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« The inhumanity of the environmentalist, part 234 | Main | That dinner »
Monday
Oct062014

Another capacity crunch in 2018/19?

The last 48 hours has brought news of yet more pressure on the electricity grid. The good news is that the year that is currently looking most likely to bring power cuts - the winter of 2015/16 - is unaffected. The bad news is that a second capacity crunch may well be looming in 2018/19.

The first piece of bad news came when the operators of the massive Longannet coal-fired power station in Fife suggested that they will not be bidding to supply electricity in 2018/19:

Scottish Power has decided not to enter the contest to supply energy generating capacity in 2018/19, arguing financial changes are needed to avert the threat of closure.

The National Grid said it had been working closely with the industry and Ofgem to review the charging regime.

Scottish Power point in particular to the cost of connecting to the grid, but in essence the case must surely be that their economic model has been cut to pieces by almost every aspect of energy policy. This is a bit of problem. Having been expensively fitted with flue gas desulphurisation equipment, Longannet was expected to keep operating for some time to come, so this appears to be a direct hit on the UK's future generation capacity.

Then this morning came the news that safety checks have found cracks in graphite fuel bricks at the Hunterston A nuclear reactor. Such cracks are not a terminal problem, but once the level of cracking reaches a certain point, then the reactor will have to close. The station will reopen, with a licence to supply power for three more years. However, plans to extend its life further are now looking as though they may be "subject to future revision".

Together, the two stations can generate more than 3.5GW of power, which is something like 5-6% of peak demand. According to the Ofgem grid capacity estimates (quoted here), the margin in 2018/19, when they may have both been taken offline, is of the order of 4% of peak capacity.

Not good.

 

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Reader Comments (38)

It must please someone. Otherwise, why has it happened?
If you say that it was incompetence, then it was planned as well, by someone, as it didn't used to happen, and we know more now than we did.

Oct 6, 2014 at 9:32 AM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

It must please someone. Otherwise, why has it happened?
If you say that it was incompetence, then it was planned as well, by someone, as it didn't used to happen, and we know more now than we did.
(You only need to answer once!)

Oct 6, 2014 at 9:33 AM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Meanwhile the BBC has given Naomi Klein a platform on Start the Week. She is spouting about energy policy as I write this.

Oct 6, 2014 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

The 2nd link appears to be the same as the first.

[Fixed! Thanks.]

Oct 6, 2014 at 9:53 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Note the photo that BBC Scotland chose to illustrate their story, is one which shows no visible emissions from the chimney.

The cynic in me wonders if this is because local jobs are at risk?

It may be that the photo was taken during the summer-shutdown maintenance period ........ But then a fortnight ago Aunty found photos of 'smoking' power stations to illustrate two other different articles.

Oct 6, 2014 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

deja vu, January to April 1974

Oct 6, 2014 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

The day the lights out, will be the day the politicians say "but no one told us this would happen".

Oct 6, 2014 at 10:41 AM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Mike: One of the biggest reasons sensible sceptics are treated as if they don't exist, by ignoring and not even naming the intelligent ones (as is happening again to Steve Mc) and/or focusing on a few nutcases as representative of all. One of many reasons the gathering at Nic Lewis's a couple of weeks ago was important: the nutcase quotient was low on both sides, meaning something useful could arise. (But note such discussion had to be confidential. It's that subversive of the status quo to get the sensible people together!)

As far as warnings about the electricity supply are concerned happily the Web will provide plenty of chapters and verses when the time comes. At which point I hope we learn some hard lessons about the limits of science funded by government too.

Oct 6, 2014 at 10:52 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

@ Joe Public: The BBC are masters of pollution photos. Their technique is very simple. They photograph a cloudy skyline above & around a power plant, especially with a chimney stack emitting waste gases & the cooling towers with plumes of steam looming upwards, slap a seipia filter on the lens so that it all looks terribly dirty & thus polluting, & press print. Bob's your Uncle, job done!

Oct 6, 2014 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

"Then this morning came the news that safety checks have found cracks in graphite fuel bricks at the Hunterston A nuclear reactor. "


Hunterston A was a twin reactor Magnox power station and was Scotland's first civil nuclear generating station and at the time of opening the largest in operation anywhere in the world and generated around 360MW of electricity during its 25 year life

The station was started producing electricity in 1964 and closed down in 1989.

http://www.hunterston.eu/hunterstona/index.htm

Something does not compute.

Oct 6, 2014 at 11:39 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

The limits to science funded by government are simple, "say what we want you to say, forget your Karl Popper and do as we say". Science is being reduced to what it was in the 17th Century when the Holy Inquisition ruled.

Oct 6, 2014 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterDerek Buxton

In other news - Vince Cable admits green taxes are damaging British business.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/11142286/Vince-Cable-admits-green-taxes-are-damaging-British-businesses.html

'He said that British firms are "struggling" to compete with their international rivals on price, which is leading to work going abroad. He said that as a result Britain is effectively "exporting pollution" to other countries.'

Oh really? We'd never have guessed /sarc.

Oct 6, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Privatising the national grid was pretty dumb in the first place.

Oct 6, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I have said it before, it is easy for the FF electicity providers to Kill wind and solar, just withdraw your services due to them needing
Maintenance
Safety Repairs
Investment
A decent price for their product to stop making losses.

It would bring about a very quick dose of realism to both the politicians and the public about what has been going on for the last 10 to 15 years.

Just maybe that is now happening.

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterA C Osborn

Tiny: As Mike said, nobody told him beforehand. Poor Vince.

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

'The day the lights out, will be the day the politicians say "but no one told us this would happen" MikeHaseler

You could write the script now. The interesting thing would be the attitiude of the Guardian and the BBC. Would they try to make the case that the UK has to suffer to explore green possibilities or would they throw green government under the bus for endangering the vulnerable? It goes without saying that the BBC and the Guardian won't give a feck what happens to business in a power crisis.

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

While Longannet and Hunterston B can generate about 5% of GB peak demand, this corresponds to about 50% of the Scottish peak demand. Cockenzie (1GW coal) recently closed and Peterhead's (Gas) capacity is about to be cut from 1.2GW to 400MW (for market reasons). This leaves Torness (1.2GW), and about 6GW capacity from renewables which typically produce only 1-2GW, and can't be relied on at all - especially in future winter cold spells when the wind does blow, and all potential rain falls as snow, and the burns and rivers freeze for weeks, as they did in winter 2009-10. The Scottish Government appears to be in denial about this eventuality.

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:08 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

The Great Delusion long ago passed the point of self-perpetuation - analogous to 'thermal runaway' in heat-generating electronic systems - with uncritical acceptance by the majority of schoolteachers, broadcasters, senior civil servants, heads of professional societies, and politicians. It's simply not going to fade away spontaneously.

So far as I can see, the only thing that could bring it to an end in our lifetimes would be the combination of a succession of cold winters, together with extensive power cuts.

If my view is correct, is the possibility of power cuts in the next year ot two really "bad news", in the long run?

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:15 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

It's worth noting - if a party makes a policy that is consistent with the opinions of its followers and then that policy fails, their voters and newspapers are more likely to let the thing go. However a party that makes a policy inconsistent with views of its supporters that then fails, sets themselves up for abuse from both sides of the political divide.

Major power cuts due to an obsession with following green tenets could destroy the Conservative party.

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

"So far as I can see, the only thing that could bring it to an end in our lifetimes would be the combination of a succession of cold winters, together with extensive power cuts."

Don't think so - cold winters are caused by global warming which is caused by fossil fuel consumption which is required for power supply. The obvious response to fix power cuts is more power cuts...

Runaway trains don't stop easily.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Runaway_train_disasters

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Crashed trains do.

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:30 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

RC

"we know more now than we did"

We might, but I'm not sure DECC does!

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:41 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Tiny

"the BBC and the Guardian won't give a feck what happens to business in a power crisis"

They might if it stops people reading or watching their, um, output.

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:44 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Martin A
Must be Hunterston B!

Oct 6, 2014 at 12:50 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"is the possibility of power cuts in the next year ot two really "bad news", in the long run" Martin A.

For the vulnerable, yes.

That includes businesses as well as the elderly and I doubt we could calculate before hand what damage it would do to our international standing.

In another life, the BBC would commission a 'what if' programme to explore the affects of power cuts but the closest they've come concluded we'd be ok because big hotels would turn off their air conditioning.

Oct 6, 2014 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Tiny: I'm fully with you in that answer. "Do evil that good may come" has never been good policy. The damage done looks as if it's going to be great before we come to our senses. There's nothing to rejoice in therefore but defeatism is equally pointless. We don't know how it'll play out and imagining we do is futile, as we tell the warming alarmists often enough.

Oct 6, 2014 at 1:11 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

jamesp, neither the BBC nor the Guardian seem to mind their audiences are dwindling because their output is increasingly out of touch.... or do I mean - because they are increasingly out of touch, neither the BBC nor the Guardian seem to mind their audiences are dwindling. Whichever.

After power cuts, the two will blame Conservative mismanagement either on this Conservative government or the next one. They'll lie through their teeth and say the government should have invested more in green sources.

Oct 6, 2014 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

As I'm - how can I put it - not following the LibDem Party Conference closely, I wonder if they have come up with any sort of energy policy yet - even one based on fairy breath and peek-a-boo sunbeams..?

Oct 6, 2014 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

You'd almost wonder if it's a ploy by the power companies to demonstrate in Scotland what will happen in the rest of the UK if the mad green agenda is continued?

Give us a level playing field for our power or we're not playing ball.

Oct 6, 2014 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

Be aware that power cuts don't affect the BBC, they have their own dedicated standby-generators.

Ironically, pollution-emitting diesel ones.

Oct 6, 2014 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

JamesG:

Privatising the national grid is irrelevant. It provides a convenient scapegoat for the fact that policy on generation investment and the electricity markets are rigged by DECC. You couldn't have a more Stalinist nationalised regime - incompetence baked in.

Oct 6, 2014 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

For anyone interested on a reliable background article on the UK nuclear power stations (updated September 2014)

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-T-Z/United-Kingdom/

(It does not cover the latest issue at Hunterston B but it and Hinkley Point B have already been downrated to 70% power.)

Oct 6, 2014 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Bates

quote
The day the lights out, will be the day the politicians say "but no one told us this would happen".
unquote

Well, at least one will be lying. The Minister for Energy Security knows, I've been banging on to him about it for years.

JF

Oct 6, 2014 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJulian Flood

Not to worry. Ed Davey tells us that renewables are going to increase energy security.

Oct 6, 2014 at 10:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

It does not take much wind or solar to destabilize a national power grid.

Fortunately the odds are good for the German power grid to collapse before the British grid does:
http://notrickszone.com/2014/09/24/eike-german-power-grid-more-vulnerable-than-ever-on-the-brink-of-widespread-blackouts/

When the grid of a major industrial country collapses there will be huge political consequences because people will not stand for it. Look for a sea change in Germany with the "Greens" cast into the outer darkness.

Oct 7, 2014 at 5:49 AM | Unregistered Commentergallopingcamel

Ed Davey says everything will be OK and we can have zero carbon flight any minute now.

BBC Radio 4 Today programme interview with him between 7-8am.

Oct 7, 2014 at 8:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

I have put this link up before but for any readers who think we sceptics are crying wolf about impending brownouts and blackouts, take a look at the peak demand / capacity graph on page 24 of this presentation. This was published before the latest announcements about Hunterston B and and Longannet. Is there really no-one at DECC capable of explaining a simple bar chart to Ed Davey or David Cameron?

Oct 7, 2014 at 9:13 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Oct 6, 2014 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

It's often more straightforward than that.

Shoot a chimney emitting steam (or anything else, innocuous or not) when it's back lit. Expose for the sky and the steam looks like the emissions of Satan
The Guardian is also a crack whore for these pics.

Oct 7, 2014 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

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