Will the UK’s infrastructure survive ongoing storms?

Flood damage Ellis Fox Blog

The past week saw the UK battered by three consecutive storms resulting in heavy rain and snow, strong winds and extensive damage to infrastructure. Train stations were flooded, coastal town were battered, and many major roads and motorways became impassable under the deluge of water. Fallen trees blocked railway lines, damaged properties and the storms interrupted essential power supply to more than 14 million homes. High speed winds toppled lorry’s causing road closures and even snapped huge wind turbines like a twig. Unfortunately, it’s not over yet with the UK weather office predicting continued strong winds and high levels of snowfall.

It’s a harsh reminder that the effects of climate change are real and likely to get worse. Decade’s old engineering for weather defenses on aging infrastructure is proving to be insufficient for the increasing ferocity of today’s weather patterns. While a great deal of funding has been promised for infrastructure upgrades and development, costs are likely to climb. Especially with the wide scale of emergency repairs required just to get existing infrastructure operational again.

The severe weather has once again highlighted vulnerabilities in utilities and infrastructure. Engineers have their work cut out for them. It is one thing to mitigate for severe weather damage on new projects, but quite another to try redesign aging infrastructure already buckling under pressure of growing urban populations. Storm water drainage is one such example that is inherently difficult to solve in built up urban areas. Not to mention railways that are particularly vulnerable to storm damage.

The urgency to implement repairs highlights the need for modern methods of construction that can facilitate quick on-site assembly rather than lengthy and more traditional structural methods. Faster construction methods can reduce structural vulnerability. These MMC type of designs could also be used as temporary storm defenses to help mitigate severe storm damage when needed.

In terms of interruptions to power supply, it’s been suggested that alternate methods of power storage should be investigated to reduce reliance on energy generation having to flow through a national grid. Smaller, more localised and efficient energy storage methods could reduce the risk of power interruptions.

While the infrastructure sector is facing many challenges, it’s also the ideal opportunity to test new ideas and consider alternate designs that could be more effective and more efficient. There’s no time to lose, the next storm is already brewing.