Editor’s blog: The biggest tests of resilience are yet to come

Network content director Jane Gray reflects on the industry's coronavirus response to date and the challenges still to come.

Editor’s blog: The biggest tests of resilience are yet to come

Network responses to the threat of Covid-19 have been confident and effective. But as lockdown wears on, leaders are turning their eyes to longer term worries, writes Jane Gray.

The response of the UK’s energy networks to the immediate challenges posed by coronavirus in the UK has been swift and deft.

Across the board, leaders have shown reassuring confidence in deploying pandemic response plans which few, no doubt, ever envisaged having to enact. And they have unanimously done the right thing in focusing first and foremost on the safety of colleagues, before taking rapid steps to shore up continuity of supply to beleaguered households and critical care sites.

But as lockdown continues across the UK, with no defined end date, concerns are increasingly being aired about the longer-term implications that coronavirus could have on network reliability, on field trials for important innovation schemes and on the financial health of both core utilities and their supply chains.

During the past few weeks, Network – and its sister title Utility Week – has been overwhelmed with communications explaining the steps that have been taken to ensure safe working conditions for workers, and to work with the supply chain to build up appropriate inventory of key kit and equipment so that major failures in the UK’s critical national infrastructure do no add to national woes.

In the same vein, a collective effort to provide enhanced reporting of key business health indicators to Ofgem has been pragmatically executed. The importance of the increased visibility this will give the regulator and, ultimately, government, of the resilience of energy supplies should not be underplayed.

And of course, the dedication of the sector’s workers has also provided a beacon of good news in troubled times, while the sector’s proactive responses to the alarming increase in consumer vulnerability triggered by coronavirus and the government lockdown have been nothing short of heroic.

But, as the sector settles into a new groove of widespread homeworking and operations under social distancing, it is increasingly clear risks to resilience remain.

Speaking to senior network leaders before this issue went to press, Network heard how they are turning their eyes to longer-term concerns, including a growing need to press ahead with basic network maintenance and replacement work which will ensure reliability through the most testing winter months.

Some are also worried about shortages of key kit – like transformers – and the trade o. s this may force networks to take between planned capital work and the need to keep emergency inventory in case of unexpected failures.

Financial resilience will also come under increasing pressure – not least in the supply chain on which so much of the UK energy network industry’s world leading performance relies. Networks have proven themselves resilient in the short term. But we are not out of the woods yet.


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