Ofgem publishes report following review into networks’ response to Storm Arwen

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Energy regulator Ofgem has published its findings following a six-month review launched in December 2021 to establish what went wrong and what industry needs to change to provide a more effective response to severe weather events.

The review focussed on whether the power outages could have been prevented, whether correct and timely information was given to customers affected, whether power was restored quickly enough and how customers were supported after the storm including the processing of compensation payments.

Staff in all affected distribution network operators (DNOs) worked hard in challenging circumstances to get customers reconnected, but Ofgem concludes that thousands of customers were provided with an ‘unacceptable service.’

Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, commented on the report: “Distribution network companies faced challenging conditions in the aftermath of Storm Arwen, and I pay tribute to the many colleagues in those companies who supported customers and worked to get them back on power as quickly as possible.

“However, it was unacceptable that nearly 4,000 homes in parts of England and Scotland were off power for over a week, often without accurate information as to when power would be restored.

“Network companies need to do better, not just to prevent power disruptions, but to ensure that when power is off, they work smarter to get people back on power quicker, and keep customers informed with accurate and timely information. This is the very least customers should be able to expect.

“The frequency of extreme weather events is only set to increase so it is really important that industry, and those involved more widely, learn from Storm Arwen to better respond in future.”

The key recommendations of the report are:

  • DNOs should submit their winter preparedness plans to Ofgem so the regulator can be assured that DNOs have taken the necessary steps to ensure that all customers, especially vulnerable customers, can be supported effectively during power disruptions.
  • DNOs should stress test their websites and call centres to ensure adequate capacity during severe weather events. Additional reporting metrics for communication channels will fit within the next RIIO-ED2 price control settlement that will be determined this year.
  • DNOs to develop more robust mechanisms to enable the delivery of compensation payments at scale, enabling timely and accurate compensation to those eligible.
  • Ofgem will review the Guaranteed Standard of Performance (GSoP) for severe weather to identify amendments that should be made to better reflect the impact of extended power cuts. And in the meantime, Ofgem recommends DNOs should voluntarily lift the cap for future storms as they did during Storm Arwen.
  • Current network infrastructure and guidance including vegetation management and overhead line designs should be reviewed to increase network resilience to severe weather events.
  • A standard-based approach to organisational resilience should be considered by E3C to improve the speed of customer restoration during severe weather events. It is noted that current standards and guidance that support the DNOs in providing a reliable network are more focussed on preventing outages rather than how to respond during a power outage.

More information about this announcement and the full report are available on the Ofgem website.