When there is something as dramatic as a pandemic, it is right to feel concerned about the security of the infrastructure. Although energy sector workers are considered key to our day to day lives, we might worry that supply outages are a possibility with people becoming ill and continued maintenance a challenge.
Yet, there has been no problem with energy supply in these uncertain times. Indeed, the National Grid announced that coal-powered power stations had not contributed to electricity supplies for two months, from the beginning of April through to June.
It is right to question how the UK’s power supply is so resilient. What does the energy sector do to make sure we continue to get our electricity, even in uncertain times?
A moment of reflection
On August 9th, 2019, the energy sector experienced a power outage that offered an opportunity for reflection on the resilience of the network in the UK. During the outage, 1 million customers were left without power for 45 minutes. Although the inconvenience of this event might seem minor, the knock-on was considered significant. For instance, rail services took many days to get back to normal.
The independent report into the power supply prompted by this outage concluded that the UK has a diverse energy supply which means there is significant security of supply. The many means of sourcing energy mean that power outages are a rare event. The report headline was an essential contextualisation of the events of 9th August. It noted that power cuts have shrunk significantly since 1990, with a 60% reduction in the length of any power cut experienced.
Ensuring even greater resilience
When there is a problem, there is also an opportunity to learn. Consequently, although the report concluded the energy sector was highly resilient in the UK, it also noted some point of improvement. There may be a range of energy providers to choose from, there also needs to be greater collaboration between generators and the trade associations to share pain points. The larger generators need better modelling for the complex systems they run, as well as improving compliance testing.
It is not only that the UK was forced to reflect on the amount of energy created but the quality of the energy. The events of August 9th encouraged stakeholders to undertake a fundamental review of the SQSS or the Security and Quality of Supply Standard – with a requirement for holding reserves. Finally, though not exhaustively, the events led to a review of guidance about contingency, continuity, and resilience planning.
Established standards and collaboration
Oddly, it is out of moments of challenge that the energy sector has proven itself resilient. The events of August 9th may have caused a disruption, but it also brought into sharp relief that such outages are now rare. Interruptions in power are down more than 50% and the length of these interruptions down by more than 60%. Why? Well, there is a reserve in place. The diversity of the energy real estate means that when there is pressure in one area another can step up. There is also improved governance across the sector, which means that generators are working from the same songbook.
Our ability to continue to live our lives from our home is facilitated by our trust in energy. Therefore, the consequences of uncertain times, such as COVID-19, are lessened.