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The energy regulator has repeated the point I made here a few days ago. With a swathe of coal-fired power stations ready to close in March, the chances of avoiding power cuts looks very slim.

Alistair Buchanan, chief executive of Ofgem, said the combination of UK power plants closing, foreign gas supplies shrinking, and demand rising, has made British energy reserves “uncomfortably tight”.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph ahead of an industry lecture today, Mr Buchanan has warned: “We have to face the likelihood that avoiding power shortages will also carry a price.”

Given that we have discussed this issue before, I wonder if we might turn our attentions to what is going to happen when the lights go out.

Who will get the blame? Renewables obsessed greens and their crony capitalist friends? Or wicked sceptics standing in their way? Will the main political parties be swept aside? Or will they merely change their tune and say they opposed it all along?

We are heading for interesting times, where "interesting" is as defined here.

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Reader Comments (108)

I imagine the government of the day will be swift to blame : the previous government and especially the generating companies for taking too much shareholders dividend and not investing enough back into building capacity.

The Main Stream Media will be very keen to pick up on this because its far easier to tackle big greedy corporations than the cuddly green brigade.

They won't connect it to years of following unproven green ideology, nor the renewables scam. The rest of us will have to learn to adjust our life style I'm afraid, or not having electricity on demand.

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterSerge

They can't blame it on not building capacity. When the lights start to go out there will be about 16GW of wind capacity not generating because the fuel is lacking. Nonetheless, RenewableUK will blame the Government for not building enough wind capacity. RenewableUK are serial liars.

This summer is definitely the time to get a generator.

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:33 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

The blame lies across such a wide spectrum of suspects that you can bet your bottom dollar they'll all try to slip throught the net. None will take responsibility alone.

All 3 main parties will be entirely culpable - they all backed the ridiculous Climate Change Act. Pundits, experts, NGO chiefs, the Green party, advocacy groups and endless media and celeb' luvvies are all to blame. A collective madness that is a genuine threat to the nation.

However the politicians deserve the strongest opprobrium, with Crown Immunity an undeserved saviour.

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered Commentercheshirered

He implied that the solution was more gas (at whatever cost). Do we have that much gas-fired capacity in the wings? Seems unlikely.

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

The public are to blame too. There are still less than a thousand signatures on the epetition to repeal the Climate Change Act:

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

Frack, Baby, Frack!

If HM Government does not "get this", then they are more culpable than incompetent.
And that is saying something.

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

jamesp: Gas capacity can be built very quickly, if there is a will and the power stations can be guaranteed access to the grid. At the moment, renewable energy is guaranteed access and so gas power stations cannot be operated economically and will thus not be built.

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:47 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

The cost of environmental policies are going to start to become harder and harder to bury from the view of the public.

I think to the majority of people the arcane debate about CO2 and its effects is ignored , but as costs bite people will start to become more and more curious and that is the last thing the authoritarian enviro wants.

Look out for more obfuscation and outright lies trying to hide the reasons for the cost rises.

This is where sceptics need to make their case I think. Just make sure people know the origin of the costs and step back and watch the light dawn on them ;)

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:49 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

The chances of any government turning off "polluting" power stations when there's nothing to replace them is about zero. In the meantime, does anyone have any idea how much a generator would cost to power an average house, and how much diesel would it burn? Webpages?

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

This morning between 0900 and 0930 wind power provided 0.3% of total electrical generation output, so no worries there for future power security on cold and frosty mornings when the 40% supplied by coal is a thing of the past and the government dithers over gas until the Greek Kalends come.

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered Commentergryskopf

@ TheBigYinJames

The chances of any government turning off "polluting" power stations when there's nothing to replace them is about zero.

Never underestimate the stupidity of our politicians. How do you think we got into this mess in the first place?

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

The BBC article referenced has a comments box at the bottom. It'll be interesting to see if/how they're filtered before publication.

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan_UK

"His warning comes as older power stations close and renewable energy remains in its infancy."

Hilarious, and I'm particularly struck by the misuse of the word "infancy". Is this simply a case of newspeak or is the man so deluded he actually believes that "renewable energy" will ever be more than a basket case and economically suicidal?

Feb 19, 2013 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

"Average" is hard to define. In summer I average 500W (about half of which is computer related), but any of cooking, boiling a kettle, running a hair drier, or the hot water cylinder each use five times that much, albeit usually for short periods and one at a time. But a peak of 10 kW (40A) is quite possible.

Feb 19, 2013 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterBruce Hoult

Despite living within 30 mins drive of New Zealand's largest hydro scheme, we have sometimes power cuts for 3 or 4 hours. I use a UPS for computer work, which also works for lightweight things like tv. I also have a petrol generator for longer gaps in power.

If you can hook it up to run seamlessly then it is not a major problem for able bodied tech savvy types. It is the old and vulnerable, plus major industrial users, where the problems lie.

Feb 19, 2013 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy scrase

I'm glad to see our green policies having such an impressive effect so quickly. This proves that we were right to force people to reject their evil Gaia-hating ways and return to living as Mother Nature intended - in a commune in North Wales supported by the DSS.

For too long has mankind striven to eat meat, keep itself warm and survive long enough to procreate. We must get used to living off a handful of berries and dying at 32 of malnutrition or childbirth, in accordance with the natural cycles. In this way we will become one with the environment.

Of course there will be a small requirement for the administrators of this new regime to make use of certain facilities of so-called 'civilisation', for a short time only, in order to attend the international conferences which are so vital to continuing this good work around the planet. But rest assured that as soon as we determine that nirvana is reached we will all be living in the frozen mud together...


The Very Big Multinational Conglomeration of Environmentalists and Supporting Industries.

Feb 19, 2013 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Have just watched Alastair Buchanan on Sky News telling us how energy supplies are going to become tight, particularly from 2015 to 2018, and that the government were looking towards consumers to improve insulation and to use energy more smartly to get us through this period. The very next item on the news was how the government were investing in infrastructure for electric vehicles to encourage their greater use.

As Roy says above, never underestimate the stupidity of politicians.

Feb 19, 2013 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Ashton

Not much point in just wishing for more gas fired generation, the supply companies have already said that they won't be building any new plant. So long as they are forced to accept the meagre offerings from wind, they can't run gas generation cost effectively and therefore there's no economic reason to make the investment.

Feb 19, 2013 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

When the blackouts start we know who to blame

Royal Society
Ed Miliband
Ed Davey
Chris Huhne (who by then whether he faces jail)

Feb 19, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

This summer is definitely the time to get a generator.

Feb 19, 2013 at 9:33 AM | Phillip Bratby

I would actually be interested to hear from / have plans from someone who knows enough about electronics to install a small generator to keep my (computer based) business going in such an eventuality. What would it cost? Can I run it on gas not diesel? Because no electric means no earnings for me.

Certainly worth thinking about even if it does smack of end of days type nut jobs.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered Commenterduncan

Who's/What's to blame: well that would be a long list, even if we start from as recently as 1998 and the introduction of NETA in favour of the old pool rules which included a capacity payment. On the way we could include Peter Hain and Patricia Hewett for their opposition to nuclear in 2003, and Ed Milliband for being perhaps the worst Energy Minister we've ever had (in a strong field!).

How do we get out of this?

Build gas stations seems obvious, but are we in the build queue?

Buchanan quoted figures of £50/MWh for onshore wind, but I struggle to get the sums down to this level given a build cost of £1.5m/MW, applying DCF at sensible rates, and assume the usual miserable capacity factors. Then we would have to build in the impacts of Gordon Hughes' latest study into windmill maintenance where their commercial life seems as short as perhaps 13 years, and provide cover for variability and intermittancy, allow for new transmission costs, and lack of provision of reserve.

Offshore wind's economics are even worse.

Buchanan claimed wind technology will improve but it's hard to see any evidence of this over the past ten years, and where's the incentive to make improvements when there's generous subsidies?

Nuclear: years off.

Energy efficiency - coming to a home near you sometime soon, but don't hold your breath.

Build more coal fired generation? Well yes, plenty of fuel, but again we'll be at the back of the build queue and we'll have to shut-up people like Hansen. But of course, you could just refurbish the old coal plants . . .

so just keep the coal fired stations on, and pay the penalties.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

A good start would be to write to your MP so that they can start to judge the depth of feeling from those of us who aren't in the vociferous minority green lobby. Mine is a GP so in my letter I stated that I assumed he had a better than average knowledge of science. I have asked him for his thoughts on: 1) the scientific foundation of cAGW and 2) whether he supports the Climate Change Act and would vote to retain it.
I have stated that if he can't make a persuasive argument in 1 and that he answers yes to 2 then I will not vote for him again.
I will be surprised if I get any reply at all.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones


You omitted Anthony Bliar, the original perpetrator of the new dark age, who was so busy spending taxpayers' money buying votes and expanding his client state that he couldn't be bothered to think about ordering power stations in advance of their delivery.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

It is possible to prepare an alternative supply without too much cost but you need to understand the consumption of all your electrical devices. I decided that a supply of of 2KW (2000 watts) would be enough to keep our lights on, keep the gas central heating working and allow us to watch TV. No dishwasher, no washing machine or drier, no electric kettles but if the outage is not too prolonged this should not be a problem. The fridge and freezer will have to be periodically switched on alternately to keep cold without exceeding the 2KW limit. (From Maplin you can buy a simple 13A power through power meter to measure the consumption of each device.)

For £200 I bought a brand new 2.2 KW petrol generator which I installed in my garage with a flexible stainless exhaust through the wall (keeps the noise down from the neighbours). £70 for a 60A changover switch installed next to the consumer unit plus cost of electrician to wire it in.

We had a power cut during last weeks snow and the system works fine. It helps to put a benzene additive (as used with lawnmowers) in the petrol to keep it fresh.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Hanwell

Martin Reed

Yes an omission but I try to forget about Tony Blair

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

I should have added in my earlier post that there is no permanent wiring between the generator and changeover switch. I have a cable with the appropriate end fittings which I connect up when required.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Hanwell

Inevitable given the thinking and blind following of EU laws. New coal fired generation must now have CCS which was tried in Scotland and it failed. so without an unwanted technology that has yet to work we cannot use existing or new coal fired stations. Gas is permitted but we have yet to extract the digit to start fracking and release the gas we know is down there. Sheer stupidity.
One solution that is on line is the installation of ''smart metering''. sold as a way for us to monitor energy use in fact they enable the energy supplier to switch off your power when the wind fails. Back to the stone age folks.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

The one thing you know for certain is that these liars will blame the innocent. ie the power companies.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Meanwhile, Down Under, where we have a carbon tax and numerous layers or decision makers, regulators, enforcers, distributors, smart meter readers and even a few electricity producers, I asked my domestic supplier why there was a sudden 10% tariff increase announced just after I had carefully negotiated with great difficulty, a 14% special discount. The reply was indicative, I think, of what you can expect to hear in GB. To quote,
" ... with the deregulation of electricity pricing in Victoria; AGL is able to set its own pricing policy".

There is a 10% Goods and Services tax added to the account. I replied by asking which new goods and/or services I would receive consequential upon the tariff increase. No answer yet.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

The Greenies are very, very fond of apocalyptic "tipping points" - if / when the supply demand arithmetic fails the perpetrators of the catastrophic shortfall should be pilloried mercilessly - I think some over-ripe fruit flinging should start ASAP.

I was surprised the other day (h/t Philip Bratby) that the cretinous "Renewables First" loading of the electricity production regime at the cost of so many self evident negatives has been put in place deliberately undermining the operation of base load generation - the utter stupidity of this action beggars belief and is contrary to any rational evaluation of the situation.

What's to come? A 70s mash up of Some Mothers do 'ave 'em and Towering Inferno complete with the BBC's shoddy production and inept continuity? - toecurling performances are to be expected.

The ideological corruption of our public servants and the stupidity of our politicians are key in all this (or stupid public servants and ideologically corrupted politicians) - and it's clear from "Closing the Curtain" that even stupid people have a certain animal cunning and vestigial sense of self awareness based on survival instinct. Huhne may be history but it's abundantly clear that there's an iceberg effect at play here.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:30 AM | Registered Commentertomo

John Marshall

Well although we may be required to go through the motions of installing useless CCS garbage (doubling our energy costs into the bargain) that doesn't appear to apply to our masters. The Germans are building some twenty-six or so large coal fired stations burning filthy brown coal and none of them will be lumbered with CCS to my knowledge. In the Orwellian world of Animal Farm some animals are considerably more equal than others.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

There is a solution to the problem but it involves breaking the oligopoly of the central power generators and the renewables' corporations. It's to base carbon offsets on real fossil fuel saving by renewables.

At present, DECC which is controlled by the carbon traders and their delegates like Stern on the Committee for Climate Change, assumes 1 kWhr wind or solar saves the notional carbon for 100% of 1 kWhr of fossil fuelled energy at its original efficiency, 60% for CCGT.

The real saving is about 1.6% [Dutch figures]. If you cut the income for the carbon traders by a factor of 62.5, they would instantly stop funding fake science and corrupt parliamentarians and civil servants who, like quite a few, have gone onto jobs in these fat corporations.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

We are currently getting 18.9GW from coal, 15.6GW from CCGT, 8.2GW from nuclear and 0.05GW from wind. We are currently buying 50 times as much electricity from the Dutch and French (via the interconnectors) as we are getting from wind. I think that says all you need to know about the parlous state of our electricity system.

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:48 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

confused missed out dave (my father in law makes £1000 a week from renewables) camaroon

Feb 19, 2013 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Two or three thoughts.
Perhaps the UKs politicians stupidity and Angela Merkels cunning (if that's not too strong a word) will save other nations from Blair/Brown/Milliband/Cameron stupidity. Britain closes coal fired generation and ends up in dire straits; Germany builds 23 coal fired power stations and dumps excess wind all over Europe and keeps the lights on. Now that's what I call energy imbalance. Any politician elsewhere will know which road to follow.

Politically people have short memories, so the politicians in power when it goes pear shaped will get the blame.

I can remember in the 1960s lots of farms round our way (Perthshire) throwing out diesel generators and being connected to the mains. Power generation isn't cheap (I'm sticking to woodburners,candles & hurricane lamps, and LPG) but these are interesting,

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Who will get the blame?
Those awful nimbys who objected to our wonderful wind turbines that are currently producing 0.04GW, one thousandth of our current usage.

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:03 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Who will get the blame?

Why, the ordinary consumer of course!

I can already hear the self-righteous appeals by so-called environmentalists for consumers to cut their profligate use of electricity. Expect to be berated for using appliances at peak times. Expect to be called selfish for turning your heating on. Expect to be called irresponsible for leaving your tv on standby.

As usual, "Green" busybodies will be telling us how to live our lives.

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterScottie

David Ashton

It's not just pushing electric vehicles. Most of the UK mainline rail network is, or is about to be, electrified, as is all the rail-based public transport in the Capital. What happens when Government ceases to function because its employees cannot get work? I think the real crunch will be when Industry realises that the Government has effectively said today that they cannot deliver a secure and cheap power supply, particularly from 2015 to 2018. There is likely to be a mass exodus of manufacturing from the UK to places that can deliver it. So if the Government doesn't get cracking to solve the problem, it won't just be fuel poverty that's the major issue, but mass unemployment and not enough income to the Treasury to sort it out.

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:19 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Above is posted a quote of 40A, which is not enough, when you approach the max capacity, the frequency falls back as the prime mover (eg diesel engine) can no cope. 3% ie ~1.5 Hz) is the max before shutdown is needed, ie an underfrequency cut out otherwise motors will overheat/burn/catch fire. You also need a gen-set rated for continuous operation, not cheap.

Far cheaper hang Davey from a lamp-post for Treason.

MFG, omb

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterombzhch

@Feb 19, 2013 at 12:19 PM | Salopian

It's not just pushing electric vehicles. Most of the UK mainline rail network is, or is about to be, electrified, as is all the rail-based public transport in the Capital.

What's the problem with rail electrification? That seems an ideal use for it.

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:22 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

...The energy regulator has repeated the point I made here a few days ago. With a swathe of coal-fired power stations ready to close in March, the chances of avoiding power cuts looks very slim....

It's pretty pointless telling the public this. They're not in charge of Energy Policy.

I always thought that the Energy Regulator had a major input into directing energy generation. Perhaps he should tell himself?

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer


Because, when the power gets cut off due to inadequate supply or excessive demand, the choo-choos won't be able to go anywhere DUH!

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:36 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Further to: Feb 19, 2013 at 10:31 AM | David Ashton
I also saw that news bulletin.

Someone from uswitch was interviewed and she said that it makes no sense to build windfarms and gas generation for backup and then pay those gas generators compensation for standing idle, and the government needs to rethink that policy.

She was not as harsh on green energy as I would like to have seen but she gave the viewer the impression that the present green energy policy needs rethinking.

As regards the article on electric car, Alastair Buchanan was not very firm. He accepted that electric cars were green, reducing emissions (conveniently ignoring the CO2 emissions inherent in the electrity production used for recharging the batteries) and the only searching question he asked was on the amount of money being spent on charging points and whether there would be enough recharging points. The Government minister advised that they were spending £39million and each point costs £25,000. Unfortunately, Mr Buchanan did not do the maths, ie., only about 1600 points.

Where are these going to be located, and how evenly spread over the entirety of the country? Given that it takes half an hour or more to recharge, should 2 cars wish to charge at the same point, someone is in for a long wait. The driver can't decide to go ontio the next recharging station since no doubt the next one is not within a mile or so.

There was some questioning on range but this was glossed oved. My Dad had an electric car in the 1990s. I do not think that there has been a fundamental advance in battery technology since then. My Dad lived in hilly Wales and an electric car was a novelty such that when he went out to a restaurant, or the pub, or even shopping parking on the main street, someone would run out an extension lead so that he could charge his car (not very hot on H&S in the 1990s with an extension lead being run over a public pavement with no barriers or warnings!!). This was quite necessary since although the car was said to have a range of more than100 miles, when raining, cold, misty windscreen, dark etc the car would quickly lose power (since power is used to run all auxillary equipment). This was no doubt made more apparent due to the hilly terain but the reality is that in most driving conditions the car has a practical range of only about 50 miles, no where near the more than 100 miles being touted. A pop in to town, plus a roumd trip to an out of town shopping centre will stretch capacity to its full.

An electric car is a practical proposition for a small city car doing only city trips, but is not practical for anything else unless they can be linked to some overhead power lines like a tram and if the government were to instal overhead power lines on motorways and trunk roads so that the battery is only used for local use and getting to and from motorways/trunk roads.

Since electric cars have been around for approximately 100 years with little fundamental advance in technology, I do not see a bright future for them. I expect that they will be superseded by some other green technology, but in the meantime conventional petrol engines and diesel engines will get more efficient, and if only car manufacturers could reduce car weight (cars today are probably about 20% heavier than the corresponding cars of the 1970s - I have a small 1960s 2 door coupe which weighs 800kg whereas a similar car today would weigh in at about a tonne), fosil fuel consumption and inherent emissions would be greatly reduced. The way forward is more efficiency in conventional car/engine design coupled with research into fuel cells or the like.

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

When the first blackouts start to occur, you can be certain that there will be rolling blackouts and it will be the far-flung (and thus less important) parts of the country that will bear the brunt. London and other major cities where the politicians and all the other important people live, will continue to have electricity.

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:54 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I can see certain immigrantf actions compaining of human rights infringements if they get too cold...

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

Bryony Brownouts.

H/t some genius here I'm jealous of.

Feb 19, 2013 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

We should be able to import energy next year from countries with an over capacity such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania due to millions of their citizens living here.

Feb 19, 2013 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

I do wonder if I will see the day when myself and other farmers will get urgent text alerts asking us to put the old tractor onto the standby generator and start pushing some power into the grid!

Feb 19, 2013 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohn Lyon

12.30-13.00 Wind generation down to 0.1% - but I suppose all those companies involved in Windpower aren't too worried because they still get paid for idle windmills. What a fantastic business to be in, all profit and no risk. I wonder how much this is costing us consumers?

Feb 19, 2013 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered Commentergryskopf

I've just posted copiously on the BBC website (generating some gratifying plusses - I'm 'YOU' on there. by the way) not least of which I was tracking the progress of wind's contribution to UK electricity demand over an hour or so..
Currently 0.1% of demand (c.45000MW) but the detail is intesting (bear in mind that the table only shows to one decimal place)..
That '0.1%' has gone from 41MW, to 38MW, to 31MW..
If it falls to 22MW - the official contribution from wind would be ZERO...(less than 0.05%)
And this has cost us consumers, by way of subsidies, feed-in tariffs and the like to turbine builders, developers and landowners - HOW MUCH..?

Feb 19, 2013 at 1:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

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