Londoners suffer Y2K power outage

Thousands of London residents lost power for days earlier this month after the city's top utility distributed faulty smart cards designed to be year 2000-ready.

According to London Electricity, roughly 2000 of its PowerKey customers lost power after they tried using new prepaid smart cards that were designed to pay for electricity as customers use it. About 400,000 of the utility's customers use meters that are operated by the smart card, which can be 'charged' at payment outlets around the city.

While that type of payment scheme is virtually unknown in the US, there could be a valuable lesson here for American utilities, one analyst said.

Year 2000 readiness surveys conducted by the North American Electric Reliability Council in Princeton, "paint a rosy picture" of the industry's ability to deal with the date change, said Rick Nicholson, an analyst at Meta Group. Because those reports were issued last month, Nicholson fears that US utilities "may be breathing a sigh of relief and easing up on their [Y2K] projects".

The incident in London, Nicholson said, "should give them cause to work even harder to ensure that no problems occur".

According to This is London, a daily newspaper in the city, some customers were afraid to sleep for fear they'd miss a visit from one of the utility's engineers to fix the problem. Customers had been warned that they might have to wait another 24 hours before another service technician could arrive.

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