Two weeks ago, I lost power to my house when a distribution transformer serving the homes in my cul-de-sac failed. It took the utility about five hours to pinpoint the problem, dispatch a crew, and replace the failed piece of equipment, but aside from forcing me to reset my clocks, reprogram my VCR, and miss a few of my favorite TV shows, the power outage really didn't cost me anything. However, for the 2 million industrial and digital economy companies in the United States it's a different story.

According to a recent study sponsored by EPRI's Consortium for Electric Infrastructure to Support a Digital Society (CEIDS) entitled “The Cost of Power Disturbances to Industrial & Digital Economy Companies,” power outages cost each of these companies more than $23,000 a year for a total of $45.7 billion. The bulk of this loss is concentrated in the fabrication and essential services business sector, which is particularly sensitive to equipment damage. But the greatest losses occur at continuous process manufacturing facilities, which also suffer from the loss of raw materials. The digital economy sector — companies that rely heavily on data storage and retrieval, data processing, or R&D operations — lose $13.5 billion annually to outages, primarily from lost productivity and idle labor.

Power quality-related phenomena can also have a devastating effect on a company's bottom line. According to the report, industrial and digital economy companies lose another $6.7 billion each year to voltage sags, surges, transients, and harmonics. Again, the fabrication and essential services sector seems particularly sensitive to these events, losing more than $9,600 annually per facility.

As our society becomes more reliant on digital circuitry for everything from data storage and retrieval to continuous process manufacturing to smart electronic devices in the home, the importance of reliable, high-quality power continues to grow. This in turn reinforces the need for the electrical industry to continue to develop equipment and systems to counteract these events. As members of the electrical industry, the responsibility of delivering reliable, high-quality power to American businesses and homes rests squarely on our shoulders. Let's not take this responsibility lightly.