder that energy managers — and the people who give them permission to spend money — have deep responsibilities in disaster recovery and business continuity (DR/BC) efforts.
Power outages have increased 265% since 1984, according to Tom Willie, the CEO of Blue Pillar. The first realization – and not a particularly happy one – is that there are many and varied types of disasters and emergencies. Some are predictable: A business in Florida should assume that a hurricane will come sooner or later. The same is true about blizzards and ice storms for businesses in Minnesota. Other disasters, such as terrorist attacks, are random and unpredictable.
It also is true that events that require DR/BC steps to be put into action do not always make the headlines. A broken pipe that takes all the servers off line can be as big a problem for that business as a blizzard.
Many of the best practices suggested by experts aren’t the responsibility of energy managers to implement. It is important to be aware of them, however. For instance, experts say that use of social media is growing as a way to keep employees informed. There also should be preset chains of people with responsibility to push vital information to each other if the central information distribution platform becomes unavailable.
There of course are key elements that squarely are the responsibility of the energy manager. Unmonitored and inadequately tested generator backups fail 20 percent to 30 percent of the time, Willie told Energy Manager Today in response to emailed question. This is not acceptable. “Preparing for emergencies like hurricanes or other extreme weather events must include steps to ensure backup power will kick in when it’s needed, starting with 24/7 monitoring and robust testing of backup systems” he wrote.
Willie said that Internet of things (IoT) is a great tool. “[The IoT] streamlines these preparations by allowing energy managers to access data from generators and switchgear, perform testing remotely and capture data electronically,” he said. “In addition to strengthening emergency preparedness, automated testing with real-time data helps reduce man hours and ensures energy reliability in any situation.”
The good news is that at least three increasingly popular innovations – the cloud, solar power and microgrids – that are increasingly used as DR/BC tools.
The very definition of the cloud – the geographic distribution of corporate assets – is identical to a DR/BC best practice. Indeed, the use of the cloud for BC/DR is growing exponentially. In July, MarketsandMarkets published research that the Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) will grow from worldwide from $1.68 billion this year to $11.11 billion by 2021. That is a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.9 percent.
The benefits of solar power are obvious. The importance of being able to generate electricity when the grid is down to keep essential functions running cannot be overestimated. Likewise, microgrids – which reduce or eliminate reliance on the larger grid – also provides backup capabilities.
The positioning of microgrids are DR/BC tools is especially common in the northeast. For instance, Connecticut became known (at least in some quarters) as “the microgrid state” because of the proliferation of this technology in the years after Superstorm Sandy.
Disasters are, but their nature, unpredictable. What can be predicted, however, is that they will happen at some point. The bottom line is that technology is evolving that can give energy managers a way to mitigate the damage.