UK power cut: Government to investigate outage that left a million without electricity

National Grid to be subject to probe announced by Andrea Leadsom

Andy Gregory
Monday 12 August 2019 01:08
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Power cuts london and south east hit by massive national grid failure as traffic lights go down

The government has launched an investigation into the biggest power cut in a decade that left millions of homes and businesses in England and Wales without electricity.

The major outage on Friday, which knocked out traffic lights, disrupted public transport nationwide and affected vital hospital services, will be subject to an inquiry by a government committee.

“Enormous disruption” was caused by the incident, said Andrea Leadsom, business secretary.

National Grid must urgently review and report to Ofgem,” she said. “I will also be commissioning the government’s energy emergencies executive committee to consider the incident.”

On Saturday, energy market regulator Ofgem demanded “an urgent detailed report” from National Grid and said recriminatory steps could include enforcement action and a fine, which could total as much as 10 per cent of the company’s annual turnover.

National Grid operations director Duncan Burt insisted the power cut was an “incredibly rare event” and quickly dismissed concerns that wind energy was responsible.

The incident occurred after two power plants disconnected “near simultaneously”, he told the BBC.

A gas-generated plant Little Barford, Bedfordshire, is thought to have disconnected first at 4:58pm, followed by Hornsea, a wind farm in the North Sea, just two minutes later.

Automatic processes triggered by the loss of the two generators had temporarily disconnected electrical demand across the country to “help keep the rest of the system safe”, Mr Burt said.

This led to “apocalyptic” scenes in London, as commuters were forced to navigate darkened transport stations using the torches on their phones, while cancelled trains caused delays of up to eight hours.

“All the traffic lights were down, but there were no police present, which meant it was dangerous to cross – cars weren’t stopping either,” Harriet Jackson, 26, told the Press Association.

Flights were grounded at Newcastle Airport and a backup generator failed in Ipswich Hospital, affecting outpatients, X-rays and scans.

“Disruption on this scale is unacceptable,” said shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey.

“National Grid – which in May posted £1.8bn in profits and increased dividend payouts to shareholders – must urgently provide a full account of what went wrong, and why.”

UK customers left without electricity as massive national grid failure causes travel chaos

The government probe will consider whether the procedures and processes followed by National Grid were adhered to and if they are “fit for purpose”.

It will also investigate whether the UK’s power system was suffering any technical performance issues at the time, and review the efficiency of communications as the incident occurred and as power was restored.

It will not consider regulatory matters, which are a matter for Ofgem, a government statement said.

Mr Burt admitted it could take National Grid months to work through the lessons of Friday’s failure: “The level of impact means we will be working through the lessons of this for a number of weeks and months to make sure that we minimise disruption in the future.”

Speaking to the Today programme, he reassured customers the UK’s system was stable: “We have, in the UK, one of the most reliable networks in the world.”

A National Grid Electricity System Operator spokesperson said: “Any type of power cut can be disruptive to daily life, and the whole UK energy industry needs to understand the causes of yesterday’s power cut and also why it was able to create such significant disruption to services across Great Britain, particularly the transport network.

“The National Grid ESO is therefore very pleased that the government has commissioned the Energy Emergencies Executive Committee to consider the incident and how it played out, and we will work closely with that investigation to ensure that learnings can be reflected in industry processes and procedures going forward.

“In the meantime the ESO has already initiated its own internal review of the response, and is collaborating closely with Ofgem, local distribution networks and affected power stations / generators to understand the cause of yesterday’s power cut.”

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