Keeping the lights on

The Russians have allegedly issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian armed forces in the Crimea. If they don’t surrender by 03:00 tomorrow (4th March) the Russians will invade. I stress that this is unconfirmed (source: Reuters) and may well be no more than bluster and sabre-rattling. Still, it gives one pause.

How is this relevant to a blog about enterprise IT security issues?

First off, we need to look at the UK’s energy security, or more accurately, its lack thereof. We have about a 5% capacity margin before demand for electricity exceeds supply. We get about 30% of our capacity from gas (the rest is coal, nuclear, oil and renewables, in that order). Around 12% of our gas comes from Russia. We have around 6 days of gas (at normal demand levels) on hand.

The gas we get from Russia comes through the Ukraine. In normal circumstances, the actual transit of that gas is unaffected even though there are significant price fluctuations each time the Ukrainian situation takes a turn for the worse. However, if the Russians actually go to war with Ukraine, one option the Ukrainians have, Pyrrhic though it would be, is to shut off the pipeline. This takes the war to Russia, economically. If they do that, disastrous though it would be for them, it will directly affect us.

There’s not enough spare production capacity in the North Sea (UK and Norwegian fields) to make up the difference. We can buy the gas from Qatar or the US, in tanker-delivered LNG form, but that takes about three weeks to get here. Unlike our European neighbours, we don’t keep enough gas on hand to bridge that gap.

In the event that energy generation can’t keep up with demand, National Grid’s strategy is to ask (or require, depending on contract) businesses to reduce consumption to protect domestic supplies.

So the relevance is: what’s your continuity strategy for dealing with rolling blackouts?

Ask your datacentre what their arrangements are, both whether they have demand-response power contracts and what they do about standby generation.

Look at your own supply, or that of your building if you’re in multi-tenant premises. Can you be required to reduce consumption? If you have a server room on the premises, that could be your single largest electricity consumer.

Bear in mind, too, that even if – as I think likely – there’s no acute energy crisis, the price of electricity will only go one way in response to this latest flexing of Russian muscles. Whatever your budget for on-premise or datacentre power costs, I’d be revising it upward for the next few months at least.

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