Energy companies must ‘up their game’ after Storm Arwen failures, says Ofgem | energy sector

Energy companies must “up their game” after thousands of homes in Britain faced “terrible conditions” when they were left without power for more than a week after last year’s Arwen storm, the industry watchdog said.

Publishing its full report on utilities’ response to the storm, Ofgem said it was unprepared and provided “unacceptable service” to customers, with nearly 1 million homes without power and 4,000 outages for more than a week.

Jonathan Brearley, the regulator’s chief executive, said companies needed to do more to ensure they were prepared for the winter ahead.

“The main message for all network companies is: get ready for winter. This is a very difficult time for customers right now. This is a market where everyone is having a hard time. Every energy company that is working in this country needs to work on behalf of its customers. And that means big changes for networks,” he said.

Three network operators – Northern Powergrid, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks and Electricity North West – paid nearly £30m in compensation to affected customers and agreed to pay a further £10.3m in “repair payments”. Ofgem said a total of £44m will be paid out by the distribution network companies as a result of failures in their response to Storm Arwen. These included poor communication with customers.

Brearley said that while the regulator acknowledged that businesses faced challenging conditions following the storm, which was the worst the country has faced in a decade, “it was unacceptable that nearly 4,000 homes in parts of England and Scotland were without power for more than a decade. one year. week, often without precise information about when power would be restored.”

Ofgem has issued a series of recommendations, which include stress testing the capacity of customer service centers and forcing power grid and distribution companies to come up with winter preparedness plans that prove they can adequately support customers during outages. power.

“The network needs to be more resilient to things like this,” Brearley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He stressed that companies needed to be clear in their communication with customers, especially after the analysis found that some were repeatedly told that would have power restored within 24 hours, although some outages lasted a week.

Brearley said companies also need to come up with more creative solutions to restore power after outages, including supplying generators, rather than waiting for engineering work to be completed.

Affected customers received £70 each as compensation for the first 48 hours of outage, plus £70 for each additional 12 hours they were without power. While that calculation was capped at £700 per customer, grid companies offered to pay even more to those who had been without power for more than six and a half days. About 82% of customers had their power restored within 24 hours, Ofgem said.

Brearley said it is particularly important to prepare for future disruptions, given the effects of the climate crisis. “We’re going to need to keep investing in our networks, especially if we have more storms like this as a result of climate change,” she added.

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“Grid companies need to do better, not just to avoid power outages, but to ensure that when the power is off, they work smarter so people get back on power faster and keep customers informed with information. accurate and timely. This is the least that customers should be able to expect.”

David Smith, chief executive of industry body Energy Networks Association, said he welcomed Ofgem’s findings, adding that members had committed to increasing spending on “resilience measures” such as cutting trees and preventing floods by 20% , from £12 billion to £14.5 billion. bn over the next five years. These plans were submitted to Ofgem for approval.

“It is important that customers trust their network operators and receive support during severe weather events,” he said.

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