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UK’s Power Reserves Now Near The Bone

February 26, 2016

By Paul Homewood   


ScreenHunter_3678 Feb. 25 22.54


Electrical generation from wind yesterday slumped at one stage as low as 0.4%, 152MW.


As this excellent new site from Stephen Morley shows, total demand peaked at just under 49GW.







With Drax now considering mothballing its remaining coal units, it is perhaps a good time to have a look at the dispatchable capacity position we are likely to be facing by 2020.



CCGT 32.3
Nuclear 9.9
Coal 2.0
Misc Conventional 6.4
Biomass 2.5
TOTAL 53.1



These are my assumptions:  


1) CCGT includes all current capacity, (incl mothballed), plus the new plant at Carrington, due to be up and running this year.

2) The 2.0GW for coal is purely from Ratcliffe. Given the current economics of coal, there must be huge question marks whether this will survive till then.

3) I have assumed Drax do take their coal capacity off line.

4) Also assume that the last unit at Fiddlers Ferry (500MW) will also be gone. The other three units are all due to shut this year, and the only reason the last is being kept is that it is contracted under the Capacity Market Auction for 2018/19. As it has failed to extend the contract into 2019/20, there is no conceivable way it can be economic to keep it open beyond that.

5) The remaining coal plants, Cottam, West Burton and Aberthaw (combined 5.6GW) are all opted out of the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive. This means they are allowed 17500 hours of operation between Jan 2016 and Dec 2023. They will inevitably want to use these hours up as soon as possible, to keep costs down. If we assume that they operate at 50% capacity, this would amount to 4380 hours a year. That would take their operational life up to Dec 2019.  

It is therefore assumed that these too will be shut by 2020.               

6) Biomass principally is accounted for by three units at Drax, plus Lynemouth.      

7) Misc includes Gas Turbines, Dual Fired, Oil Fired and CHP.          


As dispatchable power refers to power which can be supplied on demand, unreliables such as wind, solar and hydro are not included. There are of course the Interconnectors from France and the Netherlands, which could conceivably supply 3GW, but how reliable these would be in times of high demand and low supply remains to be seen. Yesterday they supplied under 2GW on average.


It is hard to see how any new CCGT plants could be brought on line before 2020, given planning lead times, arranging finance and construction times, even if operators could be persuaded to build the darned things. I understand that Carrington’s plant, due this year, has taken four years already.


Let’s be clear. If I am anywhere near right here, we are in deep trouble. The above capacities are “rated”, ie the theoretical full capacity. In practice, with breakdowns and stoppages, we can never expect to get anywhere near this, particularly when demand is high for a length of time, as when we get the sort of extended spell of really cold weather which we have not seen since 2010.

The Centre for Policy Studies, in their report The Great Green Hangover last year, suggested that we need to allow for 15% downtime to arrive at a reliable “derated” capacity. This means that if demand peaks at 50 GW, a very optimistic figure, we actually need about 59 GW of dispatchable capacity, something we clearly are not going to have in a few years time.  

We may get extremely lucky and just manage to get by, due to a combination of wet and windy winters and low downtime. But is this really a way to run a country?

  1. February 27, 2016 12:30 am

    If hadn’t been for El-nino giving UK & Western Europe a mild winter, the UK grid would have collapsed this year.
    the rest of the northern hemisphere has had/is having an immense amount of cold this year.

    see it live –

    Temperature colour key for surface
    Dark Blue = 0 to -10°C, Light Blue = -10 to-30°C, Red = -30 to -60°C
    Green = 0 to +10°C, yellow/green = +10 to +20°C, Brown = +20 to +60°C

    • February 27, 2016 12:33 am

      click on any place to see current wind & temperature.
      you can drag globe to see any area

  2. February 27, 2016 12:38 am

    As well as the very low output, yesterday’s figures also reveal the inaccuracy of even short-term forecasting. Just one example: at period 31 the short-term forecast was for 1,484MW, the realised output was 370MW.

    Without accurate short-term forecasting it is extremely problematic for National Grid to balance load without maintaining a high level of ‘hot’ reserve capacity to meet the vagaries of wind output. Wind’s, and solar’s, lack of latency also doesn’t help matters.

    We know that very accurate forecasting is never going to be achieved due to the nature of wind and the wind turbine power curve. As National Grid themselves admit on the BM website: “The predictability of the wind varies with atmospheric conditions and so there may be periods where National Grid’s forecast and outturn values differ significantly.” (‘Wind forecast outturns – Information’, BM reports website).

    It would be helpful if there was more openness about this and the effects on efficiency and emissions of cycling gas power stations to follow wind load.

  3. markl permalink
    February 27, 2016 12:38 am

    “But is this really a way to run a country?” The Green Blob doesn’t care how a country is run. I’m surprised the people in the EU are so complacent about their disappearing energy and the high cost of what remains.

  4. David Richardson permalink
    February 27, 2016 8:09 am

    Well we are saving the planet guys – a bit of pain is worth it isn’t it?

    We are truly governed by idiots. As Nigel Lawson has stated, when he was Energy Minister in the 80’s it was his remit to secure energy for citizens at the lowest price possible, now we know the opposite is what drives DECC today.

    1saveenergys mentions the cold in other parts of the world. Both Asia and Canada/USA have had some cold and snow records broken. Paul covered some of this in an earlier post and more has occurred since. This is weather and not climate (lets ignore that it is opposite of predictions) but little has been seen of this in the MSM. Imagine if the weather was sweltering?

  5. February 27, 2016 9:33 am

    The only thing that is “Green” about wind is that you’ve got to be pretty naive to believe these bird killing monsters that consume as much fossil fuels doing production installation and maintenance as they produce in their short lives are anything but money making schemes AT OUR EXPENSE by a few greedy landowners (most of them in the Tory party) & Oil Companies hoping that public concern over “climate” will result in massive price rises of oil and a direct boost to their bottom line.

  6. Paul2 permalink
    February 27, 2016 9:41 am

    Paul, is the information on Stephen Morley’s website taken from the UK National Grid website whose information is not up to date in terms of the amount of wind capacity?

  7. Dave Ward permalink
    February 27, 2016 12:47 pm

    The installed wind capacity is roughly 40% more than is metered by BM Reports. As I write this, Gridwatch (derived from BM Reports) is showing 1.37GW & Clive Best’s site 2.0GW The difference appears as a reduction in demand. However, the clincher is that 40% of bugger all is STILL bugger all…

    @ 1saveenergys – thanks for your link. I have been using the purely wind version for some time, but wasn’t aware of the combined wind & temperature display.

    • February 27, 2016 2:01 pm

      Click on – ‘earth’ for parameters (e.g. for Jet Streams height =250
      Click on ‘globe’ & drag to rotate;
      Click on ‘globe’ – green spot gives – Position, Wind direction & speed, Temperature.
      Click on ‘about’ for more details.

      Temperature colour key for surface layer.
      Dark Blue = 0 to -10°C, Light Blue = -10 to-30°C, Red = -30 to -60°C
      Green = 0 to +10°C, yellow/green = +10 to +20°C, Brown = +20 to +60°C

      6 min video- ‘How to use the EARTH map’ –

      Or just jump to –
      Arctic –
      Antarctic –
      North Hemisphere Jet streams & temperature –
      North Atlantic currents –

      Lots of goody’s


      A similar but different Interactive map of earth showing – winds, temps, ocean currents,
      Plus – Barometric Pressure, Clouds, Humidity, Rain, Snow, Swell, Waves.
      Temperature colour chart only gives -35 to +35 in 15 steps.
      Click on ‘globe’– White spot gives – Temperature; Click for detailed forecast for that spot.,1.912,1

  8. Paul2 permalink
    February 27, 2016 1:39 pm

    Sorry for any confusion, Paul, but it appears that the stats from Stephen Morley’s site more or less match that of Gridwatch so I assumed that he was using the same data.

  9. February 29, 2016 1:56 pm

    With such stretched resources we could be one cyber attack away from grid chaos.

    ‘U.S. government concludes cyber attack caused Ukraine power outage’

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