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« Climategate: the role of the social sciences | Main | Taking the fight to the enemy »
Thursday
Mar212013

Bad to worse

National Grid have spoken out before, but now the power companies are starting to voice their concerns over the shambles that successive governments have made of the power sector and the very real possibility that we may soon see the lights going out.

The boss of the energy firm SSE has warned that "there is a very real risk of the lights going out" in Britain.

Ian Marchant said the government was significantly underestimating the scale of the capacity crunch facing the country.

The energy minister says it's all going to be OK and that there is plenty of spare capacity in the system.

Time to start panicking I guess.

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Reader Comments (107)

SSE has it both ways. SSE build wind farms because they are subsidised and SSE get fined if they don't build them. SSE then won't build real power stations because the wind farms have priority grid access making real power stations uneconomic. It's the result of Government shambolic policy (or lack of) for over 20 years.

Mar 21, 2013 at 4:56 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

There is no need to panic. If coal-fired power plants are mothballed rather than decommissioned, all we need to do to keep the lights on is tearing up the large combustion plant directive.

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

It would be sensible to mothball.

But when have DECC ever been sensible.

Get a genny now, I have one already and will be converting it to LPG shortly with a 90L tank for long running sessions.

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:11 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Mothballing might not be a simple soultion though:

according to SSE:

" Keadby will therefore be 'deep mothballed' - effectively meaning the plant at the power station will require up to one year to recommission."

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterstanj

I do think that what is required is for there to be, in a couple of years time, a really cold winter at least the equivalent of 2009/10 but preferrable 2010/11 with blocking highs such that wind only produces about 1 to 3% of its installed capacity, and for there to be rolling brown outs. That really would open the eyes of the politicians and Joe Pubic to the madness of the present energy policy and their complacency..

I would not wish to inflict such misery on anyone (especially as this would inevitably lead to a substantial increase in the cold winter mortality figures), I consider that in the long run, that will save the nation. We will then be able (since Joe Public will put extreme pressure on the politicians) to push full ahead with shale, and in the meantime we would recommisision some of the coal fired stations and build some new ones.. We can then return to good old fashioned cheap energy which wll benefit everyone aas well as being a god send to what remains of our industrial section. The exploration for shale, its extraction, the building of some gas and coal generating stations and lower energy costs would really kick start the economy.

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

Richard Tol

"There is no need to panic. If coal-fired power plants are mothballed rather than decommissioned, all we need to do to keep the lights on is tearing up the large combustion plant directive."

I doubt if this would be a solution. While it would be easy to tear up the directive who is going to pay to keep these plants mothballed and anyway a coal fired station can't simply be fired up when the wind stops blowing, it takes longer than that. Anyway are you suggesting these "mothballed"coal fired sations keep significant supplies of coal available. Who pays for that? More subsidies?

The solution is to STOP giving priority to renewables and CUT OFF subsides for not producing.

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohnB

There was a very interesting segment on You & Yours last Tuesday, Which is worth a listen.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p016kpn1

Which included a pretty good interview with the energy minister.

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnockJohn

Maybe you should run an extension chord over to Germany. I hear they are shuttering gas fired power plants because of the price of natural gas.

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean

That would be the Ian Marchant who appears on the video here: http://www.2020climategroup.org.uk/about-2020/the-2020-story/ ?

I rather see him as part of the problem rather than the solution, but at least he has noted the direction that silly energy policy is taking us.

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Richard Tol,

Do the companies involved have financial reasons to mothball rather than decommission? I thought that one major plant is scheduled to be dismantled rather rapidly in coming months so that the land can be put to other development uses. What if others follow this path, since they will need to make money rather than lose money on the sites in question?

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkiphil

Anyone recommend a decent generator ?

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterMorph

"Gas storage sites have been depleted by 90 percent, with the equivalent of less than two days' consumption remaining, data from Gas Infrastructure Europe shows.
If the cold persists, as is forecast, the UK may need to cut gas supplies to some big industrial customers, as it did in 2010 at a time of severe gas shortages."

From Reuters today.

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterFergalR

I'm on the cusp of investing in one of these:
http://www.toolsandpowertools.co.uk/product/hyundai-dhy6000selr-diesel-standby-generator-long-run-tank-5kw/

I've consulted my electrician and am on the cusp of buying one of these:
http://www.seddondirect.co.uk/rangeViewer.asp?categoryID=106&gclid=CJSm-Mmn7bICFYTMtAodmSwAfg

Mar 21, 2013 at 6:05 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

"The energy minister says it's all going to be OK and that there is plenty of spare capacity in the system."

He would know, of course...

Mar 21, 2013 at 6:06 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Richard Verney, that is suspiciously similar to the call from CAGW fanatics that requires a catastrophe before any action is done on CO2.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3766831.stm

Mar 21, 2013 at 6:14 PM | Registered Commentersteve ta

Charlie, I've bought one of those, and have run it for a few trials since the eco-stupidities have not yet led to the sustained power-cuts which would give it a real test. It is a bit louder than I expected, and the manual is all but useless, but otherwise it looks good, starts easily, and shoogles dem electrons back and forth as promised.

Mar 21, 2013 at 6:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:40 PM | John Shade

2020 Group

Please have a look at their report published in January 2013

What a load of claptrap. They have done NOTHING since this shambles was created in 2009 (just in time for the billion dollar car crash in Copenhagen) except stroke the egos of dozens of rent-seekers (page 10) and presumably blowing millions quaffing Veuve Clicquot and scoffing lobster dinners.

However, on page 11 they boast that they intend to look after Scottish peatlands whereas an upcoming report will say that Scottish windmills are a disaster when contructed on peatlands. Ooopps.

Maybe their hearts are in the right place.

Mar 21, 2013 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

@JohnB
The problem is that a lot of capacity will go offline in the next few years, and little (renewable or otherwise) is added.

This is because the current market structure discourages investment in anything. We're not adding renewables fast enough either. Politicians keep changing their mind about market reform, so that companies wait and see rather than add capacity.

The solution is easy: Appoint an energy secretary who is interested in fixing the problems rather than in being promoted.

Mar 21, 2013 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Richard Tol: We're adding intermittent renewables, with first access to the grid, far too fast. That is the main cause of our problems - it is soaking up investment and discouraging investment in despatchable capacity.

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:00 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Which politicians will carry the can if we get power cuts the next time we have a severe winter? I know that the idea of minsters resigning because of failures in the areas for which they are responsible went out of the window ages ago but surely it is time to bring it back.

If the government realise that the public is not going to tolerate an intermittent, third-world power supply it might help to concentrate their minds.

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

User recommendations:
http://kk.org/cooltools/

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn R T

" Keadby will therefore be 'deep mothballed' - effectively meaning the plant at the power station will require up to one year to recommission."

All mothballing is deep mothballing. Will you mothball the coal suppliers too? What about the employees? Will they be mothballed?

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

"If the government realise that the public is not going to tolerate an intermittent, third-world power supply it might help to concentrate their minds."

This is what I do not understand. Are our politicians really that stupid or do they think "Well I won't be here when/if it happens"? Do they know no political history? Do they not know what happened to Ted heath after the lights went out? (not the band leader, although he did lead his happy band into the wilderness)

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:22 PM | Unregistered Commentermiket

It wouldn't be so bad if, while they aren't taking appropriate measures to keep the lights on in a sensible fashion, they weren't preventing/dissuading/bribing others from doing so. At the very least it could be the public deciding what generation types our energy taxes get spent on.

richard verney,

If a catastrophe did occur it would be pounced on as an example of not having enough renewables even though it wouldn't have prevented it.

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Has anyone else had a letter from their electricity supplier laboriously explaining that 'Feed In Tariffs recovery charges' have increased significantly (something to do with more FiT installations than originally forecast) and then going on to point out that they will be 'recovering a cost difference of [i.e.charging us] 0.1p/kWh from April 2013' to claw back some of the cost?

At least, I think that's what it says. I'm a farmer (so I'm used to paperwork), and I've got an engineering degree (so I like to think I can get my head round most technical stuff), but this letter is a bit of a challenge.

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

Following Philip Bratby's example, I emailed my MP about the vote on the Energy Bill and the closure of power stations and the fact that nothing is being done to replace ageing power plant. The following are some of the key points from his reply: (bolding mine)

"As a fifth of our power stations are closing in the next decade, it is vital that we incentivise a range of technologies to ensure the UK has enough energy to meet its needs."

"The Government is committed to decarbonising the UK's energy supplies, but this must be at the lowest overall cost for consumers...The Government is pushing through ambitious reforms to overhaul existing fossil fuel plants and replace them with new low carbon generation."

"The new Energy Bill will put a fair price on carbon"

"I can assure you that the UK will retain its status as a great place to do low-carbon business*."

"The UK's thriving low-carbon sector, which is currently worth £122B and employs close to a million people."

"I hope this reassures you that the Government is determined to meet our climate goals, and will continue to work to a low carbon future."

A 'low carbon future: that'll be fun then....not to say cold and dark.

My MP? Jeremy Wright (Con). who figures we can lose 20% of our power generation base and get over it with useless wind turbines and other 'renewables'.

*WTF is 'low carbon business'?

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

Charlie Flindt:

Is that the standard letter from SSE? They are charging their custmers 0.243p/kWh for the FiT. In other words, customers without their own renewable energy scheme (solar, wind etc) are paying 0.243p/kWh extra so that their wealthy neighbours, who can afford solar panels or a wind turbine, can have free electricity and make even more money by selling their extra electricity at way above its market value.

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:45 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Snotrocket
Why not get back to him and ask him to explain:
What is a "low-carbon" business?
What is meant by a low-carbon future?
Why is a low-carbon future important/necessary/advisable?
What does he actually understand by carbon?

You might get some interesting answers.
Or not.

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:47 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"WTF is 'low carbon business'"

In China they call it "Thanks for all the jobs!".

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Snotrocket:

I'm still waiting for a reply, but if all MPs are as thick as yours, then there is no hope for the future.

He is saying that we are subsidising close to a million people and have wasted £122bn to produce renewable energy that could more reliably be produced by a few thousand people, given market forces. He calls himself a Conservative? I would say he is a socialist.

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:50 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

"*WTF is 'low carbon business'?"

Ploughing with horses, moving goods about with horses, using windmills to grind corn, sailing ships, going to work on a pushbike, wearing a coat indoors instead of heating your house. That kind of thing.

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Excerpt of some recent correspondence with my MP, Julian Huppert.
It amply shows the lunacy of current political thinking.

Dear Dr. Huppert, I read with some amazement that you are going to support Tim Yeo’s amendment to the forthcoming Energy Bill.
Apart from helping to line Mr. Yeo’s apparently bottomless pockets. it the amendment will add a further £100 to domestic energy bills thus doubling the climate change levy already imposed upon consumers, pushing yet more into fuel poverty. It would also render many UK businesses uncompetitive in the global market.......A key fact is the emergence of shale gas. For the second time in the last two months, "The Times" reports that the British Geological Survey’s official assessment of UK shale reserves, due next month, will be “increased dramatically” from 5.3 trillion cubic feet to 1,300 to 1,700 trillion cubic feet. That would be enough gas to heat every home in Britain for 1,500 years……. This would have major ramifications for the UK economy with cheaper gas prices, as is the case in America. Furthermore if this resource were exploited it would greatly reduce our carbon emissions- again as has already happened in America.

And his reply- not a word on shale gas.

Thank you for your recent emails about the Government’s policies on wind power and Tim Yeo’s amendment to the Energy Bill to set a decarbonisation target.
As you will be aware, we take rather different perspectives on the significance of anthropogenic climate change, and you will I’m sure not be surprised that as a consequence I disagree with you on this. I will be supporting the decarbonisation target.
I have long believed that we should invest substantially in renewable energy, including wind power. However, I do accept that we cannot realistically seek to provide all of our energy from renewables at the moment. You are correct to say that wind power fluctuates, and there is more work required on large-scale energy storage, for example.
I hope that this is helpful in setting out my views.

Yours sincerely,
Julian Huppert
Member of Parliament for Cambridge

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Don Keiller: I think we should start a list (it will be a long one) of MPs who will be culpable of causing thousands of deaths when the lights start to go out.

Mar 21, 2013 at 7:58 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

One could not make it up, the EU are trying to fine Cyprus €11,400 per day for failing to transpose the 20% renewable energy Directive and they are trying to do the same to Poland with €133,200 per day:

http://en.europeonline-magazine.eu/troubled-cyprus-faces-eu-fine-over-renewable-energy-failures_271893.html

http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/energiegesetz-zypern-soll-geldstrafe-zahlen-a-890257.html

Amazing, given that as per the UNECE Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee ruling, the implementation of the Directive is unlawful.

Mar 21, 2013 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterPat Swords

Are our politicians really that stupid

and the answer isssss : Yes !!! wheeee!

Mar 21, 2013 at 8:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Thanks Snotrocket, but I haven't the faintest idea what "low carbon generation", "fair price on carbon", "low-carbon business" or "a low carbon future" are supposed to mean. Are we talking about the CO2 which I (with my 9 billion brothers) continually exhale or "carbon" the basis of all forms of life". What are you talking about? (Never mind those who haven't the faintest idea what you are in fact talking about).

Mar 21, 2013 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered Commentersimon abingdon

There are a couple of important things to remember here when thinking about the effects on the UK public in the event of brown outs or black outs.

99% of all Brits are as thick as two short planks and spent day after day proving it here in europe.
99% of all brits will believe anything the Sun and the Daily Mirror newspapers tell them.
The government are already focusing the poor little slobs attention away from them and onto the energy providers and it's working as you would expect, brilliantly.

There may be black outs but the government will tell evertone that it's the fault of the utilities.

Mar 21, 2013 at 8:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

@Don Keiller: Re: your MP. What a bugger! Not only is he a LibDem, he is a beardie wierdo into the bargain!! (giyf) It's little wonder that he supports the 'theory' of AGW. At least my MP has not actually come straight out and admitted it, even if I do think he - and most other MPs - is a waste of space when it comes to 'climate change'.

But I tend to agree with Philip Bratby: mine is thick. That said, it seems obvious to me that he, like many other MPs just gets a 'wet behind the ears' intern/researcher to write a response that he hopes will fob off his constituents based on a set script from the Whips' Office. However, I think I shall get back to him with Mike Jackson's suggested questions. Just gotta make the researcher earn his money!

Mar 21, 2013 at 8:34 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

2 GW Didcot A Coal Power is being permanently shut tomorrow. Not shuttered and is to be demolished.

Permanent Earth Hour

Mar 21, 2013 at 8:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob

Phillip Bratby
Yup, it's from SSE. It's interesting that the extra bit on the bill 'will show as a separate line item'. At least we'll be able to keep track of it!

Mar 21, 2013 at 8:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

I have never forgotten attending a European Gasification Technologies Conference in London sometime between 2000 and 2005 and being "gobsmacked" by a short notice not on the formal programme keynote speech delivered by a dignitary affiliated with or part of the British government. Sorry but the name and position escape me and I was trying to catch up with e-mails at the time of the introduction, but based on the entourage of followers he was a signifcant figure.

The message he delivered to the assembled attendees, was basically "you guys have no chance of building anything like that here, all of the UK's future power will come from wind and you dirty fossil fuel idiots are history."

Like the rest of the attendees I knew right then and there that future power supply in the sceptered isles was at risk. We were increduleous at the pronouncements of the pompous idiot on the dias who clearly would not comprehend the difference between a Watt and a Var. if it bit him in the nether-regions.

I was grateful that I now reside in Canada and that I would be un-affected by the threatened policies and regulations that the Alice in Wonderland figure on the platfrom was espousing. That was however mixed with very real concern for the future well being of the citizens of the UK.

An engineer by training I had a 45 year career in the energy industry, yes big-oil, and from experience I used a rule of thumb that from first concept to stable operation a complex mulit-billion pound world scale facility be it for power generation, petroleum refining or petrochemical conersions, would take between 8 to 12 years. That assumed stable and consistent fiscal, social and environmental policies and regulations.

Your best hope as a country is that the owners of the existing coal fired facilties have not stopped PM work and sustaining capital investment in anticipation of shutting down and will be able to keep the facilities running reliably. Don't count on it.

I think that the UK power supply complex is fast approaching if not already at the point where the generating companies, the power distribution companies, government agencies and the government itself will stand in a circle pointing fingers at each other as being the cause of the crisis. Hopefully the nefarious self-serving NGO's, the opportunistic alternate energy companies and the Brussels Bu---ers will be caught in the cross-fire.

One thing is sure, no one will come out of this looking good.

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterOld Mike

Mothballing plant is one thing, but keeping the staff in place during such uncertain times is another. Without sufficient experienced staff to bring the plant back on line, the station is going nowhere.

How many companies want to pay the cost of highly skilled staff sitting on their backsides for any period of time?

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterGalvanize

re the 2020 Group (Mar 21, 2013 at 6:28 PM Brownedoff)

I've had a quick skim of that report, and I agree it is not impressive.

My overall impression of this group is that they are not much above the contestants in The Apprentice in terms of intellect and interests. They thought they were on to a good thing with renewables and the CO2 obsession, and part of a rising wave of progressiveness that would means lots of benefits for their various interests. In fact, they have backed a loser, and would deserve the 'You're fired!' verdict from any Global Sugar-Like Supremo of energy production and general common sense. They are part and parcel of an enormous, and a completely avoidable and unnecessary, mess.

Power failures in rich countries are just one part of the harm and destructiveness of this enormous distraction from real problems and real opportunities of merit.

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Didn't the director of the grid fairly recently tell that we will need to adjust our energy usage to supply rather than supply meeting demand - smart meters and doing the washing on windy days for example.
Large hospitals have standby generators (assuming the cables haven't been stolen by metal thieves as happened at Llandough DGH about a year ago) but hundreds of nursing homes around the country do not have such luxuries. Thousands of elderly and young long stay residents will be at risk.
Who will be held criminally responsible for any deaths?
Politicians or the energy suppliers.
They can't say they were not warned. Perhaps a well crafted letter from one of our experts here, signed by as many as possible, should be sent to Davey or/and others in the cabinet with copies to the Daily Mail, Telegraph etc to ensure maximum publicity and as little wriggle room as possible.
Just a thought.

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterG.Watkins

Snotrocket

I try to get the intern/researcher to open his/her mind

Dont know if it works but it always worth trying

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

@Mike Jackson: You fired me up! so I wrote the following email to my MP just now:

"Dear Sir,

Many thanks for your reply of the 15th March re the Energy Bill and the admission of UK’s planned loss of 20% of (base-load) generating capacity in the next ten years. (NOTE: May I just point out here that base-load generating capacity can not, repeat, not be substituted with wind-farms, PV arrays or tidal barrages).

Based on the responses in your letter I respectfully request you expand on the following points you raised:

1. How, if you support feed-in tariffs and subsidised renewables can you state that (de-carbonised) energy supplies must be at ”the lowest overall cost for consumers”?
2. What is a "low-carbon business”? And, if it’s a ‘sustainable business’, is it truly sustainable?
3. What is meant by a “low-carbon future”? Is that when the power-cuts start?
4. Why is a “low-carbon future” important/necessary/advisable?
5. What do you actually understand by the term “carbon”?
6. Do you consider CO2 to be a pollutant?
7. Do you believe that ‘Global Warming’ is not a scam?
8. Finally, do you actually get a ‘researcher’ to answer these emails/letters/questions about ‘Climate Change’?

I thank you for your time.

I'll post his reply.

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:16 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

Further to my earlier comment, it must be time to attempt, at least, to take this potentially dangerous problem out of our little world of cogniscenti direct to those responsible.
Surely, we have enough names here, letters after names and standing in the community not to be dismissed out of hand.
The threat of corporate manslaughter may concentrate minds significantly.

I realise this is a bit of a rant and I feel like disgusted from Tunbridge Wells but I have moved passed frustrated to angry.( BTW Rhondda mining family born and bred )

A recent 'gas' failure at a medium sized nursing home in England caused relative havoc as meals could not be prepared but the day was saved by local homes and restaurants helping out.That was just gas.
Imagine the chaos with electricity disruption across a locale such as Bournemouth or Torquay, Cheshire or Birmingham or, heaven forbid, Edinburgh.

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterG.Watkins

Snotrocket's MP?

'Jeremy Wright (Con). who figures we can lose 20% of our power generation base and get over it with useless wind turbines and other 'renewables'.'

Perhaps given his views on 'wind', gay marriage and with the HS2 carving up his patch, he can get over losing a lot more than 20% of his majority to UKIP in 2015.

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:58 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Time to buy a generator.
A household can get by, if you have gas central heating and cooking, on about 2kw. But no washing machine on that I'm afraid, you'd need nearer 4kw for that.
If you have a garage or outhouse with a plug, then, if you are reasonably happy doing electrical things, you don't need special isolating switch gear..
When the lights go out, switch off at the fuse box mains (your house is now isolated), plug the generator's output into the power socket in the garage, start the genertor (order important there!) and your house has 'off-grid' power'.
The Grid has a phone back number you can ring which should tell you when power is restored - or look at your neighbours' houses!

The very cheap generators are not suitable for TVs or computers (they tend to be spikey), but some makes have generators which produce DC and then use an inverter which gives a steady voltage.
Make sure you ventilate the garage/shed or arrange an exhaust port to the open air.

Prices vary of course but you could get an inverter type generator 2kw for around £600.

Mar 21, 2013 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

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