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Storm Arwen - What designers are learning one year on

Design considerations By Kevin McGee, Associate Director, Geoenvironmental – 25 November 2022

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Kevin McGee

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Twelve months ago, sat in a freezing cold and leaking house in the wake of Storm Arwen, I wrote a blog on what we as designers could learn from the experience.

For the first time in Northern England, as Arwen approached, we heard meteorological terms such as ‘cyclogenesis’ and ‘eye wall’ – terms normally reserved for hurricanes and typhoons. Only our northerly latitude precluded meteorologists from using the term ‘hurricane’ despite the sustained wind speeds being a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale; I fear with sustained climate change, we will only see more storms of a similar or greater magnitude.

We quickly found out the hard truth in the storm’s wake: the UK’s aging infrastructure simply wasn’t up to the challenge, and 100,000s of people remained without heat, road access or water for more than a week. Even the UK Government’s own report on the aftermath mentions ‘resilience’ almost 100 times across less than 40 pages.

One of the four learning points I wrote about at the time was that the UK infrastructure needs major investment to support domestic decarbonisation, as rather ironically the people worst affected by this storm were those who had already decarbonised and were solely reliant on electricity. In the 12 months since Arwen there have been numerous Actors in the north of England entering the energy market on either district or national grids; all powered from renewable energy, and all buoyed by the local demand for local resilience and the surging energy prices. So much new energy is now being brought on line, that there are now significant areas of Northern England’s grid that can no longer take new mains grid connections.

So the importance of battery storage, improving grid capacity and resilience of connectivity has arguably never been more important – the demand and desire to decarbonise and to bring forward new forms of energy is huge and we have seen a big step forward in just 12 months – but the primary challenge of a resilient network remains – if we are really going to make the best use of the UK’s renewable energy capacity and get consumers off fossil fuels – we need network connectivity, resilience and capacity that really works for everyone.