More than 40,000 UK homes were without electricity on Christmas Day following storms and flooding

Christmas blackout prompts storm response review

A single emergency number may be created for people to report power cuts.

The proposal is being considered as part of an official review into the handling of storm-related supply disruptions that hit many parts of Britain over Christmas. Around 750,000 premises were without electricity at some point during 24-28 December, including 43,000 properties affected on Christmas Day.

Distribution network operators (DNOs) restored supplies to 93 per cent of customers within 24 hours, but 15,000 suffered cuts of more than 48 hours. Hundreds of engineering and support staff were called in to help with the restoration efforts, but the work was hampered by heavy rain, high winds, and flooded or blocked roads.

However, many customer complaints related to difficulties finding the right organisation to contact and inadequate information about what was being done, how long they might have to wait for power to return, and what compensation they might be entitled to.

On 8 January, Energy Secretary Ed Davey called in the chief executives of the DNOs and representatives from energy regulator Ofgem, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) and the Energy Emergencies Executive, for a meeting at which he told them to report back within the next two months on how the disruption was managed by the industry.

The review will focus on communications, necessary resources to cope with widespread disruption, and the compensation process. The participants will also investigate “as quickly as possible” the setting up of an emergency telephone number, which households can call if they experience a power cut.

Davey said: “I fully understand the frustration felt by people whose Christmases were spoiled because of power disruptions, but I also want to pay tribute to the hard work of the engineers who battled appalling weather conditions to try to reconnect homes as quickly as possible.

“It’s virtually unprecedented for storms to affect such a huge area of the UK for so long, and this prevented network operators helping their colleagues in other regions as would normally happen. So the review will look at the contingency plans and levels of resources required so that operators can be prepared for the worst should an event like this ever happen again.”

The review into power disruptions will feed into a wider review of severe weather response and resilience being led by Defra and the Cabinet Office.

After the meeting, ENA chief executive David Smith said: “The networks constantly review the resilience of infrastructure and there are robust plans in place to deal with the damage caused by extreme weather. There is always a thorough assessment after situations such as the one seen over Christmas to look at improving the service to customers.”

Further information

The latest issue of E&T magazine carries an exclusive feature about how suppliers of electricity, gas and water are finding ways to analyse the vast volumes of data which their new smart systems are generating in order to gain insights in to customer trends and operational efficiencies. Read the full story in 'Data on demand'.

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