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Electricity Blackouts Risk Up

July 15, 2015

h/t Mark Hodgson  




From the No S**t Sherlock Dept!


The risk of blackouts this winter has increased compared with a year ago, according to National Grid.

It says the closure of some power stations will have left spare capacity on the system at just 1.2%, the worst for a decade.

It has secured extra supplies by paying tens of millions of pounds to have several plants on standby and by asking some industries to switch off power.

The move means overall spare capacity is now expected to be around 5%.

"It’s clear that electricity margins for that coldest, darkest half hour of winter are currently tighter than they have been, due to power stations closures", says Cordi O’Hara, National Grid’s Director of Market Operations.

To ensure the lights stay on, for the second year running, National Grid will pay firms like Centrica and SSE to keep power plants in reserve.

It is also paying large energy users, such as Tata Steel, to switch off.


A total of 2.56GW of power has been secured, which National Grid says will increase overall margins to 5.1%.

That is still lower that spare capacity available last winter after similar measures.

The move will cost £36m and will add 50 pence to the typical household energy bill.

"As system operator, we feel we’ve taken a sensible precaution again this winter to buy some extra services", says Cordi O Hara.

"Together with the tools we already use to balance the network these additional services will significantly increase the energy reserve available this winter"


Keeping the lights on is getting more challenging.

EU regulations have forced older polluting power plants to close.

Low wholesale power prices have continued that trend making some plants uneconomic to keep open.

Around 2GW of power has come off the system since last year with the closure of plants including Barking Power Station, Ferrybridge and Littlebrook.

"The economics of generation are terrible" says Peter Atherton, a utilities analyst at Jefferies Investment Bank.

"Every gas fired plant is losing money. And new build is not delivering. Hence the underlying margins are getting worse".


The government insists that the lights will stay on this winter.

"Our priority is to ensure that British families and business have access to secure affordable energy supplies that they can rely on", said Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom.

"National Grid have confirmed that our plan to power the economy is working – and it means that the lights will stay on this winter as well as making sure our homes and businesses have the gas and electricity they need in the future."

National Grid is now looking at whether it will need to secure more standby generation for the next two years.

It had been assumed that the spare capacity on the power network would hit a low in the coming winter 2015-16 and then increase in subsequent years.

But National Grid now says that owing to uncertainties, it is no longer clear that margins will recover in the winter of 2016-17.

National Grid will now consult on this and will publish final margin figures for the coming winter in the autumn.



The BBC totally ignore the real cause of the problem, which is that heavily subsidised, but utterly unreliable renewables are driving gas power stations out of the market and discouraging new gas builds, at the same time that EU regulations are closing down coal fired plants.

As I have commented before, the real capacity crunch won’t happen now, but will get gradually worse until well into the 2020’s. That is when most if not all of the coal power stations will have shut, with no new nuclear ready to come till years after.

Govt plans assume a large increase in gas power capacity, but market conditions are not encouraging.

  1. Paul2 permalink
    July 15, 2015 9:14 am

    Steve Holliday from the National grid thinks that there is a phenomenal amount of power coming from solar power. I need a lie down. Starts after Pesto talking about Greece around the 2 hour 15 mark:

  2. Joe Public permalink
    July 15, 2015 9:19 am

    “The BBC totally ignore the real cause of the problem, …..”, because they’ll be largely unaffected by any blackout, having their own (expensive – but Telly-Tax funded) standby-generators.

  3. July 15, 2015 9:21 am

    The BBC are running a very effective propaganda campaign on this, saying that electricity bills will rise by a mere 50 pence per year to pay for standby electricity, so that the glorious renewable, clean green energy revolution can proceed to victory over the polluting corporations and evil vested interests and the planet will be saved, for our children.

  4. July 15, 2015 9:22 am

    Reblogged this on Tallbloke's Talkshop and commented:
    As Paul Homewood rightly says, this is as predictable as the day is long. Rely on unreliable renewables and end up having trouble generating enough power – who knew?

  5. Mark Hodgson permalink
    July 15, 2015 10:04 am

    Thanks Paul

    Good article, and a superbly quick response to my comment on another article earlier this afternoon. Let’s hope this generates some serious interest, as the subject is one of real concern.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      July 15, 2015 10:51 am

      You can hope but… “the attention span of an alert politician extends to the end of next week, at most”. No, the UK will sleep walk into disaster.
      At least then, there will be attention paid to what has happened and wind & solar subsidies will be chopped, regardless of whose father-in-law or cousin etc. is making a good thing out of it.

  6. Tom Collins permalink
    July 15, 2015 10:44 am

    What an absolute fiasco. Our politicians couldn’t arrange a pu at a brewery. They fall down like ninepins in the face of EU aggression Time to get OUT and arrange our own affairs. At least that might keep the lights on.

  7. Dave Ward permalink
    July 15, 2015 11:07 am

    “It says the closure of some power stations will have left spare capacity on the system at just 1.2%, the worst for a decade”

    I would have thought it was for much longer than that – in fact, has it EVER been that low?

    “National Grid is now looking at whether it will need to secure more standby generation for the next two years”

    There soon won’t be any fields left to build on – they will all be covered with diesel powered STOR gensets…

  8. Peter MacFarlane permalink
    July 15, 2015 11:32 am

    “It has secured extra supplies…by asking some industries to switch off power.”

    To save the village, we had to destroy it.

  9. July 15, 2015 12:29 pm

    OK, quick look round and I see a figure of 9.3% for 2014 for wind (currently 2.6% according to NG)

    So in December, we get one or two of those gloriously bright/clear, but very cold days/nights, caused, of course, by a region of High Pressure over the UK. That also means little-to-no wind. So we lose either 9.3% or 2.6% straight off, does this eat into the 5% spare, or is 5% what we have spare when there is no wind?
    What is the 5% “spare capacity” a measure of? Is it what we have when all the unreliables are assumed to be off-line (with the turbines actually consuming power to prevent blades freezing up), or is there an assumption that there will always be some unreliables input?

    Can we get at the numbers that give us the 5%?



  10. July 15, 2015 3:28 pm

    The old CEGB used to drive me to despair at times in the days when I was trying to innovate in energy generation. However, the present mad situation would not have developed under their mandated duty of care. The privatised power industry is purely profit motivated and has no reason to invest without subsidy / guarantees on future income. Wind and solar would have been penalised for the times when they could not generate to demand, rather than being rewarded when their excess capacity cannot be taken.

    Most significant however, we should be taking advantage of the present low cost coal and oil to minimise real cost of generation as (Germany now are).

  11. tom0mason permalink
    July 15, 2015 6:34 pm

    The big thing is that consumer prices will keep rising.
    Apart from the mad idea of trying to make renewables a significant part of the energy mix, with grid load balancing becoming significantly more difficult as more renewables come on-line. The whole system will become more wasteful and less (consumer) efficient.

    No, I’m wondering how different is this situation from the early days of Enron?
    Insert renewable subsidy (and true lifespan of the renewables ) for Enron’s off-balance sheet ‘Mark-to-the-Market’ shenanigans, frighten the consumer with shortages, and respin for ever increasing profits for supplier, generators, and government.

    How long before it ‘does an Enron’ and a collapse? My guess, 5-8 years minimum. Keep a keen eye out for an equivalent of Enron’s Whitewing company buying up used and just about worthless generating plant expensively.

  12. Mark Hodgson permalink
    July 16, 2015 7:07 am

    Despite reporting the very real and imminent danger of the lights going out, still the BBC ramps up the pressure ahead of the Paris Conference. Here’s the latest piece of alarmist propaganda:

    The headline is “Warming ‘worst case’ must be considered say experts” and includes gems such as “The authors says [sic] that that leaders must focus on the ‘worst case scenarios’ and how likely they are to occur.” But apparently not on best case scenarios, and how likely they are to occur. And of course non-scientists (“experts in risk, as well as scientists, compiled the report, we are told) become experts when they are on-message. It’s only when they are off-message that non-scientists are not allowed an opinion and must be ignored.

  13. Russ Wood permalink
    July 16, 2015 4:28 pm

    If you want to know what electricity blackouts do to an economy, you won’t have to look further than South Africa. Due to 20 years of mismanagement of the single electricity generator and distributor, the national power supply is about 4 to 6% UNDER the required minimum, causing 4 hour ‘load shedding’ periods to be rotated around the country. The lack of power has caused the mining production (our major exporter) to drop by 10 -20%, and manufacturing industries have stopped expansion plans. Steel companies may be closing, and small businesses have to invest in their own generators in order to continue trading. AND this is expected to continue for the next 3-4 years!


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