The growing role of weather intelligence in a warming climate

As UK summers heat up, utility companies can turn to tech to stay ahead of extreme events.

2022 was the hottest year on record in the UK, bringing heat that felt more typical of Saudi Arabia than Southend. Peaking at 40.3 degrees centigrade, the country was blasted with sunshine and saw repeated weather warnings and record-breaking temperatures from north to south. The heatwaves brought wildfires, transport disruptions, drought, and caused more than 3,000 excess deaths. For utility companies, the battle was on to avoid blackouts, and as extreme heat events are set to become more frequent in the UK, that battle is far from over.

Heat’s impact on the energy system

Blackouts are something all utility companies strive to avoid. But last summer this exact scenario came dangerously close in the UK. Demand for electricity across London spiked as temperatures climbed, and the heat, fires near transmission lines, and planned maintenance all combined to cause a bottleneck in the grid. A blackout was narrowly avoided by the National Grid’s Electricity System Operator importing power from Belgium, but it came at a whopping price — more than 5000% more than usual.

To help avoid extreme solutions like this, UK utilities are also trialling schemes where consumers are asked to switch off when demand is high, and then paid for their efforts (at a much more affordable price per unit). But beyond last-minute energy trading and customers cutting use, it’s clear that utilities need to evolve new ways to deal with an increasingly unpredictable energy landscape.

Advanced weather intelligence can help utilities prepare

Knowing when, where, and how severely extreme heat events will strike can make a big difference to how utility companies plan and respond. Weather forecasting plays a key role on this front, but as patterns change and our seasons become more erratic, traditional forecasting techniques may no longer suffice.

Advanced solutions that draw on machine learning, large data sets and real-time reporting can provide the shift that’s needed. A new frontier in weather intelligence is here, and it’s delivering more accurate insights, tailored to individual businesses’ needs, well ahead of time.

Leveraging AI and machine learning shortens the time between data collection, analysis, and action. For utility companies, this takes the labour out of weather watching and enables faster decision making. Businesses that take advantage of these new capabilities will strengthen their position to access resources and serve customers more effectively — and can quickly show governments and regulators the cause behind any outages.

Utility companies juggle many plates, as they attempt to simultaneously balance power distribution, avoid equipment damage, ensure their teams are working in safe conditions, and keep the lights on for millions of consumers. Advanced weather intelligence is fast becoming a must-have to ensure a reliable service, avoid fines from regulators, and improve operations for those on the ground.

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