Close Weather Watch at Electricity North West

For Electricity North West keeping a careful watch on the weather, it is all about people. First of all, it’s about the customers, repairing any damage to the power network and restoring electricity supplies as quickly and safely as possible. And secondly, it is about its engineers and their safety who have to go out in the worst weather to solve any issues and power cuts, caused by the bad weather. The more Electricity North West knows about the weather forecast and what the weather will do, the better it can serve their customers and support their engineers.

Electricity North West is one of 14 distribution network operators in the UK regulated by Ofgem. It is responsible for maintaining and upgrading 13,000 km of overhead power lines and more than 44,000 km of underground electricity cables. This covers such diverse communities as the Lake District in the north to the bustling city of Manchester in the south, and beyond. Electricity North West prides itself on operating one of the most reliable networks in the country. On top of this, it is investing another £1.9bn by 2023 to make sure it can continue to deliver the desired excellent, safe and affordable service to its customers. 

One of the areas where Electricity North West has been making great progress over the last few years is in the anticipation and preparation for severe weather events thanks to essential weather updates and bespoke information provided on a regular basis.
 “As many people in our region have experienced at some point in time, the weather can have a big impact on the local power network. That’s why forecasts are essential to help all areas of the business prepare and react quickly”, says Chris Fox, Network Systems Manager at Electricity North West.

“We work hard to make the network as resilient as possible, but there are some things we just can’t control. Safety around the impact of severe weather, including strong winds blowing branches or whole trees onto overhead power lines and lightning, is paramount. At the same time, localised flooding can strongly impact our underground cables and substations, which we witnessed during Storm Desmond in 2015.”

“What we can (and do) do is cut back trees near lines, install appropriate flood defenses and invest in automatic restoration systems, so that if the weather does cause a power cut, we can get it back as quickly as possible. We also have teams on standby 24-hours a day ready to fix any faults or issues out on the network. That’s where our partnership with weather forecaster MeteoGroup comes in. Over the last two years, they have been proactively providing us with all the relevant weather forecasts to be able to prepare for any potential severe weather, anywhere in the North West.“

Planning ahead to improve customer service

A better service to our customers means fewer power cuts, and if they do occur, to remedy the issue as fast as possible. Communication is key in this whole process. This starts with having a good infrastructure and incident planning process in place. The dialogue with the customer is key, and therefore it is important to keep them as informed as possible about what we are doing in terms of repairing any damage and restoring their power supply”, Fox continues.

“This means that we always communicate with our customers, even when there’s nothing much going on with the weather. By publishing a monthly Weather Watch on our website we are able to educate the public on how weather can impact the network, what this means for them as well as for our engineers. We have now been publishing these monthly Weather Watches - specially produced for us by MeteoGroup - for two years and it acts as a much appreciated public service to our customers.

Incident planning based on forecasts

“In normal circumstances, we get regular updates from MeteoGroup about the weather, but as soon as there is some severe weather on its way, these communications are scaled up. Our incident plan kicks in and a frequent communication process starts that – depending on the severity - involves more or less every area of the business: from engineering and operations to communications and customer support. Even finance and HR are involved during an incident. It’s all hands on deck.”

“We offer extra support to customers through our Priority Services Register, which is available to customers who require it, e.g. the sick, disabled or elderly. During the severe weather, we will work hard to contact our customers who have registered on our Priority Services Register to make sure they are ok and offer any help or advice they need. We also provide free hot meals and drinks to communities impacted by any loss of power during an incident.”

“The whole incident management process, supported by information from the MeteoGroup forecasts, helps us to be able to act rather than just react. When we know where issues might occur, we can direct suitable resources faster in the right areas, thus solving the problems faster, whilst also ensuring the safety of our engineers as well.”

In response to severe weather events, Electricity North West drafts in extra engineers and call centre agents to help monitor the network, to repair any potential damage and help customers 24/7.
All the while they keep communication with the public through their website and the various social media channels and through their customer contact centre. In addition, they have to keep the regulator Ofgem informed on a regular basis, depending on the extent of severe weather and the subsequent impact on the network at hand.”

“Storms and severe weather don’t just happen in winter. No matter the season or the weather, we always have to be prepared and we are well-rehearsed in working around the clock to mobilise our engineers and repair any damage and get the power back on as quickly as possible.”

Having had this process in place for a number of years now, Electricity North West finds that it’s getting better and better. But there’s always room for improvement and innovation. Looking to the future, MeteoGroup has developed sophisticated machine learning models that translate weather data into a prediction of the number of potential faults and customers affected. Powerful ‘Big Data’ approaches such as this are becoming increasingly widely adopted by distribution network operators and have the potential to deliver a further step change to storm preparation and response strategies.

From the Weather Watch of September 2018

September 2018 was an eventful one in the North West in regards to weather. The area was impacted by the first two named storms of the season, Storm Ali and Storm Bronagh. Electricity North West engineers worked hard to restore power to more than 36,700 customers in Cumbria and north Lancashire after the region was hit by severe gales and heavy rain. In just two days Electricity North West handled 8,400 customer calls, provided 500 free hot meals and drinks and 400 employees worked tirelessly to repair the damage and restore power.
Read more about Electricity North West’s restoration efforts here and see photos showing what the engineers had to face on the Flickr channel.

Click here for the rest of the Weather Watch.


 

Over the last two years, MeteoGroup has been proactively providing us with all the relevant weather forecasts to be able to prepare for any potential severe weather, anywhere in the North West.