Two reports into Storm Arwen say network operators must be better prepared

The UK Government has ordered network operators to improve storm responses across the country.

By John A. MacInnes
Thursday, 9th June 2022, 9:29 am
Updated Thursday, 9th June 2022, 10:38 am
Residents clear branches from a fallen tree as "Storm Arwen" triggered a rare "red weather" warning.  (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Residents clear branches from a fallen tree as "Storm Arwen" triggered a rare "red weather" warning. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK Government has set out a range of actions to improve the resilience of Great Britain’s electricity networks for future extreme weather events.

This follows a comprehensive government review into the industry response to Storm Arwen and will ensure better outcomes for consumers by setting deadlines for operators to take action.

In November 2021 Storm Arwen brought severe weather disruption to the UK, with around one million households experiencing power cuts, nearly 75,000 of whom were without power for over 48 hours and over 3,700 for a week or more – with a high number of those being located across Aberdeenshire.

As the government made clear at the time, it was unacceptable that thousands of homes were left without power for so long.

A review into how network operators responded to the Storm, to identify lessons and ensure suppliers step up to prevent the scale of the issues happening again has now taken place.

Recommendations from the review include measures to improve the resilience of the electricity system from future storms and improvements to ensure customers quickly receive compensation payments, with network operators given deadlines to implement the changes.

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “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.

“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.

“This action plan will ensure better preparedness for future storms, boosting the security of our electricity system and protecting families.”

The energy regulator OFGEM also publishing their own report into the Storm Arwen response, looking at how each network operator performed against their legal obligations. Ofgem’s review found thousands of customers were provided with an unacceptable service.

SSEN Distribution has announced an additional £3.5m in funding for network and community resilience as it welcomes today’s publications by Ofgem and the Energy Emergencies Executive Committee (E3C) into the response to Storm Arwen.

Storm Arwen was the most significant weather event to hit Scotland in a generation with an estimated 16 million trees impacted and over 1,000 points of damage recorded on SSEN’s overhead line network. A 950-strong team worked in very difficult conditions to restore power as quickly as possible to over 100,000 homes and provide support and welfare to customers.

Since the storm, SSEN has played a collaborative role in all reviews into its response, alongside conducting its own extensive customer and stakeholder research. As a result of this engagement, key improvements have already been made to core customer and public communications processes and enhanced data flows with local resilience partnerships. SSEN will now seek to implement any further lessons learned for the coming winter and beyond.

SSEN welcomes the recommendations for network operators, resilience partners and policy makers contained in today’s publications, including the heightened focus on future resilience, and agrees that with increasing reliance on electricity through the decarbonisation of heat and transport, extended power outages are much less tolerable for customers.

Further collaboration will now take place between SSEN, industry partners and Ofgem to ensure this ambition for improved network and community resilience can be defined and realised through established industry approaches, including the opportunity of the RIIO-ED2 business plan process, which will finalise this year, to procure improved outcomes for customers.

More immediately, SSEN recognises the significant impact of the storm on customers and communities in the north east of Scotland. In addition to the £4.8m in enhanced compensation it has already provided above statutory levels, the network operator has agreed voluntarily to establish a further £3.5m of funding to support network and community resilience. This comprises:

· £1.8m of ring-fenced funding for local authorities in most affected regions to support community and personal resilience projects, focused on the vulnerable, adding to the £0.5m boost to SSEN’s Resilient Communities Fund which will award this summer.

· £1.2m allocated for additional network resilience investment, focused on enhanced protection of key circuits and contingency measures to help improve response time in future major storm events.

Further details of this investment, which is over and above the £100m allocated to network upgrades and maintenance in the north of Scotland this year, will be issued in the coming weeks.