Bug could threaten power supplies

UK utilities are among the best prepared in the world for the millennium bug – but problems in other countries could still threaten the nation’s electricity and gas supplies. Prominent on the danger list of countries poorly prepared for Y2k are China, Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia, and parts of the Middle East and North Africa. But […]

UK utilities are among the best prepared in the world for the millennium bug – but problems in other countries could still threaten the nation’s electricity and gas supplies.

Prominent on the danger list of countries poorly prepared for Y2k are China, Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia, and parts of the Middle East and North Africa. But there are also fears that problems elsewhere in Europe – in countries such as Germany and France which did not address the problem until much later than the UK – could cause knock-on effects through the electricity and gas interconnectors which link the UK’s utilities to Europe.

The operators of the gas and electricity links, Interconnector UK and the National Grid Company, have contingency plans to sever connections. Tony Mulcare, company secretary and legal manager at Interconnector UK, said this was among `certain operational precautions’.

The UK electricity and gas industries received `blue’ ratings for Y2k readiness – no risk of material disruption to supply – months ago and have been fine-tuning contingency plans since.

All available electricity generating capacity will be ready for call up if needed. This has meant postponing plant maintenance outages and closures. A spokesman for the Electricity Association said public communication would be vital to prevent panic as power could be lost for other reasons – as happens regularly over the new year. `That would be a real problem,’ he said.

The nuclear industry – one of the biggest concerns when the millennium bug problem was first identified – will not know until 17 December which plants will be allowed to operate over the new year.

* British engineering companies should be wary of after-effects of the millennium bug. Too much emphasis has been placed on the rollover date and not enough on the following months when problems are likely to emerge.

Writing in The Engineer this week, Don Cruickshank, chairman of the Government’s Y2k watchdog Action 2000 says: `In some countries there is likely to be noticeable disruption of economic activity which may take a long time to correct.’

* Point of view, p10