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

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)

New article in the Telegraph about running short of gas:

Some reassuring extracts:

"The coldest March in decades is putting a strain on the supply of stored gas, according to a fresh analysis that predicts reserves could be depleted as soon as April 8......

Britain retains about 15 days’ worth of energy demand on hand compared with roughly 100 days for France and Germany......

John Hayes, the energy minister, disputed accusations that the Government was being complacent. “We’re alive to the challenge facing us,” he said. “The amount of spare power available today is currently comfortable.”

So not to worry: Keep Calm and Put another Pullover on seems to be the message.

Mar 21, 2013 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterstanj

[Self Snipped]

Mar 21, 2013 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecm

'Are our politicians really that stupid or do they think "Well I won't be here when/if it happens"?'

To an external observer, it would appear that they are only dressing up and rushing about, arms and jaws aflap, pretending to be a government, because nothing they do or say has any real consequences. This can only be because they believe the actual government is located elsewhere, beyond reach. Are they right? If not, you need to do something about it very soon.

Mar 21, 2013 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Looking out of my window earlier today I thought that it is about time that we had a British Spring.

When I contemplate the British government's energy policy I know that it is high time for a British Spring.

How much longer will people just shrug their shoulders and allow the three main parties, and some of the smaller ones, do their utmost to ruin the country?

Mar 21, 2013 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Dr Julian Huppert, M.P. is certainly not thick, having studied at Cambridge University where he gained a PhD in Biological Chemistry.
He has campaigned in Parliament for " the cause of science and evidence-based policies"

You really couldn't make it up!

Not thick, just ideologically blind and stupid.

Mar 21, 2013 at 10:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

This is the reply I sent to Julian Huppert.

Dear Dr. Huppert.

I really think you have an ideological problem with assessing the threat of “decarbonisation” on the U.K.


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.
He was commenting on the company's decision to cut back on power generation at five sites.
The energy regulator, Ofgem, has also warned of an increased risk of a blackout.

If such events do come to fruition, I know exactly who to place the blame on.

Yours sincerely,

Mar 21, 2013 at 10:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Sorry, back again (coffee only promise).
My wife reminded me that increasing numbers of ventilated patients are being cared for at home across all regions of England and Wales, and I suspect Scotland.
My amusing twenty year old immediately said ' God the power's off again. Quick get on the bike, quick, quick Dai's turning blue.

Mar 21, 2013 at 10:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterG.Watkins

It is a sad commentary on our political institutions (and not just in the UK) that whenever the Government says "relax, nothing to worry about, we have everything under control" a shiver of dread goes down the collective spine of the populace.

The sight of politicians applauding as energy generation capacity is deliberately and systematically reduced is truly frightening. Soon, the shivers will be more than metaphorical.

Watching them all running for cover and blaming someone else when the crunch comes will be even less pleasant. It looks as though nothing short of the prospect of electoral annihilation will slow down the race between the major parties to reach the edge of the cliff.

I live in one of the cooler parts of Australia - we get sub-zero nights frequently for about four months of the year - and if this was happening here I'd certainly be checking out the options for buying a generator. What could happen in your much cooler climate during winter doesn't bear thinking about. I don't know how your gas heating works, but mine needs electricity to run the fan, so is useless during a power cut. Very scary.

Mar 21, 2013 at 10:53 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Don Keiller, Julian Huppert is quite correct when he says: "and there is more work required on large-scale energy storage".

I shall assume he's using typical British understatement for, since I once worked on large (utility scale) energy storage projects, I know that that there is a jolly sight more than 'more work' to do on it.

If the MP's and DECC officials are crossing their fingers and hoping that utility scale energy storage is going to rescue them, then God help us all.

I struggle to stay polite, I really do.

Mar 21, 2013 at 11:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

Wind generation seems to have shot up this afternoon and evening to I think its highest level for a year- 5.14GW. Its only seldom made it over 4GW before. Trouble is demand is falling. They'll be paying to shut them in because the're not wanted, perhaps?.

Mar 21, 2013 at 11:32 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Extract from John Redwood's speech re budget in the house yesterday, from his blog linked at end.

Mr Redwood: ...The next area in which we need to help is promoting more industry and commerce to deal with the net trade deficit. I am glad that that Chancellor has recognised in his speech that one of the big drawbacks to doing business in Britain now is expensive energy pricing. This is something that we share with the European continent, compared with the American continent. The United States of America is playing a blinder with its very cheap gas and much cheaper energy generally. I welcome the idea that certain businesses and industries will be taken out of the climate change levy altogether.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to agree with me, but I must point out that experts ranging from Ofgem and BP to the International Energy Agency and the CBI have all pointed out that investment in shale gas in the UK will not result in lower energy prices. Why cannot he therefore agree that it makes no sense to go all out for shale gas through tax breaks in the Budget, and that the money would be much better spent on renewables, which would get emissions and fuel bills down?

Mr Redwood: I am delighted that the hon. Lady has made her own case. She is the cause of the problem. She is pricing people out of the market. She is destroying jobs. She is the reason that people cannot heat their homes at a sensible price. She is the deliberate architect of dear and scarce energy, and now she presumes to lecture us and to say that if we generate more energy, it will be dearer and not cheaper. I suggest that she consult her constituents to find out how angry they are about the cost of heating their homes and their inability to get jobs in industry. She might also like to consult a reputable economist to find out what happens to prices when we produce more of something. I think she will discover that the price normally falls.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Redwood: I am sorry; I have no more injury time left, and I have more to say. I am sure the Government will be delighted about that.

The Government need to look at the problem of electricity generation. I would like them to go to our partners in the European Union and say that there is no way in which we can close down all our coal-powered stations and still produce enough sensibly priced power in the near future, and that we need a stay of execution and longer transitional arrangements. I believe that the Germans are going to generate a lot more electricity from coal, and they seem to have found a way around the European regulations. I would urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to do the same, because we need to keep our homes warm, keep the machinery of industry turning and keep the lights on in the offices and shops of this country. We are pricing ourselves out of our ability to do that. We are also running the risk of not having enough electricity, full stop, because of the delays and the problems that the previous Government had in coming up with an energy policy, and because of the present Government’s problems in trying to get an energy policy through, given all the European Union restrictions and complications that are placed in their way.

Mar 21, 2013 at 11:55 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

What as a politician do you do if having been advised by your own appointed gatekeepers, the academic experts, to plan for a minimum +2C rise in local temps and the prediction fails?

What do you do if you have given credence and promoted advice that contains statements such as the following:-

" We also studied the potential changes in demand as our seasons are altered under climate change - such as an expected shift in peak power demand to the summer as people rely more on air conditioning."

Answer:- You leave yourself open to justifiable criticism by wantonly shirking your responsibilities and simply going with the vote catching meme of the day. Therefore intentionally not carrying out the intensive due diligence that an issue of this magnitude inherently dictates.

The electorate of this country has been mistakenly benign for far too long and an ideal way to shake it into reality is to demonstrate to the whole world what happens to society in overcrowded UK inner cities when they are starved of the reason for their existence - a cost effective, reliable source of energy.

We live (exist) in interesting and misguided times!

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Regarding the Deben zeal shared with a fair number of supporting MPs for a commitment to new targets. I have a recollection that a Bill or two passed a number of months back (may have been an earlier attempt at an energy bill) had as one of its statements that any changes or increase to the CO2 targets be deferred until 2015 post AR5 publication. It comes to mind that maybe some are getting twitchy as to how long these moves might be made perhaps in the light that AR5 may not be the rubber stamp they would like and the press of late is not helping the cause.
Ann Widdicombe has now joined the chorus.

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterMick J

Are there no engineers left in DECC or has it simply morphed into the ministry of Silly Walks? Renewables can never contribute to base load on the grid because they are unpredictably intermittent. They should never be allowed to exceed ~ 7GW of generating capacity or else they will be self defeating and increase carbon emissions.

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterClive Best

Mick J -
Having looked at the AR5 WG1 Second-Order Draft, I don't think there is much relief to be had there. The climate sensitivity range, and range of projections for temperature, are similar to AR4. For example, for the "RCP 8.5" emissions scenario, the models predict a rise in global average temperature of 3.5 to 5 K by 2100, and this is shown in the (draft version of the) Summary for Policy-Makers.

Mar 22, 2013 at 1:42 AM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Someone needs to explain to politicians of all parties that money is nearly as important as energy.

The Bank of England can print money (not to be confused with wealth or value), but it cannot print energy.

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:18 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"Galvanise" asks the question:

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

When it comes to DECC, or the staff of the EU institutions, they do not sit on their backsides. They run around all day singing "decarbonise!" "What is our carbon footprint?"

These are not idiots; the selection tests are rigorous. But the brain rot starts once they are established. They are now on the gravy train, which is good for the bank account, but bad for the cognitive dissonance.

They will see the light when the power is cut, not before.
Would be safer for all of us for them to just sit.

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterjollyfarmer

I am saddened by this thread, but absolutely unsurprised. When my wife and I returned to NZ after the thick end of a decade living and working in and near London, our decision to return home despite both having a 'right to remain' was prompted by the high probability of suffering quite serious energy poverty if we stayed on and retired in the UK at the end our working lives. We are not paupers and have the qualifications, skills and training to modestly provide for ourselves well into our advanced years; we chose to live in subtropical Auckland on our return as lower future heating bills appear to be a realistic expectation. We have found that we can keep our accommodation to tolerable temperatures with no more than natural ventilation during the warmer months and have been very pleasantly surprised that our energy bills are way below our original forecasts.
Both of us are pleased that we have so many wonderful memories of our travels and experiences in and around the UK with new friends and with members of our extended family whose antecedents remained there, but feel more than a little angry that the cult of CAGW and it's myriad followers in the local and national government in the UK are blind to engineering, scientific, economic and historic fact and have condemned the UK to a miserable low-carbon future.

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Mar 21, 2013 at 11:55 PM | Pharos

I believe that the Germans are going to generate a lot more electricity from coal, and they seem to have found a way around the European regulations.

No, their new-builds are already capable of "complying" with the new, more stringent emissions rules contained in the EU IED regulations which come into force on 1 January 2016.

Mar 22, 2013 at 4:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff


Of course the German's haven't saddled themselves with the impossible self-inflicted task of fitting the new coal-fired power stations with CCS (carbon capture and storage(sequestration)). The German politicians are stupid in a different way from ours.

Mar 22, 2013 at 6:11 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

The UK is facing two problems:


In order to support the target of 30GW (nameplate) of intermittent wind-fired power stations by 2020, there is a requirement for a dedicated fleet of 26GW of intermittent gas-fired CCGT/OCGT power stations.

In other words, 13 of these (to give a margin of just over 8%).

This requirement is known, in numpy circles, as "Capacity Mechanism" or, in engineering circles, as "spinning reserve".

Now, this is a massive undertaking would mean that the Big Six would EACH have to construct a 2GW power station by mid-2016 (i.e. start on-site on Monday, 25 March 2013) and then start on-site again in June 2016 with another 2GW power station to be ready in mid 2019. Obviously, one of them would have to volunteer to build the 13th power station. This requires a 36 month construct/commission programme - tight.

Say £26 billion at today's prices.

There is also the small matter of the huge cost of each intermittent gas-fired MWh delivered, which is required to enable the operators to cover their costs for intermittent operation.

Of course, the numpties are not going to give the Big Six brown envelopes containing £2 billion each, oh no, they propose to have an auction in 2014 or 2015 to get this under way.

It is likely therefore, that this dedicated fleet of intermittent gas-fired plant is all pie in the sky and will never come to pass.

The solution is simple.

Scrap, as soon as the legislation can be put on the books, say before the summer recess, all operational (!) windfarms, close down all windfarm construction sites and reject all applications for windfarms going through IPC. The only exception would be stand-alone windmills for personal use only.

The Big Six should be compensated in full for their losses (on the grounds that they are the only people who can solve PROBLEM 2 - see below) whilst the likes of Dave's father-in-law get nothing.

Ergo no wind, no need for intermittent gas-fired back-up.

Thus, PROBLEM 1 is solved at a stroke.


Provision of replacement power stations as the ancient coal, oil and nuclear capacity is retired over the next 5 or 6 years, say 24GW to ensure that the minimum 10% margin is secured.

This means 12 of these.

Say £24 billion at today's prices.

This undertaking would mean that the Big Six would EACH have to construct a 2GW power station by June 2017 (i.e. start on-site before the end of 2013) and then start on-site again in July 2017 with another 2GW power station to be ready in mid 2021. This requires a 42 month construct/commission programme - comfortable.

At the moment there is no business case for this investment because wind is robbing the CCGTs of revenue-generating running hours, apparently to a level as low as 2,000 hours/year, whereas the minimum requirement to cover costs is in the order of 4,000 hours/year.

However, having got rid of wind (see above), the business case for new-build CCGTs is viable and if the BigSix were offered carrots instead of sticks, this project is just about feasible for delivery in 2021.

So, to solve PROBLEM 2, the numpties must address the operators concerns, such as the price of each MWh delivered, get rid of the need for new-build CCGT to be "Carbon Capture Ready" and generally give them some credit for keeping the lights on so far, rather than continually hinting that they are responsible for the up-coming disaster.


For the avoidance of doubt:

(a) there will be no new-build coal fired capacity started until CCA 2008 is modified,

(b) there will be rolling black-outs and disconnection of industrial heavy users sooner than most people think,

(c) brown-outs, or voltage reductions, will not occur,

[NG avoids "brownouts" like the plague and only invokes them for very short periods (minutes rather than hours) when recovering from a sudden drop in frequency from 50 hertz to 49 hertz or so caused by a large, unplanned loss of generating capacity.

This is because an extended period of prolonged voltage reduction could cause severe damage to electrical equipment, for example, some types of electric motor could draw excessive current and burn out.]

(d) mothballing of coal-fired plant is a non-starter.

Mar 22, 2013 at 6:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

Brownedoff: I'm sure most power engineers and sensible folk would agree with you. But therein lies the problem - we are governed by numpties who are advised by numpties and troughers. There are too many troughers making big money from the subsidies.

Brownedoff for Minister of Energy!

Mar 22, 2013 at 7:00 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I find it interesting that John Redwood speaks of new German coal plants but not of the French generating infrastructure, or is it that being much cleaner than Germany with a functional 84 % + Nuclear Base load is too inconvenient for any one in British politics to bear.

Mar 22, 2013 at 7:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohnnyrvf

It could be a political planed crisis that creates the environment to implement more radical energy policy and solutions?

Mar 22, 2013 at 7:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterJon

re. "low carbon business", I have a sig file I use for my work emails that everyone is free to copy - I probably nicked it from somewhere else.

"We already have low carbon economies - they're known collectively as "the 3rd world"

Says it all, really!


Mar 22, 2013 at 7:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimonJ

Clearly there's a potential need for SOME wind turbines in your country.

You may, someday, need one per Cabinet minister, plus one per Green MP, and one per trough-snout.

The French got away with lamp-posts in 1789, but we need to be thinking in terms of 21st century solutions.

Mar 22, 2013 at 7:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

Rather than risk losing votes because of domestic power cuts, The troughers will find it preferable to put restrictions on industry and let the country go to hell in a handcart.

Mar 22, 2013 at 8:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterGummerMustGo

When Ed Miliband was Energy Minister, he was asked by Paxman on Newsnight about a rumour that we had only a small gas reserve. He denied this, claiming we had months of supply. Paxman didn't follow it up.

I've written to my MP this morning, asking her to get Ed to talk to the current Energy Minister and tell him where he's hidden that reserve, before it's too late.

Mar 22, 2013 at 8:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan_UK

Mar 22, 2013 at 7:00 AM | Phillip Bratby

Thank you, but I don't think so.

One of the top philosophers on BH, coiner of this truly excellent pithy maxim,

We should be trying to show them that their chosen vehicle is making things worse, not better.

opined, on Unthreaded, that I have no political skills, which I already knew, so it was satisfying in a perverse way to have it confirmed by such an eminent authority.

Anyway, the message was not intended for power station geezers, more for the benefit of people not familiar with the realities of the ups and downs of life spent around massive machines hissing and p*ssing night and day in order to keep domestic gas central heating systems operational at all times.

Mar 22, 2013 at 8:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

Is Al Gore visiting the UK today? There seems to be some kind of white powder blocking the AC vent.

Mar 22, 2013 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered Commenter3x2

Another thought that occurred to me overnight was to ask your MP if he was aware what percentage of him personally was carbon?
I'm sure he wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about!
I have also been trying to think of a tactful way ("drop dead, why don't you!" is not likely to go down well) of suggesting that the real fanatics (like Huppert?) could set us all a good example of CO2 reduction by not breathing out!

Mar 22, 2013 at 9:52 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to agree with me, but I must point out that experts ranging from Ofgem and BP to the International Energy Agency and the CBI have all pointed out that investment in shale gas in the UK will not result in lower energy prices.

Mar 21, 2013 at 11:55 PM | Pharos

I wonder what the track record of the above-mentioned organisations is like when it comes to forecasting energy prices? No doubt there were predictions for gas prices in the US in 2013 that were made before the shale gas boom. I wonder how accurate they turned out to be?

BP has a great deal of capital invested in conventional gas fields. It is naturally in their interest for prices to stay reasonably high. That should be kept in mind when evaluating their estimates of the impact on gas prices in the UK if we exploit the resources that we seem to have.

Mar 22, 2013 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

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

Mar 21, 2013 at 6:14 PM | steveta


I do not understand your comment.

First, we are taking action against CO2 before any catastrophe has been caused by CO2. The government is acting as if the most scary of the CAGW projections (which are not predictions) will come to pass. IT is not waiting to see what happens and adapt as necessary.

Second, as regards the UK energy policy, the writing was on the wall before the Climate Change Act was passed. It has been known for 10 years that our long term planning was defective, and the UK was simply kicking the day when 'difficult' decisions had to be made into the long grass. Those decisions were not 'difficult' from an energy production perspective, but rather from a political perspective and this was only so because the government was so beholden to the greens.

Third, our approach to renewables has always been misguided. It was always patently obvious that windfarms woul never result in reducing CO2 emissions since 100% backup from conventional (ie., CO2 producing) generation was required. If the purpose behind windfarms was to reduce CO2 emissions, right from the outset, it was known that they would not achieve that result.

Fourth, as a matter of design, one does not design an energy generator which is at its weakest when demand is at its strongest. In the UK, energy demand is at its strongest in winter, particularly cold winter nights. These conditions are exacerbated when a blocking high is sitting over the UK. In these conditions, wind generation is at its least efficient!

Fifth, the folly and unsuitability of windfarms was patently obvious from the cold winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11. During those winters for periods of some 4 to 6 weeks, wind was out putting for the majority of the time about 1 to 3% of its installed capacity. I monitored wind on a daily basis and I recall that there were only a few days when it reached up to 8% of installed capacity. Now then if the long term goal is for the UK to produce about 30% of its energy from renewables (this will largely be wind since solar cannot produce energy during winter nights, in winter the hours of day light are short, the low incidence of sunlight at high northern latitudes means that solar produces little power exacerbated by cloudiness - the UK is notoriously cloudy being surrounded by water), it means that wind has to produce about 16GW. If during peak demand wind only outputs say 1% of installed capacity, then the UK requires 1,600GW of installed windfarm capacity. If it is 3% then it requires 533GW of installed wind capacity. So the these two winters taught us that if the UK in the future experiences blocking highs leading to cold winter conditions if the UK installs 1,600GW of wind capacity, it will be able to provie the required 16GW to go into the grid. These two winters patently demonstrated that if we want wind to produce say 16GW, we need to install upwards of 1,600GW of installed capacity. The position could be even worse than that since in the period when windfarms were producing about 1 to 3% of installed capacity, they may have been net drainers on the system since in very cold conditions they need to be heated to prevent damage and the energy for this heating has to come from conventional generation and is therefore a drain on this part of the grid.

Sixth, I accept that those winters were 'unusual'. The winter of 2009/10 was claimed to be a 1 in 30 year occurence. The winter of 2010/11 was claimed to be a 1 in 100 year occurence. However, you cannot design a long term energy system (which is supposed to meet energy demands well into the midpart of this century) if it is incapable of dealing with 1 in 30 events. As any gambler knows, you can have a run of such 'bad luck' so it would be no surpise that in the future to see some morr of these winters.

Seventh, global warming is disengenous as a matter of principle. Global warming is not global but rather it is local and certainly the effects of any climate change is experienced on a local (not global) basis. Whatever is happening to temperatures on a global basis (there has been no global warming for approximately 17 years), as far as the UK is concerned it has been cooling this century. Our energy policy is not taking into account the obvious, namely that the UK is currently experiencing a period when cold weather is likely to become more 'normal' and a period when demand for energy in winter months is likely to rise and when conditions over the UK are likely to be less favourable to wind production.

Eigth, It has been known for a long time that even in ideal conditions the average production from wind generation is only about 22% to 28% of installed capacity such that to produce 16GW of power, one needs to install approximately 64GW of wind farm capacity. It has been known for a long tme that governments have very much underestimated the amount of wind turbines required if this form of energy is to actually (ie., in real world coditions) produce 16GW of grid power.

Ninth, for the past few years, it has been known that wind turbines are not mechanically reliable and their maintenance costs are higher than envisgaed and that maintenance is more dangerous than was envisaged. The upshot of this is that for the past few years it has been known that the life expectancy estimates of 25 years is overly optomistic and a figure of 10 to 15 years is nearer the real life expectancy of these turbines. This means that there will be at least a doubling in the costs of wind energy production.

Tenth, off-shore wind energy is even worse. Anyone who has experience in shipping will know the rigours places on machinery in sea environs and the difficulties in safely carrying out repairs. These difficulties (and consequent expense0 has been grossly underestimated by governments. Indeed, no proper consideration has been given to downtime the costs of this. It is difficult to carry out pre-programmed maintenance since you cannot pre-programme weather conditions. Say a windfarm wishes to carry out 10,000 running hour maintenance in mid July. In April it charters in supply vessels and energinners for for 17th July for 10 days. When 17th July arrives, it is stormy and force 4 or above conditioons are experienced and the work cannot be carried out. It incurs standy/daily hire rates on supply vessels of say $35,000 per day and god knows personnel costs. What happens if it has booked that vessel for 7 days and the weather does not ameiliorate until 28th July. The vessel may not be able to attend between 28th July through to say 4th August since the vessel's owners in april when they were contracted by the windfarm have booked employment for their vessel with someone else from 27th July onwards. So that supply vessel may have to go off-site. The upshot of this is that in real world conditions if on shore wind turbines have a cost effective life expectancy of some 10 to 15 years, then off-shore wind turbines will have a cost effective life expectancy of about 5 to 7 years!! The government does not appear to have taken advice from those involved in shipping and/or off-shore rig production/maintenance.

Now all of these points are blindingly obvious even to a school child. Following the winter of 2010/11 at the very latest, the government should have halted all future windfarm development. I would love to know what the government estiments for winter mortality rates would have been for the winter of 2010/11 if we had experienced those conditions and we only had about 34GW of conventional power generation and we were looking to wind to provide the grid with about 16GW of energy. If the government has not made that assessment, it ought to.

I know that some people consider that we will get power from Europe. Think again, Europe was similarly affected by that blocking high. France only has so much surplus energy and it cannot meet the demands of all other European countries. You can bet your bottom dollar that Germany, Belgium and hooland would all receive French surplus power before the UK does. They are richer than the UK and therefore can out bid the UK for this pawer, and, of course, Germany carries big political power 9there is no way the German chancellor would allow German industry to be closed down for 4 to 6 weeks because it is not getting enougn power). Norway of course has hydro but inwinter due tom the cold (water freezes) it has less spare hydro capacity. Further, Norway has very close ties with Skandinavia and politically it would have to supply Denmark and Sweden with their needs before the UK gets any surplus.

I do not understand how the government has allowed us to get into this position. I do not want to see a catastrophic event. However, the government has been so blinkered by its close connections to the greens, I am fearful that this is what it will take before it appreciates something that has been obvious to any sensible 16 year old for years.

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

Rather than risk losing votes because of domestic power cuts, The troughers will find it preferable to put restrictions on industry and let the country go to hell in a handcart.

Mar 22, 2013 at 8:37 AM | GummerMustGo

The UK is tinkering on the edge of a tripple dip recession, and if it were to go into recession agian, this would be politically disastrous. Accordingly, whilst I agree with you that your choice would be the government's desired option, I am not sure how much leeway the government has with respect to this.

Of course, if it decides to strangle industry so as to protect the consumer, it can always argue that colder than expected weather/ or perhap better still manmade climate disruption has led to a drop in industrial output thereby explaining the weak industrial figures. But would Osbourne wish to explain why the UK has dipped back into recession? No doubt, the figures can be massaged to make the last part of March fall into April, or massaged in some other fashion consistent with some post normal statistical accountancy methodology.

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

For those discussing shale gas price, the price in the US is presently depressed because of a glut in supply. The US does not have a large consumer gas market (electrity not gas is used on a domestic basis) but the US is switching from coal to gas powered generation. When this switch is fully on stream, the glut in supply of shale gas will be far less and gas prices will inevitable rise. By how much is open to speculation but I understand that forecasters are suggesting that it may double or tripple. It may be that BP (and other energy suppliers) have this in mind, ie., US prices are presently uncharacteristically low. Or may be they have in mind the costs of carbon credits that will be required to go hand in hand with gas, or the costs of carbon capture. These last two are an artificial artefact, they are political and have nothing to do with the base cost of gas, ie., research, development, extraction and some profit element.

Of course, in principle, there is no reason to believe that the cost of UK shale gas will be any more than that in the USA unless the difficulties of extraction in the UK are worse than those experienced in the US.

There is a world market for gas. It will eventually find its market price. The more gas that is on the world market, the cheaper that commidity will become. If the US gas price doubles then that would be a good barometer for world market price, but even on that basis, shale gas will be very attractive in driving down energy costs in the UK.

Mar 22, 2013 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

There is a scene towards the end of "Atlas Shrugged" where the crazy policies of the looters/parasites finally take hold and the lights go out nationally.
It is painful to realize Ayn Rand might have been on to something.

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

Don't panic.

Natural gas powered IC engine generators of around 1MW capacity are relatively cheap, widely available throughout the world and can be installed in a matter of days to weeks at local substations. The power they produce is about 50% more expensive than large gas powered plants but in reality that only adds 2-3p/kWh to the cost of the electricity they produce (a small fraction of total, and cheaper than many other sources like wind and solar that they could replace).

They are relatively cheap at about $1-200/kW and can also potentially be re-sold once the crisis is over - and more efficient baseload power plants have been built.

Big Combined Cycle power plants take 3-5 years to install. The massive GW scale transformers required are often the critical path item (take a long time to get built).

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobL

Machine Mart (they've just opened a shiny new branch in Cambridge just round the corner from me - its Bloke Heaven, I tell you..!) - has several generators off the shelf...
Don Keiller - yes, Julian Idiot Huppert is my MP too - do by all means get back to him to ask him to explain what a 'low carbon economy' is - probably involves yurts and animal skins..

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Don't know how many of you out there are professional engineers (quite a few, I reckon, judging from the carefully considered comments).. Anyway, I would respectfully direct everyone's attention to page 8 of the March 2013 issue of PE (Professional Engineering).
The article 'Shadow cast over wind power' is startling in its summary of research by David Keith, professor of applied physics at Harvard (no less). The gist is as follows, and it concerns wind 'shadow' - i.e. the fact that, in the same way that a river has less 'energy' when it has passed over a water wheel, the wind has less energy to impart to wind turbines downwind of the ones at the front.
The real killer, though, is that, for large installations, eventually the very presence of the turbines reduces the amount of the 'resource' (i.e. wind itself) in that region. So, in essence:
Bet the 'greens' didn't see THAT one coming..!

Mar 22, 2013 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Oh, dear!

"Interconnector, which runs the gas pipeline between the UK and Belgium, said a technical problem related to a water/glycol pump at its Bacton gas terminal had forced the shutdown......

The Interconnector is one of Britain's main gas import pipelines. This week, it set a new record, importing 783 gigawatt-hours of gas from Belgium to Britain...........

If the pipeline remains shut for a number of days, Britain's grid operator could be forced to trigger emergency supply options, including reducing demand from contracted users."

Well, no-one could possibly have foreseen such a thing happening, could they?

Mar 22, 2013 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterstanj

richard verney - totally agree with your lengthy summary of the problems facing us.
In particular I have bleated frequently and oft on here (and in Dellers' blog) about the lunacy of 'offshore' wind farms, and the maintenance difficulties which you identify - I believe that the Danes (who have more experience than us in this field) are finding that the ACTUAL life of their offshore wind turbine 'fleet' is 7-12 years, which fits pretty well with your predictions. Furthermore, the southern North Sea has, I think, marginally better sea conditions than the Irish Sea and the North coast of Scotland, where a lot of our turbines are sited - so lop a couple of years off those figures..
Over on Wattsupwiththat there was a recent feature about the governor of Maryland sanctioning a big windfarm '10-30 miles' off the coast of Maryland - one shudders to think of the problems facing THAT installation..!
Still - he's a politician - so what he knows about engineering realities could probably be written on the head of a pin...

Mar 22, 2013 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Re Philip Foster 10.19pm I think it is highly dangerous to recommend fitting a 13A plug to the output of a small generator as you are suggesting. It only needs the slightest loss of concentration for someone to be killed with such a set up.
If someone forgets to disconnect the consumer unit (easily done in the dark and panic of a power cut) you could electrocute a power worker some distance from your home.

Moderator, I think you should have snipped this extremely dangerous advice.

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Hanwell

Sorry my post should refer to Philip Foster at 10.09 not 10.19.

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Hanwell

Mar 22, 2013 at 1:32 PM | David


The Danes do, of course, have a lot of experience with wind turbines, and with shipping.

The life expectancy of these turbines will be a matter of economics, since, of course, anything can be repaired and kept running. The economic question is difficult; If a turbine is out of action then there is the loss of earning revenue (but not necessarily subsidy), against this one has to pitch the expense of repair and if repaired how much longer will the unit remain in operation before the next expected problem. Siting issues will impact on the latter two considerations (and as you say there are differences to be expected in differing locations in the North Sea and Irish Sea).

But one thing, i consider has not been given sufficient thought is not simply the additional wear & tear on machinery in sea conditions, but in particular the difficulties in effecting maintenance in sea conditions.

Maintenance on land requiring precision engineering can be easy, however, at sea, this can be extremely problematic. For example, consider the removal of the rotor. On land, one hires a crane which is static and it is easy to remove the rotor from the shaft. Whereas, at sea that crane is on a ship anchored (not literally because it will be using some form of dynamic positioning to keep station) adjacent to the turbine. Even in good weather when there are few waves, you frequently experience swell (which is the aftermath of storm conditions may be 100s of miles away, may be some days ago). The ship rolls around/bounces up and down in the swell, the movement can be quite dramatic and this makes a precision and delicate operation difficult.

Further, because the marine environment is far more dangerous to that on land, the H & S requirements will be far more onerous. This too will restrict the oportunities to carry out maintenance on off-shore installations.

On WUWT no doubt you will have seen a number of turbine colapses on land. The prospects of this sort of event happening at sea, is again multiplied, particularly if the bed rock preperation has not been adequately carried out..

So repairs of off-shore instalations soon become much more uneconomic compared to the counterpart on land. Obviously, the experience of the Danes is a good starting point. But if you have a life expectancy more in the region of say 7 years rather than the sale pitch hype of 25 years, then that very much adds to the costs of off-shore wind generation. it begs the question, why go of-shore? Presumably, the answer is as flimsy as on shore wind farms are a blight on the landscape and pro windfarm campaigners do not want to keep reminding Joe Public how useless windturbines are; out of sight out of mind, please pass us the subsidy cheque.

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

thanks Snotrocket for the letter to your MP. I will admit I have infringed your copyright and written a letter to my MP ( Jeremy Browne LD) with some editing and signing off with:-
You sir, remain my obedient servant,

Have to see what response I get

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave38

As I read the UK weather synopsis today and the concerns expressed over the gas supplies, one wonders if there may well be some panic in the govt despite their protestations that all is just fine - and carry on.
I also wonder if Dr. Viner is outside making a snowman with the local children.
I don't wish anything bad for anyone out of this but surely even the ecoterrorists have to see the irony don't they?

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered Commentermikegeo

richard verney

(While I have a 'rule' these days concerning serial posters (usually skip..skip...skip))

They must have taken you some time to think out and write up. Thanks for something worth reading today.

Mar 22, 2013 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered Commenter3x2

'richard verney' has made many superbly thoughtful comments on BH, and his recent ones live up to that high standard. I find his overviews as well as his more specific arguments very helpful. He can be as 'serial' as he likes as far as I am concerned!

Mar 22, 2013 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

John Shade

big ditto from me re Richard Verney

always happy to be educated

as far as the governance of the UK is concerned the biggest mistake that Cameron made was to let the LibDems have control of DECC. I would guess that poor Mr Cameron does not realise that cheap energy is the source of all wealth. Without cheap energy the economy is, and will remain, completely FUBAR and everything Osborne is trying is just tinkering round the edges.

Redwood and Carsley are just about the only 2 Tory MP's who appear to realise the true imortance of energy. I would urge all here to encourage the two of them to fight the good fight while noting that UKIP are the only political party of any size that have a credible energy policy. Given that energy is the cornerstone of everything that produces wealth and health it is a no brainer that UKIP is the only party worthy of our support.

Sorry if this comes across as a party political broadcast but current energy policy is clearly wrong. The only way to right it is via the ballot box - unless our fellow citizens find they can't watch the X Factor on a Saturday night due to power cuts, in which case the battle will certainly move to the streets.

Mar 22, 2013 at 7:27 PM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

Several of you mention the apparent stupidity of your MP's. I have spoken to mine at a number of "surgeries" over the last year, and have always brought up the subject of Climate Change, and Renewable Energy. Despite plenty of printed evidence (including BM Reports Screen Captures) She seems unable to accept, or admit there is a problem. Being a government whip doesn't help, and she wasn't even born the last time we had large scale rota power cuts! I will keep trying but I'm fully aware it is a futile effort...

Mar 22, 2013 at 8:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave ward

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