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« Here we go again | Main | Quote of the week? »

House of cards?

I was having a look at the Appendices to Ofgem's Grid Capacity Assessment for 2014 (as you do) and chanced upon the section on interconnections. Now obviously, if you are going to make use of interconnections to other countries, there needs to be surplus capacity at the other end of the cable. It's therefore interesting to see Ofgem's assessment of grid capacity in countries from which the UK can import power.


The transmission system operators’ (TSOs’) Base Case assumes full exports from GB to Ireland through the East-West and Moyle interconnectors, including at peak times of electricity demand in GB. ... The TSOs have also assessed a number of sensitivities, for example, the impact of the loss of interconnection with GB. In this sensitivity, Northern Ireland would face a capacity deficit in 2016 if no interconnector flows from GB were available.


In its 2013 report, the French TSO expects no capacity deficit (relative to their LOLE target), however this conclusion includes the assumption of around 7 GW of imports. ... If imports from neighbouring markets are unavailable, France would face a capacity deficit of 6.5 GW and 7.5 GW in 2016 and 2017 respectively.


In any of the [its] scenarios, Belgium would be dependent on electricity imports to meet domestic demand. It has been assumed that the two nuclear reactors that faced problems in 2012/1317 are available in all subsequent winters. Were these stations to experience any further issues, the generation adequacy situation would come under increasing stress in the period 2014-2016.

[This seems to predate more recent problems with nuclear capacity in Belgium. Note also that Belgium is not directly connected to the UK, but is connected to the Netherlands, so may affect the UK market.]

Germany and the Netherlands

Both seem to have adequate capacity

You could get the impression that the whole thing is just a house of cards, with everyone expecting to import non-existent surplus energy from everyone else. I can't imagine that grid operators are not aware of this, but I wonder if there is anything they can do about it.

We currently import a fairly steady 2GW from France and 1GW from the Netherlands.

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Reader Comments (39)

I did read that because I expected to see contingency plans. Selective/forcerd blackouts seem to be in such plans (Belgium). I don't think that is a satisfactory plan at all.

For any of us that have been in any type of operational services we always have spares. Those are local to us...our own.

So here its STOR and/or anything mothballed after interconnector failure I assume. This likely would not be the case if our power stations had been built in time. Not JIT either.

The service is critical and the prosecutions for obstruction and abuse of tax payers money is essential.

Oct 23, 2014 at 9:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Here in Ireland we are being sold the story that the rationale for the East West and Moyle inter -connectors is that they enable us to export some of our surplus wind generated power. We are constantly told by our Sustainable Electricity Authority (sic), politicians and wind industry spokespeople that Ireland has the best wind "resource" in Europe. When I check Gridwatch it certainly seems that 90% of the time we are importing power however!

Oct 23, 2014 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterGlebekinvara

It is not the National Grid's job to ensure that we have adequate capacity to meet demand. They can keep pointing out the reality of the situation to the Government, but it is the responsibility of the Government (Ed Davey), who will rely on Ofgem and DECC for his advice. Heads are firmly in the sand (or stuck up elsewhere) and unfortunately heads will not roll.

Oct 23, 2014 at 9:56 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Interesting Question, I downloaded as much data as I could from Gridwatch (May 2011) and using simple filters

The French interconnector exports power to France about 11% of the time.
The Dutch Interconnector exports power to Holland 10% of the time
The Irish Interconnector exports 80% of the time
The E-W interconnector exports 80% of the time

Also according to Gridwatch France has interconnectors to Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain and Germany. It is nothing more than a feeling but it is my impression that apart from Germany most of the time France is exporting on these.

It is a house of cards, with no quick solution.

Oct 23, 2014 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

The Grid a private company can only buy in what is availabe, though when you look at its terms of conditions to operate imposed by the Government it is not a fully commercial operation.
Which Generator electricity is sourced from is very complex under the Balancing Mechanism.
Wind farms in the north of Scotland regularly receive constraint payments.
The grid will not have the power lines available to transmit this power until the Western Link is completed in 2016.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) introduced the enduring C&M regime in July 2010 with an implementation date of 11 August 2010. Under this access regime, generators are offered connection dates based on the time taken to complete a project’s ‘enabling works’, i.e. ahead of the completion of any wider transmission system reinforcements required under the security standards. Connecting generators ahead of the completion of wider works may result in additional constraints on the National Electricity Transmission System. Under the C&M regime any costs arising from the management of C&M regime are socialised.”

I have just been looking at Carbon Brief blog - What the UK’s capacity market could mean for the future of coal, gas and energy sector emissions. I do not understand what is going on.
It would appear DECC wants to make sure there's 50.8 gigawatts of capacity available from non-renewable energy providers.
Will this mean a higher price than at present will be paid for coal and gas?
Presumably wind and solar will continue to receive their inflated subsidised price per GWh.
Can anyone explain?

Oct 23, 2014 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterShieldsman

Nobody in their right minds would include interconnectors in their calculations for capacity margins.

Ofgem probably wish that they could say this in their report, however Ofgem come pretty close when they say on page 11 of the link from His Grace:

1.10. At a high level, the analysis shows that uncertainty has increased, rather than decreased. The margins that are likely to be available in interconnected countries have broadly declined. This further increases the uncertainty as to the direction and size of flows from and to GB.

Talk about tiptoeing around the inconvenient truth!

The flows are backwards and forwards, up and down continuously, so interconnectors are even worse than windmills.

At least NG have a capability to make forecasts for wind (only a couple of hours ahead maybe), with the interconecters they are in the hands of the devil.

For example, it could be seen from Gridwatch that early this morning, GB was exporting to France, Northern Ireland & Irish republic and importing from Netherlands:

2014-10-23 07:05:02 -196 +1024 -182 -360 in the order: FR NED NI IR
2014-10-23 07:10:04 -196 +1024 -182 -360
2014-10-23 07:15:02 -196 +1024 -182 -360
2014-10-23 07:20:02 -196 +1024 -182 -360
2014-10-23 07:25:02 -196 +1024 -182 -360
2014-10-23 07:30:03 -196 +1024 -182 -360

Now it is back to normal, importing from France and Netherlands, exporting to Ireland.

It is not even as stable as a house of cards.

I would bet that, deep down, NG wishes that interconnectors had never been invented.


Off topic slightly, here is some good news.

From RWE's transparency page:

It look s like RWE expect Didcot B Unit 5 to come back on at 400MW from Monday morning 27

October 2014 and then up to 720MW from Monday morning 03 November 2014.


Oct 23, 2014 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

So, when it really matters, the interconnects will be as useful as Wigan Pier? Or as J.Joyce might say,

"Yes, a disappointed bridge."


Oct 23, 2014 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Good job there is a recession in much of Europe.

Oct 23, 2014 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterson of mulder

It all seems to be a fuss about nothing anyway - the difference between the scenario of 'keeping your fingers crossed' and the scenario of 'covering all eventualities' appears to be only 1.5GW (54.5 - 53.0) - see page 9 of:

and click on "National Grid Electricity Capacity Report"

Float Base

The Robust Optimisation approach on the sensitivities and the four FES scenarios identifies four potential capacities to procure options:

1 53.0GW - to cover the average of the FES scenarios
2 53.3GW – to cover all scenarios and sensitivities (excluding Exports)
3 54.0GW - to cover all FES scenarios
4 54.5GW – to cover all scenarios and sensitivities

The only fly in the ointment is the auction itself - what if no-one turns up?

How many millions (billions?) of pounds has all this f*rting about reviewing a handful of interconnectors cost the taxpayer?

All unnecessary waste, when the no-brainer solution would have been to ignore them - as Ofgem hinted in their report (see above at 11:19 am).

Oct 23, 2014 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

'You could get the impression that the whole thing is just a house of cards, with everyone expecting to import non-existent surplus energy from everyone else. '

Its more than an impression , once gain it is worth remember the greens 'want ' a power shortage as they see it has an opportunity to enforce on people an ideology they otherwise wold never touch.
Meanwhile those energy companies left can look forward to what happens when demand outstrips supplies such a way, a massive growth in profits. Greens and energy companies in each other pockets, how is that for irony.

Oct 23, 2014 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

It strikes me that a nice big anticyclone over Northern Europe one late afternoon in December 2014/January 2015 will have every country's grid manager rushing around trying to get interconnected power from another country which is trying to get power from yet ANOTHER country...

'And when the music stops, children...'

Oct 23, 2014 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

The STOR lobby must be rubbing their hands in glee.

Oct 23, 2014 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

Yesterday I updated the previous interconnector discussion with the news on the Denmark :Viking Link proposal .. It's to be 650Km long ! .. Any expert like to comment on practicality & wastage ?

Oct 23, 2014 at 2:36 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

@stewgreen - I'm not an expert by any means, but as a matter of laying cable it's not a problem. We've been laying cables for the internet all over the world for years. See this map. The longest look to be West Coast USA to Australia and NZ.

True, those cables don't carry HV electricity, which may be the problem.

However, HV power cables *can* go underground - but they are expensive which is why most HV cables are attached to pylons definitely above ground. The problem is dissipating heat: this may not be such a problem under water, although I'd expect the cables to be actually under the sea bed.

Oct 23, 2014 at 3:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon

stewgreen - this comment I made on the proposed Iceland-Scotland connector (on a thread last June) makes the Fens-Denmark link look like a bargain:

Irrc, the proposed interconnect with Iceland will have a capacity of 400MW. The cable will have to be 1000-1500km long. According to this report in the Grauniad the cable will use about 800 tonnes of copper per km. At today's prices (£3500 per tonne?) that's about £3.5 billion just for the raw copper. Then there are costs of laying the cable, the rectifiers at each end, and maintenance, and then the transmission losses. All for 400MW, which is less than half the capacity of one coal or gas station? This is clearly more green fantasy and economic madness. Just because Iceland has geothermal potential doesn't mean it makes sense to tap in to it. We need to build the power stations closer to the demand, not further away.
Jun 13, 2014 at 8:06 AM | Registered Commenter lapogus

Oct 23, 2014 at 3:14 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Surely better we move some of our factories to Iceland/Norway
Paul Homewood yesterday said "Domestic users only take about 35% of the power consumed."

and 400KW must surely be wrong ..other sources say 1GW ..anyway whats the point ? you could build 1.3GW gas power station for £300million

Oct 23, 2014 at 3:29 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The STOR system intrigues me. Has it ever been tested? What is the potential for an incorrectly set up generator to damage the grid?

Oct 23, 2014 at 4:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterstanj

I have also seen news from Norway about interconnnectors to the UK (presumably to export electricity as the Norwegians already do to Sweden). I don't know about time-scale etc. - is any of this reported in the documents?

Oct 23, 2014 at 4:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob

stanj: The grid would not notice an incorrectly set up generator of the size used for STOR. However the generator would probably experience a large explosion.

Oct 23, 2014 at 5:00 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I'm sure the STOR system has been adequately modelled stanj.

For instance when my local hospital's deisel generator is chugging away supplying power to the grid and a broader power cut occurs just as I'm being wheeled into theatre, the generator will switch back to supplying the hospital's needs quite seamlessly, rather than attempting to supply the whole of South east England before collapsing into a charred and smoking heap.

In the model, at least.

Oct 23, 2014 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin B

Oct 23, 2014 at 6:16 PM Kevin B

Don't worry.

It seems that NHS hospitals are signing up to "Demand Side Reduction" rather than STOR - see link:.

Apparently NG give notice to reduce demand to the hospital by text message - this means that they have plenty of time to cancel your operation.

Hospital generators will not be supplying juice to the grid - they will remain on standby to support the hospital when required.

Oct 23, 2014 at 6:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

It looks like there are quite a few assumptions about wind and solar input that may be a little optimistic.
News today that RWE are pulling out of a big wind farm off anglia. Last I heard RWE were having financial problems at home.
Meanwhile, in france, several nuclear power stations will close over the coming years to be replaced by wind turbines while, at the same time, Segolene Royal will be putting 7.000.000 electricity points along the roads to charge electric cars that no-one appears to be buying.

Now, tell me what could possibly go wrong !

Oct 23, 2014 at 7:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

More insanity from DECC.

"Consumers will be forced to pay higher energy bills to fund policies that simultaneously tax coal plants to the brink of closure and then pay them to stay open, the head of Britain’s biggest energy supplier has warned. "

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "There is no paradox. The carbon price floor and the capacity market work together to ensure we move to low carbon generation in a way that keeps the lights on at peak demand at lowest cost to the consumer."

At the lowest cost to the consumer? This must be the biggest lie ever. What can we do to tackle DECC about a massive lie like this?

Oct 23, 2014 at 7:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

@Shieldsman: "Will this mean a higher price than at present will be paid for coal and gas?"

The way I read it, there is a very big move to get fossil-fuel producers (that's BP, Shell and coal mines, etc) to leave their resources in the ground - to be paid for by us as 'stranded assets' (iirc). So, the very fuel that literally gives us the biggest bang for the buck is to be left in place, in deference to wind and solar, and the owners will be paid to leave it there. It's a similar pricing model to that for wind turbines where owners are paid even when the grid can't take their generated power, or when the wind is so strong that they can't generate anything.

We have truly fallen down a rabbit hole and entered a DECC version of 'Alas in wonderland'.

Edit: This article in the DT by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard may explain it.

Oct 23, 2014 at 8:45 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

Phillip Bratby (Oct 23, 2014 at 9:56 AM)

Heads stuck firmly in the sand will not roll.
(I've paraphrased slightly). May I put this forward as political quote of the year?

Oct 23, 2014 at 9:12 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Phillip Bratby:
"Heads are firmly in the sand (or stuck up elsewhere) and unfortunately heads will not roll."

Any competent lawyer could get Ed Davey off. The only question is does he claim INSANITY and risk his client being locked up until 2 psychiatrists clear him? Or does he claim DIMINISHED MENTAL CAPACITY? The latter is less sure, but it would result in charges against Clegg and Cameron, who would have to claim that condition as well.

Oct 23, 2014 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

I have done a study of the Irish system and it has more than excess capacity over peak demand:

There are a lot of gas plants lying idle and the East West interconnector has made this problem worse with a plant in Dublin pretty much shutdown for good (and paid to shut down) to allow the imported power in.

Interconnectors allow the greenies to fiddle the books. SEAI are able to claim that wind was higher than coal last year when in fact, when you include coal power imported through the interconnector, it works out that coal is more than wind.

The more complex the electricity system is, the more they are able to fiddle the numbers and hide the problems of renewable energy.

Oct 23, 2014 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen


"Interconnectors allow the greenies to fiddle the books". Yes, indeed. The Danish greens claim that Denmark doesn't have or need nuclear power, but about 6% of the supply is such. Imported from Sweden and other countries.
When there is a sudden drop in wind electricity supply in Denmark, they can draw hydro from Norway and Sweden, nuclear from Sweden, and also draw from Germany (mainly coal fired). Germany in turn can pull in black coal fired from Poland, nuclear from the Czech Republic and France and possibly nuclear or hydro from Austria and Switzerland. How can they claim that they are not using nuclear?

As for gas plants lying idle, this is another consequence of the variability of wind turbines. They make it hard for CCGT plants to operate efficiently (meaning higher costs), and undercut them by offering cheaper electricity at times when the CCGT plants could be making money. So in Germany the low emission CCGT plants (and pumped storage units) are shutting down and being replaced by cheaper, high emissions old coal fire plants kept on line because of wind.
In Denmark the low emission Combined Heat and Power units are disrupted by the surges in supply from wind. They have to keep supplying heat, so higher costs and more emissions per kWh.

OCGT plants love wind. Of course their output is expensive and they have high emissions, but all that is charged to conventional generation so another case of "fiddling the books".

As the saying goes "there are Lies, Damned Lies, and Green Facts".

Oct 23, 2014 at 11:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

The capacity shortage in Northern Ireland is because an EU regulation is forcing the closure of a large coal plant in 2016.

Oct 23, 2014 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen

I don't suppose its worth pointing out that countries sharing these inter-connectors have different time of day usage patterns? So our peak demand doesn't necessarily line up with that in France NL, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, etc. That could mean that maybe your panic and alarm is misplaced...

Nah, didn't think so. Much more fun to spread alarm.

Oct 24, 2014 at 2:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Raff - please can you supply details on the timespans and size of the peak demands in France NL, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, etc.?

Thank you.

Oct 24, 2014 at 4:02 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

But in a deal with the Greens before this year's parliamentary and presidential elections, Hollande's Socialist party promised to cut reliance on nuclear energy from more than 75 percent to 50 percent by shutting 24 reactors by 2025."

The long- term prospect of a steady 2GW from France seems a bit unlikely

Oct 24, 2014 at 6:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterAsmilwho

This may have been covered elsewhere but what is the Carbon Debt of a windmill? By Carbon Debt I mean how much CO2 emissions where made in creating it. And them what is the ongoing debt accumulation compared to an equally powered diesel generator?

I appreciate I'm using carbon terms here that I loathe because it assumes I buy into this emissions language guff but putting that aside can we not show that windmills actually accrue much more Carbon Debt than a generator? Especially if used with STOR.

Or maybe they don't and may have use in certain circumstances. I know a girl in Dublin did a PhD on wind farms so that may be a place to start.

Just a thought. It might be worth talking in terms of Carbon Debt instead of emissions.

Oct 24, 2014 at 7:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

Troll comments and follow-ups removed. TM

Oct 24, 2014 at 9:41 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

This is one of those "yes-and-no" issues.

Statisticians would refer to this as "orthogonality". Risk usually doesn't add up in the sense that 1+1 = 2 (totally correlated risks). If risks are not fully correlated, 1+1 is less than 2.

The key question is: will supply shortages in one country occur for the same reasons as supply shortages in another?

If the answer is yes ("common mode failure"), there will be an issue as risk adds according to: 1+1=2.

If the answer is no ("independent failure"), there is less of an issue.

To conclude: it is not a great idea to rely on interconnection if we are at risk of shortage. But it's not all that bad either. If the idea doesn't work, we would never have had a national grid.

Oct 24, 2014 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Sorry to be in late to the discussions. Two unrelated points..

1/. Underground and undersea cables. The problem is not overheating but efficiency, mostly. The capacity to ground in the electrical sense leaks current which reduces efficiency. Using DC helps a lot, which is why long links are DC not AC. The cost of an underground or undersea cable is high because of the extra insulation it needs.

2/. Jordan above hits the nail with 'orthogonality'. We have every reason to suppose that if wind fails to deliver in the UK, in winter, it fails to deliver across most of NW Europe. Unlike conventional power stations, which tend to fail randomly and one at a time, wind and solar fail all at once and all together. The wind may be always blowing somewhere, but not nearly enough. This makes nonsense of the stochastic formula used to determine risk. It is not just possible, it is actually likely that in order to preserve any sort of power at all the European grid might fragment into bits that are isolated and disconnected, but able to meet local demand, and large swathes which are simply blacked out, if any more reliance is place on the ability of intermittent renewable energy to meet peak demand.

In short the only way to truly assess ability to meet capacity demand with the assumptions of the interconnectors being useful, is to analyse the whole European grid in a holistic and realistic fashion.

This is something that has simply not been done, because the political realities of the EU impose top down diktats on the generators, without any form of pan European body with any teeth being in place to oppose its more fanciful notions. Or plan the implementation.

In short us engineers are looking aghast at a politically inspired disaster in the making, and having tried to point out the dangers are now sitting there waiting for the likely disaster to unfold.

And I can guarantee you if we do get a blackout, it wont be blamed on renewable energy, it will be on the 'lack of a unitary planned power strategy in the EU' and that will be an excuse to Communise the European grid.

Oct 25, 2014 at 10:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

In the meantime, this weekend we go through the fatuous routine of putting the clocks back, for no good reason that I can fathom, which automatically - AUTOMATICALLY - increases the country's energy consumption by 2%.

The only comment I have come across on tv news programmes is that we get an extra hour in bed..!

That appears to be the level of people's intelligence on the matter...

Oct 25, 2014 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Just a point - when countries (and in particular the UK) calculate generating capacity versus demand - do they consider 'renewables' as a generating capacity asset..?

I mean - seriously..?

Oct 25, 2014 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

I agree with you about the fatuity of changing the clocks twice a year but since GMT is based on the sun being due south at midday in the UK and since the purpose behind "daylight saving time" was always psychological and intended to make life a little more bearable for munitions workers in WW1 and there are still some thickheads who do actually believe that putting the clocks forward does mean an extra hour of daylight (and we wonder why we're not winning the global warming argument!) perhaps 2014 would be a good anniversary for abandoning the practice and sticking with GMT all year round.
It gets dark when it gets dark. Live with it.

Oct 25, 2014 at 1:55 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

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