Cats save the Swedish internet

20 April 2001

A severe power outage which hit the Swedish ‘Silicon Valley’ area to the west of Stockholm earlier this year put the Caterpillar standby power installations in the city to a severe test. Reports immediately after the event confirmed that they performed without fault, in several instances taking only seven seconds from an 'off' position to full 1250 kVA power . One of these instances involved Interxion, the internet exchange provider whose major international customers rely heavily on reliable power supplies.

One of the largest and most serious power outages in Swedish history, the failure took place during the Sunday and Monday of March 11th and 12th, leaving many homes without power, Stockholm's underground railway system in chaos and many computer and communication-based companies unable to operate at anything like full capacity.

Caused by a fire which started in some 11kV cabling, then quickly spread to 33 kV and 130 kV cables housed in the same trunking, the fire left many companies unable to maintain production capacity and one major mobile telephone company was forced to send the majority of its workforce home on Monday morning.

Interxion, on the other hand, together with a number of other companies which have installed back-up stand-by power, was able to maintain operations, providing its Internet Exchange Centre for customers including 200 of Europe's leading Internet and telecommunications companies. The twin Cat 3512 diesel engine (1250 kVA each) generator packages were up and running at full speed and power within 7 seconds, two seconds of which were effectively 'lost' while the system assessed whether the situation was a real power failure or a minor glitch.

Interxion Manager Operations Mats Carlsson commented “Loss of power is our worst nightmare, since it leaves us completely unable to deliver the high quality of service and reliability that our customers need to operate successfully. If we shut down so do our customers. Shut-down, therefore, is simply not an option for us and we are delighted on three counts: Firstly that we took the decision to install stand-by power in the first place. Secondly that we chose Caterpillar power and support locally from their dealer organisation Geveke Elektromatik (via Emerson Energy Systems AB), and finally, that the system worked so well on this occasion.” Although not predictable and not part of a definite trend at this stage, the Stockholm power outage has added strongly to a debate which is currently going on all over Europe - namely that the high levels of reliability of the grid system throughout the continent, which people have taken for granted for many years, may not be as secure in future.

The debate over whether private companies, whose priorities include profitability and shareholder returns as well as expensive repair and maintenance work, will be able to maintain reliability levels, is going on throughout the newly deregulated European power sector. In Stockholm at least the main supplier of electrical power – Birka – is now working with Caterpillar dealer Geveke Elektromatik to encourage its business and commercial customers to include the installation of standby power supplies in their business plans.

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