EYE ON THE GRID BLOG

Blackouts on the way in Britain?

By Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
It's seldom that there's much drama in the energy world, however, in the U.K., a report by that country's government electricity regulator touched off a swarm of responses, defensive statements and condemnations — in short, genuine electricity drama.

It started with a report from the Office of Gas and Electricity Market (Ofgem ) that warned of power shortages in the coming few years. Since 2012, Ofgem reported in its June 2013 capacity assessment, the risk of blackouts in the U.K. has doubled. Energy margins could shrink to as low as 2 percent in 2015 and 2016, according to Ofgem.

Ofgem said power outages are by no means guaranteed, but the risk is growing and the government needs to act swiftly to address the problem. Ofgem is calling for more government investment in power generation , as it places the blame for the potential power shortfalls mostly on the power generation sector.

Some factors that could increase the risk of power interruptions include a particularly cold winter or a higher than expected level of industrial activity.

Also at issue is the size and speed of Britain's decarbonization efforts. To comply with E.U. carbon-cutting goals, the U.K. is shutting down coal-fired power plants.

Some numbers: Since last year, more than 2 GW in installed capacity has gone offline in the U.K., and further shut-offs and retirements are expected. The economic situation in Britain and the E.U. is making new investment in new generation sources difficult. No new power plants are expected to be built until 2016.

The same economic downturn that is making power plants difficult to build is also making power plants less necessary — because of the downturn and investments in energy efficiency, peak demand has fallen an estimated 5 GW.

With such few new power sources in the pipeline, Ofgem is working with transmission authority National Grid and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to come up with ways to depress demand. National Grid has a scenario that anticipates power demand to fall an additional 3 to 4 GW by the end of the decade in part due to demand-side management.

This puts the U.K. government in the awkward position of having to root against an economic recovery. Because if factories start humming again, the country's power grid and its generation capacity will be that much more strained.

In 2008, the U.K. set its own greenhouse gas emissions limits and agreed to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The U.K. is also a signatory to the E.U.'s 20/20/20 plan, which calls for a 20 percent reduction in E.U. greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels.

This month, members of Parliament debated the creation of quantitative targets for cutting carbon in the energy sector, effectively speeding up the country's decarbonization process. The proposal (an amendment to a wider energy policy reform bill) was struck down following a close vote, pushing energy policy into the headlines of U.K. news outlets.

Given the country's shrinking energy margins, rapidly approaching decarbonization goals, aging power generation fleet and the looming threat of power outages hanging over it all, the U.K. has some serious thinking to do on energy policy.

The country cannot expect to shut down multiple gigawatts of coal power and just expect the lights to stay on without a plan to maintain reliability. It's one thing to sign on to carbon-cutting treaties, but actually making a low-carbon power grid work is a more difficult trick.

An energy reform bill has passed through Parliament's lower house and is now being debated in the House of Lords. One hopes the debate will not have to be carried out by candlelight.

PREVIOUS POSTS

Electric car driver arrested for stealing 5 cents of electricity

Wed Dec 04 16:32:00 CST 2013
Just the other day, I saw my first Tesla Motors all-electric vehicle driving near our offices here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. With more and more electric vehicles taking to the streets — even in thi...

Where natural gas and power transmission intersect

Wed Nov 06 08:55:00 CST 2013
By Teresa HansenEditor-in-ChiefI recently attended a conference in Washington, D.C. called TransForum East. It was organized by PennWell through one of its latest acquisitions, TransmissionHub, a r...

A harder, better, faster, stronger smart grid

Fri Oct 04 14:09:00 CDT 2013
By Andy Bennett,Senior vice president of infrastructure at Schneider ElectricThe Obama administration recently published a report that calls for increased spending on the nation's electric power sy...

Moody's puts Energy Future Holdings on bankruptcy watch

Mon Sep 09 14:46:00 CDT 2013
Moody's Investors Service, one of the Big Three credit rating agencies, has given Energy Futures Holdings Corp. until the end of the year before the energy company declares for bankruptcy protectio...

China thinks big on power generation, delivery

Fri Aug 30 09:29:00 CDT 2013
The world's second-biggest economy, China, is setting its sights on a massive expansion of its electric power sector. The country is growing increasingly energy hungry as its already massive manufa...

Connecting BEMS in smart buildings to smart grid

Thu Aug 15 10:07:00 CDT 2013
By Allan McHale, Memoori Business IntelligenceJust look down a listing of enterprise energy management suppliers and you will find a mixture of some of the world's leading IT organizations and star...

U.S. wind takes off

Tue Aug 06 13:33:00 CDT 2013
The U.S. wind energy industry is continuing to pay off for those who have invested in it, both in terms of power generated as well as manufacturing and jobs. This is according to a pair of studies ...

Are we trying to be too smart about smart metering?

Thu Jul 25 16:22:00 CDT 2013
By Craig Edge, chief consulting engineer, Wheatley AssociatesWith yet another delay announced in the U.K. government's proposed smart meter implementation plan, the time has come to take stock of t...

Blackouts on the way in Britain?

Thu Jul 11 10:59:00 CDT 2013
It's seldom that there's much drama in the energy world, however, in the U.K., a report by that country's government electricity regulator touched off a swarm of responses, defensive statements and...

One thing liberals and conservatives agree on

Tue Jun 25 14:39:00 CDT 2013
We're often told how far apart the red states and blue states are. Aside from the obvious stalemates and squabbles in Washington, conservative and liberal Americans watch different TV shows, eat di...