10 March 2016 12:02

This winter’s power cuts that left more than 55,000 homes and businesses without power in the Lancaster area have been the subject of a special university workshop.

Businesses, healthcare providers, bus operators and other Lancaster organisations and service providers explained to a forum including representatives of six government departments how the power cuts, triggered by the swamping of an electrical substation when the River Lune burst its banks in December, affected every-day life.

The ‘Lancaster – a case study of the loss of the electricity supply on other infrastructure services and the life of the city’ workshop was held on Wednesday, March 9, by Lancaster University, which also lost power leading to the decision to end term and send students home early for Christmas.

It focused on knock-on effects the cuts had on the life of the city – in particular on schools and colleges, health and emergency services, transport, communications and retail activity. Representatives from 12 engineering and research bodies, as well as several energy network companies, also attended the workshop.

Roger Kemp, Professor in Lancaster University’s Engineering department and organiser of the workshop, said: “Last December’s power cuts were a wake-up call to many individuals and businesses about how much they depend on electricity. We all knew that, when there is a power cut, the lights go out. Keeping the lights on is a priority of the government’s energy policy. But we may not have thought much about all the other things that depend on electricity.

“Most people probably know that a gas boiler needs mains electricity for its control unit and to run the circulating pump. However, we might not have spent much time thinking about how to open the electrically-operated garage door when there is no electricity. Once we got the car out of the garage, we found the local petrol station relies on electrically-powered pumps to deliver fuel and electrically-powered internet connections to swipe a credit card. And don’t think of going to an ATM machine to get cash as these also rely on mains electricity.

“This workshop enabled people from a variety of business and organisations around Lancaster, including Booths, Santander Bank, Laurel Bank care home and Christ Church night shelter to explain how the loss of power affected their operations and their experiences will help others to learn from those experiences of the loss of electricity.”

The workshop was also designed to help understand the pressures, constraints and other factors that make energy networks vulnerable from a range of factors in addition to flooding, including energy politics and economics and cyber security.

Professor Peter Atkinson, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, who opened the conference said: “The impacts from Storm Desmond strike me as being quite different from the power blackouts I experienced as a child during the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps because they were less anticipated, perhaps because our dependence these days on the internet and telecommunications is profound, or perhaps because one impact led to another in a cascade.”

A report outlining findings from the workshop will be published later in the year.

Power cuts affected Lancaster between 5th to 9th December 2015 following flooding caused by downpours during Storm Desmond.