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Blackouts, deaths and civil unrest: warning over Scotland’s rush to go green

December 1, 2018

By Paul Homewood


From The Herald:



Scotland faces being plunged into darkness for days, possibly resulting in deaths and widespread civil disobedience, due to the country’s over-reliance on green energy, a new report has warned.

A massive gap in the electricity system caused by the closure of coal-fired power stations and growth of unpredictable renewable generation has created the real prospect of complete power failure. 

According the Institution of Engineers in Scotland (IESIS), there is a rising threat of an unstable electricity supply which, left unaddressed, could result in “deaths, severe societal and industrial disruption, civil disturbance and loss of production”.

The organisation is also warning that the loss of traditional power generating stations such as Longannet, which closed in 2016, means restoring electricity in a “black start” situation – following a complete loss of power – would take several days. 

Its new report into the energy system points to serious power cuts in other countries, which have resulted in civil disturbance, and warns: “A lengthy delay would have severe negative consequences – the supply of food, water, heat, money, petrol would be compromised; there would be limited communications. The situation would be nightmarish.”

IESIS is now calling on the Scottish and UK governments to transform their approach to how the electricity system is governed, with the creation of a new national energy authority with specific responsibility for safeguarding its long-term sustainability and avoiding blackouts. 

The startling warning comes against a background of increasing reliance on “intermittent” energy sources such as wind and solar power. 

Earlier this month ScottishPower became the first major UK energy firm to switch entirely from fossil fuels to green energy after selling its remaining gas and hydro stations to Drax for £702 million.

The closure of Hunterston B nuclear power station in Ayrshire, scheduled for 2023, is causing concern there will be an even wider gap in the nation’s electricity supply.  All UK coal-fired power stations are expected to close by 2025, while reliance on electricity to meet the needs of electric vehicles and domestic heat rises.

The engineering body has also raised concerns that an electricity system designed specifically for gas and coal-fired generation is being asked to take on a new form of supply without having undergone full engineering assessment. 

It also highlights a piecemeal approach to siting new energy generating plants driven by private companies and efforts to meet CO2 emissions targets rather than the overall security of the electricity system. 

Iain MacLeod, of the IESIS, said: “The electricity system was designed with generation coming mainly from coal and nuclear energy. However, as we change generation sources to include intermittent renewables, we must review how the system works with these new inputs. The risks involved when introducing new sources of generation need to be controlled. Intermittent renewable energy sources do not supply the same level of functionality as power stations to meet demand at all times and avoid operational faults. Intermittency issues … relevant to wind and solar energy have not been adequately explored.”

IESIS has published its call to action in a report, Engineering for Energy: A Proposal for Governance of the Energy System, which it plans to take to the Scottish and UK governments.

It argues that Longannet was closed “well before assessments of the impact of its closure had been completed” and adds that transmission is now being upgraded “before detailed decisions about the siting of generation facilities have been made”.

The EISIS report warns the closure of thermal infrastructure such as coal and gas-fired generators will affect the restoration of supply after a system failure, when wind generators have a limited role and nuclear generators cannot be quickly restarted.

It also stresses that the cost of integration of intermittent renewables to the current electricity system will lead to increasing energy costs for consumers.  

It adds: “The extra generation and storage needed to safeguard security of supply, the facilities required to ensure it is stable, extra transmission facilities, and energy losses over power lines from remote locations will all contribute to rising costs.” 

A spokesman or SP Energy Networks, which owns and maintains the transmission network in central and southern Scotland, said: “The resilience of the system, and the ability to deliver an efficient and timely Black Start restoration, minimising the social and economic aspects of such an event, continue to be areas of particular focus.” 

Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett said: “No-one disputes the need for Scotland, and everywhere else, to move towards cleaner generation of energy. But this has to be done in a sustainable way which ensures there are no blackouts and enough power to meet the needs of the country”.


In theory, I am not quite sure why this is a specific issue for Scotland. After all there are ample connectors to England, which currently ship power there. The IESIS report though does have real implications for the UK as a whole, and it is a pity similar warnings were not raised by engineers years ago.

Nevertheless, the SNP does like to brag both about how Scotland is leading the way to a renewable future, as well how they are making Scotland “independent” when it comes to energy.

The reality is rather different.

For a start, Scotland’s power mix is heavily dependent on nuclear, which supplied 42.8% of electricity in 2016.



Nearly half of this nuclear power comes from Hunterston B, which is due to close in 2023. The rest comes from Torness, itself slated for closure in 2030.

Of the renewable contribution, about a fifth comes from hydro, but the bulk of the rest is wind

The SNP has consistently set itself against new nuclear power, so one wonders how the country will manage with little more than highly intermittent wind power in the future?

Average consumption in Scotland runs at about 3.7 GW, suggesting a peak of maybe 5.0 GW.

When Hunterston B shuts, Scotland will be left with reliable generating capacity of:

  • Peterhead CCGT – 1.1 GW
  • Torness Nuclear – 1.2 GW
  • Various Hydro – 0.8 GW

Giving a total of 3.1 GW.

It would appear that Scotland will frequently be needing to import electricity from England. With the recently operational Western Link, interconnector capacity between Scotland and England is about 5.7 GW, which should be enough for most circumstances.

However, Peterhead’s capacity for regular operation is only 400 MW, with the balance only on standby. It is not clear whether the latter could be brought on stream for long periods.

As to what Scotland will do when Torness is down for maintenance , heaven knows! (Or, for that matter, what happens in 2030, when it too shuts).

The idea that Scotland will be “independent” as far as electricity is concerned, or ever be “100% renewable” is a pipe dream.


  1. rms permalink
    December 1, 2018 7:55 pm

    “and it is a pity similar warnings were not raised by engineers years ago.”

    Engineers do not have any influence on the Scottish (and UK?) government. They pay attention only to NGO’s and university “scientists”.

    • December 1, 2018 9:11 pm

      I was going to write that many engineers have been warning the UK Government about this for many years. I myself have taken part in consultations and written to ministers for at least ten years. The Government has only paid attention to NGOs, academics and civil servants and has ignored scientists and engineers with real world experience.

    • saparonia permalink
      December 1, 2018 10:03 pm

      I noticed this and I do remember that a lot of well qualified people were giving warnings but they were generally ostracised for it.

  2. HotScot permalink
    December 1, 2018 8:56 pm

    This is utterly depressing.

  3. JimW permalink
    December 1, 2018 9:37 pm

    Not so long ago most of the energy flow was north to south using two much smaller capacity interconnectors. Scotland then was truly ‘energy independent’. Now after years of SNP/Green meddling it comes to this. Cruachan and Foyers pump storage have 740MW ( about 14 GWh, about 12 hours of black start) between them, and Peterhead 400MW.
    Anything happens to one of the interconnectors in winter and Scotland is stuffed.

  4. MrGrimNasty permalink
    December 1, 2018 9:44 pm

    When one country/region relies heavily on wind, all seems well whilst the surrounding areas can be used to dump or import power. But when all the regions have a high level of wind – they all want to dump/import at the same time and disaster ensues.

    In isolation – they can’t even get one island (El Hierro) with low energy demands and little industry to run 100% on renewables – how the hell can the entire world? Latest figures I could find, renewables have supplied 38% of electricity – diesel still supplied 1.6 times as much electricity, renewables supplied less than 9% total energy demand – all at crazy cost.

  5. saparonia permalink
    December 1, 2018 10:10 pm

    Shame on those who have made themselves rich at such a cost. At least using coal we had industry, light and energy.
    As the sun declines into this minimum we are generally f—d.

    • Adrian permalink
      December 1, 2018 10:20 pm

      Don’t you mean shame on those idiots who vote for these cretins. That’s fairer than expecting rational people to turn away free money.

  6. saparonia permalink
    December 1, 2018 10:16 pm ” ….Consequently, we have yet another confirmation with this approach that also predicts the modern grand minimum upcoming in 2020-2055 which will straddle the 2032 ECM major high. Therefore, the two principal components of solar magnetic field oscillations and their summary curve allows us to extrapolate the solar activity backward one hundred millennia. The period going into the peak of this Sixth Wave on the ECM projects a period of 2000-2100 years which we can call a super-grand minimum cycle that reflects variations of magnetic field magnitude.”

    • Emrys Jones permalink
      December 2, 2018 11:53 am

      Thanks for that link. I note that the SILSO preferred forecast for sunspots, which was somewhat divergent from Zharkova’s predictions is now coming into line with her view,

      However, I am not any kind of expert in this field. The sad thing is that almost no one outside the Denier world has ever heard of Zharkova’s work, and it’s significance has to be explained from the ground up. Do you have any links that assess the extent to which she is right?

  7. Stuart Brown permalink
    December 1, 2018 10:44 pm

    Hunterston is currently ‘hors de combat’ while people argue about cracks in graphite moderators. Both reactors are down until mid-Jan for reactor 4 and late Feb for reactor 3 (reactors 1&2 are long since de-commissioned). As it happens Torness 2 is also down at the moment. Between them, those 3 reactors are currently eating nearly 40MW according to EDF.

    I like nuclear, but our AGRs are getting a tad old. Good job for the Scots it’s windy! Oh, actually it isn’t, and in the whole of the UK our 9GW of nuclear capacity are producing 1.5X more power than our 18GW of wind turbine capacity right now.

    As for Peterhead lang may your lum reek. And with fracked gas from England.

    • December 2, 2018 9:51 am

      The notion of closing down a power station, any power station, is crazy, given how difficult and expensive it is to get new ones built. A site with infrastructure and an existing workforce could be maintained at a tiny fraction of the cost of a new power station. If something cracks just replace it.

      • JasG permalink
        December 2, 2018 10:20 pm

        Exactly. And it couldn’t have happened if the CEGB & SSEB had not been abolished and our most important infrastructure sold off largely to foreign investors due the combination of a flawed paper from a single academic (Littlechild) and a Tory quasi-dictatorship with a total lack of common sense. We now prop up the French government owned EDF whilst unable to subsidise new power plants due to EU competition laws that only apply to private companies. How ironic is that?

  8. Gamecock permalink
    December 2, 2018 12:40 am

    Government destruction of centralized power production.

    Start your projects to provide your own electricity NOW.

  9. Iain Reid permalink
    December 2, 2018 8:45 am


    I have already bought a diesel generator for our small brewey.

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      December 2, 2018 12:07 pm

      I hope you bought a very large storage tank which is well concealed and filled it.

  10. Alaskan Sea permalink
    December 2, 2018 9:54 am

    I live in Scotland. I have a generator. I have a log burner and oil fired heating. Maybe I need to start stockpiling petrol and tins of beans!

  11. December 2, 2018 10:39 am

    It’s not Scotland but it does begin with an “S”

    The sage of Sark electricity might be Scotland in microcosm”….

    66p /kWh for retail electricity would I suspect distract even the fans of the now apparently rediscovered Buckfast tonic wine enough to dig out their gilets jaunes….

    The SNP’s 100% renewable is going to bite them – I doubt it will hurt enough though.

  12. Bitter@twisted permalink
    December 2, 2018 11:57 am

    Chickens? Roost?

  13. JasG permalink
    December 2, 2018 9:59 pm

    Here we go with the usual digs at the SNP. Someone so usually careful with ‘facts’ should know that the SNP were the only party to protest – and in the strongest terms available to them – at the forced closures of the coal plants, particularly Longannet which was closed due to ridiculous price hikes from the privatised national grid – a grid that was paid for by taxpayers. Until that point Scotland was a net exporter of electricity.

    Of course they were ignored and belittled not just by the Tory establishment who encouraged these closures but by increasingly unhinged opposition parties now in thrall to a green but pitiless god. And you wonder why nationalism is so widespead? What else is left but to consider independence when every Westminster-forced policy on Scotland’s economy is so abjectly and obviously stupid (or evil)?

    As for the national grid – just how incredibly dumb is it to privatise such a natural monopoly? This is no free market. They created their own Enron in full knowledge of what led to the Enron debacle!

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      December 3, 2018 8:53 am

      It’s all very well pretending to campaign vociferously against something to manipulate public opinion, whilst knowing full well that your own (windmill/’green’ agenda/anti-fracking) policies will ensure the opposite outcome.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      December 3, 2018 5:39 pm

      Scotland is still a net exporter of electricity – at least when the wind blows. The whole thing was premised on the negotiation by Alex Salmond NOT to charge wind farms the proper grid charges appropriate for being located at the wrong end of the UK to meet demand, reinforced by an EU directive that he also had a big hand in. Those bills go to consumers instead. A consequence of that was that Longannet was saddled with charges that really should have been applied to the wind farms, since instead of being regarded as supplying the needs of the Lowlands, it too was effectively exporting.

      All discussed when Longannet closed over at Euan Mearns’ site.

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