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    UK Regulator Launches Power Cut Probe


The failures that caused the blackout may have been avoidable and could be punishable.

by: William Powell

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UK Regulator Launches Power Cut Probe

British energy market regulator Ofgem has launched an investigation into the power cuts of August 9 it said August 20, following an initial report from National Grid Electricity System Operator (NGESO). That was submitted August 16 and may be read here.

As well as considering ways to improve the system's resilience, Ofgem will also seek to establish whether any of the parties involved breached their licence conditions and whether to impose fines or other enforcement measures. This refers to National Grid ESO, National Grid Electricity Transmission, the twelve distribution network operators in England and Wales, and the two generators RWE and Orsted, whose plants failed. Some commentators have said gaps have opened up between NGESO and the local distribution networks.

Ofgem’s investigation will initially focus on NGESO’s requirements to hold sufficient back-up power to manage the loss of generation supplies. It will also consider whether distribution network operators complied with their low-frequency demand disconnection obligations and the circumstances leading to the loss of power to critical infrastructure. A hospital, an airport, traffic lights and train stations were hit.

Ofgem will be looking at whether the companies made the right decisions both in the numbers of customers disconnected and whether those customers disconnected were the right ones.

Many people were stuck on trains for hours, although the interruption to supply lasted less than an hour so Ofgem is liaising with the rail regulator (Office of Rail and Road) and will be engaging with the rail authorities to understand better why the drop in frequency on the energy network led to disruption for passengers.

Ofgem is additionally supporting the government’s Energy Executive Emergency Committee investigation into the power failure and its consequences, which is happening at the same time.

Ofgem said it was "important that the industry takes all possible steps to prevent this happening again. Having now received National Grid ESO’s interim report, we believe there are still areas where we need to use our statutory powers to investigate these outages. This will ensure the industry learns the relevant lessons and to clearly establish whether any firm breached their obligations to deliver secure power supplies to consumers.”

Commenting, Cornwall Insight said that National Grid held 1 GW of response in case of an interconnector failure but in fact the overall loss of transmission connected generation was over 1.3 GW. And an estimated 500 MW of generation capacity was lost on the distribution system at the same time as the lightning strike.

“This highlights how increasingly interdependent and interconnected our systems have become, and it is essential that the effects of embedded generation on the whole system are considered as part of operational security planning," it said. 

“The investigations will need to evaluate the way the National Grid assesses response and reserve given the changing mix of generation on the system and how services are provided and contracted for, including the liabilities on providers unable to fulfil their obligations. There is a balance here between the likelihood and scale of potential distribution and the amount consumers might be prepared to pay to avoid this in our increasingly digitalised age.”