Storm Ciara, Beast from the East: UK energy impact
With the destruction caused by Storm Ciara and another storm on the way, how has the UK energy supply been affected by extreme winter weather events? Read on for Selectra’s analysis.
Who deals with power cuts in extreme weather events?
While you may pay Ovo, Octopus or Tonik for your gas and electricity supply, these energy companies are not responsible for running or repairing the national grid infrastructure that brings the energy to your door.
The UK energy industry can be divided into three groups: the generators, the distribution network operators and the suppliers. The distribution network operators, also called DNOs, are the ones who are responsible for getting you connected again if something like Storm Ciara has knocked out your power.
For electricity, the country is divided into 13 regional zones where many different DNOs, large and small, manage the wires and cables which distribute the power to your door. For gas, there are eight Gas Distribution Networks (GDNs) which run and maintain the pipes that connect to houses across the UK.
Storm Ciara caused damage to the energy network all across the UK, with trees and branches falling on power lines cutting the supply to homes and businesses around the country.
The DNOs sent out engineers to examine the damage and repair it as quickly as possible.
These workers faced blocked or flooded roads and carried out the repairs in the midst of continuing harsh weather conditions.
Western Power Distribution (WPD), the electricity distribution network operator for the Midlands, South Wales and the South West, restored power to 215,000 customers affected by the storm, with a small number of households still to be reconnected. The DNO had 600 operational staff working around the clock to help customers across their network.
Richard Pennington who is connected to the grid by WPD said he was “very impressed” with the firm’s response to the storm.
“A few minutes after the power went out I had a text informing me that they were aware of the high voltage outage in our area, and an estimated reconnection time of 2:30,” he said.
“Power came on just before 3. As a farmer and being out in the weather this afternoon, it is horrible! Thanks guys!”
Trevor Shakespeare congratulated all the WPD staff “working so hard in extreme weather”, but he had some criticism too.
“Why is the network so fragile that we only have to have a storm or heavy snow that it breaks every time?” he asked.
Meanwhile, UK Power Networks, a DNO covering London, the South East and East of England had over 1,200 staff in the field to restore electricity to 353,000 homes and businesses affected by Storm Ciara.
The DNO went above and beyond the call of duty though when it dispatched hot food and coffee trucks along with support vans offering wifi and charging points to some of the communities knocked off the grid.
While the firm has not yet restored supply to everyone, its engineers have received a warm welcome in most places.
Felicity Sanderson, who lives in UK Power Networks’ catchment area said she had a six-hour power cut on the 9th of February which was resolved and another three-and-a-half hour outage on the 10th which was also resolved.
“The repair team did fantastically well despite being out in the high wind and heavy rain after dark to get the job done, thank you team!” she said.
Heather Whiting said the staff were doing “an amazing job.”
“I can’t imagine what it is like working a 17-hour shift, three days in a row, in the wind, rain and hail,” she said.
“The admin team have been brilliant, it hasn’t been easy without electric but it’s nothing compared to the people who have had their homes damaged.”
If you come across an overhead power cable down, stay well away from it and call the national emergency power cut helpline on 105
Cold snap carbon surge
Extreme weather events don’t just have the effect of knocking the power off, they can also send usage skyrocketing.
The 2018 cold snap, hyped up by the media as the “beast from the east”, brought abnormally low temperatures and substantial snowfall to widespread areas of the UK and Ireland.
According to the latest government figures, the 11-day snap also had the side effect of pushing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions up by 2.5m tonnes in 2018, equivalent to 50% of Albania’s total annual emissions.
As the large arctic air mass descended on the British Isles, people turned the heating up to cope.
However, with a majority of buildings poorly-insulated and relying on gas for heat, carbon emissions from homes and buildings soared making a 4% addition to the national total for 2018 compared to the previous year.
Peter Smith, a director at the fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA), pointed to the COP26 UN climate talks taking place in Glasgow later this year and said UK residential emissions were “rising at a time when the world is looking to us for global leadership.”
“Improvements in home insulation and more efficient heating systems are recognised as the cheapest way to cut carbon emissions to reach net zero and end fuel poverty but since 2012 investment in domestic efficiency has declined steeply,” Mr Smith said.
Without an acceleration, the NEA said it would take the UK 56 years to achieve its installation targets for wall insulation and 39 years for loft insulation.
According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) the government is to begin putting money into improving home energy efficiency.
“Residential emissions have declined by 14% since 1990 – and latest figures show a 2.1% annual drop in greenhouse gas emissions,” a spokesperson said.
“But we want to go further, including by investing £10m in home retrofit innovation and introducing tough new efficiency standards for landlords.”
Ten million is a long way away from £9.2bn and will hardly make much of a dent in the problem.
While it’s unscientific to connect climate change directly with any particular weather event, it is an accepted fact that extreme weather is being exacerbated by the warming atmosphere.
The climate emergency means events like the Beast from the East, Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis will become more frequent and will increase in severity compared to a world without climate change.
In the face of such a crisis, it’s interesting to note that one way of coping with the symptoms - insulating homes against heat loss - is also part of the cure - more energy efficiency means less CO2 emissions and slower climate change.
Another part of the cure is to switch to 100% renewable energy and reduce your carbon emissions. Contact us here at Selectra for advice on how to switch to green energy and save money.
Will Storm Dennis be as extreme as Storm Ciara?
The approach of Storm Dennis has prompted the Met Office to issue a National Severe Weather Warning almost as soon as Storm Ciara departed and with the UK still struggling in its wake.
The new storm, heading for the British Isles from the North Atlantic, is expected to pass to the north of Scotland on Saturday.
The warning for wind covers most of England and Wales, and more warnings will no doubt be issued over the next few days.
While Dennis isn’t currently predicted to be as damaging as Ciara, Steve Ramsdale, Chief Meteorologist at the Met Office, said “disruption is still likely.”
Gusts of up to 60mph are possible along with heavy rain and, with the ground already saturated from the previous storm, there is a risk of further flooding.
Dennis will bring with it yet more transport delays and cancellations and damage to power supplies.
Storm Ciara was much stronger, with winds reaching up to 97mph over the Isle of Wight at one point.
Two people in the UK and at least seven people in the EU were killed in the storm or its aftermath.
Along with cancelled trains, planes and ferries, closed roads, sinkholes swallowing cars and widespread water outages, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were hit with power cuts over the course of the storm.