Advanced flood protection system to protect customer power supply

Russ Pearce, Building and Civil Engineer at Northern Powergrid, tells us how an advanced flood protection system is helping to protect customer power supply across York, as the risk of flooding increases due climate change.

What is the role of Northern Powergrid?

Northern Powergrid is the electricity Distribution Network Operator that powers the North East, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. Not only will its network be the cornerstone of decarbonisation in the region, Northern Powergrid is innovating to fight the challenges that climate change presents.

Why is climate change something Northern Powergrid is preparing for?

We need to adapt to extreme weather today, not tomorrow. Northern Powergrid is responsible for the network that powers everyday life for 8 million customers across Yorkshire and the Humber, and we therefore have a responsibility to ensure power is available when it is needed most.

Our network is at the heart of enabling greater low carbon technology uptake as well as delivering regional climate change mitigation activity. Many changes are happening now to ensure it can continue to safely deliver power as climate change effects begin to escalate in the communities we serve.

Why is flooding a top priority?

Flooding is not a new issue, but it is one we expect to increase and thus remains a top priority in our region. As our climate changes, the air around us will become warmer, more active and hold more water, leading to spells of intense rainfall. The Met Office predicts that large-scale rainstorms in the UK will become 60% more likely over the next 50 years. This will mean longer, and more extreme floods are expected to happen.

Major flood damage to our sites can take weeks to repair. It significantly disrupts customers and their communities as well as vital multiagency recovery efforts.

What is Northern Powergrid doing to ensure resilience to flooding?

To protect our communities and maintain the essential electricity supply that they rely on, we’re taking action now to defend against disruption many years into the future. As part of our flood defence programme, nearly 100 of our sites that host critical infrastructure already have enhanced flood protection - and by December 2021, this will increase to 212 sites. Any new Extra High Voltage substations on Northern Powergrid’s network are also designed and constructed above potential flood levels. By protecting our assets, we can ensure that electricity is safely available from our network to the homes and communities that are able to receive it during a flooding event.

What is the Melrosegate flood resilience project and what did it involve?

In January 2018 we broke ground on our new flood protection project around a primary substation in Melrosegate, York. The £2 million project was a collaboration between multiple partners and our skilled team to create defences that will last well into the future and protect our equipment against the most extreme flood events. The project, completed in August 2019, now protects infrastructure which powers 70,000 homes and businesses across York.

The site is protected against the most extreme flood events which are likely to happen once every 1,000 years. The predicted height for flooding this extreme is 1.03m. With the threats of climate change increasing, we expect flooding events to get more intense and have added an extra 0.6m of wall to defend against this prospect. We’ve also added 0.3m of wave protection in case extreme floods are coupled with strong winds.

What does this project tell others about the need for new skills in the workforce?

The Melrosegate project doesn’t just showcase the infrastructure needed to tackle climate change; it also stresses the urgent need for diversification of skills. The success of the project is thanks to 40+ team members from eight partners across the UK who provided their expert skills and knowledge. We know that this is a crucial area for development for Northern Powergrid which will be critical as Yorkshire and the Humber push forward on climate change action.

What are your future plans?

Integrating climate change adaptation into any long-term infrastructure project is going to be essential over the coming years. By building knowledge and sharing skills like we did on this project, we can help inspire other networks to prepare and ensure that the electricity industry continue to be there to support those people and communities when they need us most.