Utility Week

UTILITY Week 15th January 2015

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6 | 15th - 21st January 2016 | utILIty WEEK People & Opinion Strong response of networks showed effective preparation Network companies are acutely aware of their role in people's lives, and address resilience with seriousness. Chief executive's view David Smith, Energy Networks Association T he severe weather experi- enced during recent storms Desmond, Eva and Frank resulted in an extremely difficult festive period for many in the north of England and Scotland. These storms also presented challenges for our electricity dis- tribution network operators, who were responding to the damage caused to vital infrastructure by heavy rain and strong winds. The UK has one of the most resilient electricity networks in the world, but as these storms showed, exceptional weather events can still cause disruption to power supplies. The major- ity of weather-related faults on the networks are caused by high winds, with damage caused to infrastructure from falling trees and other debris. December presented a different challenge to network companies as an unprecedented level of rainfall caused widespread flooding. The Met Office has since confirmed December 2015 was the wettest month since records began more than 100 years ago, with records also broken for the most rainfall in a 24- and 48-hour period. In some of the worst affected areas in northwest England, flood defences worked well, pro- tecting power supplies to 110,000 properties in Kendal and Carlisle. However, the scale of the flood- ing did mean substation defences built to withstand one-in-100- years floods were breached in Lancaster. The strong response of networks in December dem- onstrated how effective compa- nies are at preparing for severe weather and responding to dam- age; not only to restore supplies as quickly and safely as possible, but also to communicate with customers and provide support to those most affected. Improving that vital com- munications element of storm response has been a priority for networks over the past two years, with companies working together through ENA and with the Department of Energy and Cli- mate Change to ensure the right processes are in place to inform customers about disruption to supplies, estimated restoration times and the range of help and support that is available. It is a testament to this improvement in communications that the response of customers through- out the winter storms was over- whelmingly positive. When customers were kept informed of the situation and could see the work being carried out in diffi- cult circumstances, they appreci- ated the efforts of engineers who were working around the clock to restore power and the support that had been put in place by network companies in the worst affected communities, including mobile food trucks and informa- tion centres. Analysis carried out by Electricity North West showed that during Storm Des- mond, the sentiment expressed by customers engaging with the company via social media was more than 75 per cent positive, with just over 4 per cent negative comments. It was also encouraging to see network companies work- ing effectively together to share resources through the mutual aid programme NEWSAC, which has been refined to ensure it effec- tively enables DNOs to help the companies worst affected when severe weather hits. In Decem- ber, NEWSAC saw staff from around the country sent to the northwest to help restore power to properties and also facilitated DNOs sending mobile generators to Lancaster to help keep thou- sands of people on supply while repairs were carried out. I would like to thank the network staff who worked so hard and thank those custom- ers affected for their patience and understanding during the storms. I would also like to assure them network companies are acutely aware of the vital role they play in people's daily lives, and approach the issue of network resilience with the seri- ousness it deserves. Recently, the UK's electricity networks received praise from the Com- mittee on Climate Change for their approach to resilience and adaptation to climate change, and between 2008 and the end of current price controls in 2023, the sector will have spent around £400 million on measures to enhance resilience to flooding.

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