Extreme weather: Grid operators ordered to review storm response plans

Grid operators have today been ordered to review their severe weather escalation plans and improve their communications systems, following the widespread blackouts that followed last year’s Storm Arwen.

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today published the formal review of the electricity industry’s response to Storm Arwen in November 2021, which saw around one million households experience power outages.

The review from the government and watchdog Ofgem found that network operators had paid over £34m in direct compensation to households and businesses and have agreed to pay a further £10m in redress payments.

But it also concluded that the industry needed to take a series of steps to enhance the resilience of grid infrastructure ahead of future extreme weather events, which scientists predict will become more frequent and severe as climate impacts intensify.

Specifically, the report confirms plans for a new ‘outcomes-focused physical resilience standard’, which will define resilience standards in terms of the outcomes for consumers, as opposed to the current standards, which are defined as measures to be implemented. Meanwhile, every Distribution Network Operator (DNO) has been ordered to review their severe weather escalation plans, to ensure all relevant factors that can influence the scale of impacts, such as wind direction, are considered.

The government said it would also update industry best practice to ensure network operators can quickly identify faults and safely assess the extent of network damage earlier in a storm, exploring how smart meter data and technology can help enhance understanding of where damage has occurred.

In addition, the report calls on DNOs to ensure communication systems are adequate to meet demand and introduce telephone systems and websites capable of handling increased traffic during a storm. And it confirms plans to change compensation payment system so customers are more aware of what they are entitled to and can receive compensation payments faster. Ofgem is now set to commission a review into the compensation payment structure, looking at whether a compensation cap is still appropriate.

“Storm Arwen was one of the most extreme weather events in decades, and I’m grateful to all those engineers, armed forces personnel and volunteers who worked night and day to get people reconnected to power,” said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “However, it’s clear that thousands of customers were badly let down by electricity network companies, which is why I launched this review to identify and address any failings.”

He added that the resulting action plan would “ensure better preparedness for future storms, boosting the security of our electricity system and protecting families”.

In response, the Energy Networks Association said that the business plans submitted by DNOs for the next price control period proposed increased expenditure on grid resilience measures from around £12bn in the past five years to £14.5bn over the next five years.

The increased investment is set to go towards measures such as tree cutting, flood prevention and other energy security measures designed to improve the resilience of Britain’s 800,000km of overhead and underground power lines in the face of more severe weather events in the future.

The trade body said that network operators has also begun to implement the recommendations put forwards today by Ofgem and the government.

“Storm Arwen caused catastrophic damage and disruption to customers and we welcome today’s findings,” said David Smith, chief executive of Energy Networks Association. “It’s important customers have trust in their network operators and are supported during severe weather events. As well as implementing the recommendations set out by government and the regulator and enhancing customer service, network operators have also identified areas which will need increased investment to provide better energy security and service for customers in the long term.

“This is particularly important as severe weather events become more frequent. The six electricity distribution network operators have submitted these details in their business plans for the next five years and Ofgem is due to make its initial determination in the coming weeks.”

In related news, Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, yesterday delivered a speech to the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in which he warned the industry needed to urgently ramp up investment in climate resilience measures.

“When I spoke to the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in February last year, I said that the climate emergency was the main thing we should all be tackling, because it’s the greatest threat to us and future generations,” he said. “And a year on, that threat has worsened.”

As such Bevan urged insurers to step up investment in climate resilience and adaptation projects, as well as efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“To tackle the climate emergency successfully mitigation alone is not enough,” he said. “We also need adaptation – changing the way we live, run our economy and build our cities so that we are resilient to the changes in climate that have already happened, and will continue to happen whatever we now do, because of the carbon we’ ve already pumped into the atmosphere.

“Adaptation too is only possible with investment, which again will need to come from both private and public sources. Here too investment now will pay massive dividends in the future. It is much better value to invest early in climate resilience than to live with the costs of inaction.”

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