The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has proposed a new framework for resilience should be implemented across the nation’s economic infrastructure as it has a "duty to prepare."
Highlighting events such as the 9 August blackout, the NIC said that recent occurrences have exposed vulnerabilities within the country's energy infrastructure relating to resilience.
As such, it has developed a new framework with six key aspects of resilience. This follows requests from the government in 2018 to conduct a study on the resilience of the nation’s economic infrastructure, with its recommendations spanning energy, water, digital, road and rail services.
"The framework proposed in our report offers the tools to face uncomfortable truths, value resilience properly, test for vulnerabilities and drive adaptation before it is too late," Sir John Armitt, chair of the NIC, said.
The six aspects of resilience the NIC outlined in its proposed framework are:
- Anticipate - before any disruption, operators must anticipate shocks and be prepared for them.
- Resist - systems must be designed to resist shocks and stresses to prevent an impact on infrastructure services.
- Absorb - systems need to be able to absorb shocks and stresses to minimise the impact on services.
- Recover - after the shock, actions need to be in place that can help quickly restore expected levels of service.
- Adapt – there need to be actions in place that can modify the system so it can continue to deliver services in the face of changes, for example using storage in the electricity system to support renewable generation.
- Transform – there need to be actions that regenerate and improve infrastructure systems, for example transforming infrastructure to meet the net zero target.
The government should therefore introduce a statutory requirement by 2022 for secretaries of state to publish “clear, proportionate and realistic standards” every five years for resilience, as well as an assessment of how existing structures, powers and incentives enable operators to deliver these standards.
Infrastructure operators should develop and maintain strategies to ensure infrastructure services can continue to meet long-term resilience standards, the NIC recommended.
Regulators should therefore introduce obligations by 2023 on infrastructure operators to require them to develop and maintain long term resilience strategies, as well as setting out in future price reviews how their determinations are consistent with meeting standards of resilience in both the short and long-term.
By 2024, regulators should require regular stress testing by 2024 to ensure infrastructure operators’ systems and decision making can “credible meet resilience standards”.
However, the NIC did acknowledge that there are characteristics of infrastructure systems that make resilience tricky. It cited examples such as how they are continually in use, making it difficult to test systems for vulnerabilities, as well as many assets having long life spans, meaning uses and engineering standards may have changed since they were built.
Data on asset condition and expected rates of decay not always being available is also a challenge, the NIC said.
Armitt continued to say that whilst the report is based on evidence from before the COVID-19 pandemic, it "can inform thinking about the recovery and help ensure that we can be resilient to future challenges".
“To safeguard the systems our communities rely on, everyone involved in running infrastructure needs to anticipate and prepare for potential future challenges."
The report did also acknowledge that guaranteed standards for energy and set out how quickly members of the public should expect their service to be restored, meaning consumers are clear about how long disruptions may last.
It also pointed to National Grid ESO being clear about the expected normal operation of the system, how quickly frequency should be restored and what circumstances require further action due to the Security and Quality of Supply Standard.
The full report and recommendations can be read here.