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Fire in the galley

SSE's Ferrybridge C power station in Yorkshire is currently on fire. As this picture suggests, it's a big one.

There has been some speculation that it may have something to do with the renewables activities on the site. The main plant now cofires with biomass and there is a dedicated mixed-fuel power station on site too. However, word on Twitter is that the fire is actually in the flue gas desulphurisation plant which has been installed for two of the operating units in the main power station. If you look at Google Earth you can see the relevant part of the power station.

The more interesting aspect of the story is what it means for grid margins. Ferrybridge C has a 2GW capacity, which represents a substantial chunk of peak winter demand. There are reports of explosions on site at the moment, so heaven alone knows how long it will be out of action.

Better pray for a mild winter.

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Reader Comments (54)

Don't worry about the loss of power, Roger Harrabin on PM (radio 4) has been covering generation methods in the UK, and he says that renewables are the future (solar so abundant in Germany that they have to give it away almost for free), but with fossil fuels providing the back-up.

Please direct the first power cuts to BBC sites.

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

Better pray for a windy winter too

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

A loss of 2GW capacity is easy to make up. All SSE need to do is strap a 2.5MW wind turbine onto the side of the building (once the fire has gone out) and then build another 799 2.5MW wind turbines in the surrounding countryside. Okay, that's assuming the wind always blows at the optimum speed for the turbines, and as these turbines will only operate at a 20% load factor, they will actually need about 5 x 800 turbines = 4000 to make up for the single lost gas plant. Think of all the jobs this will create, the energy will be free, and we will be helping fight climate change!

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:29 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Sorry for that, I think someone from DECC or Ed Davey just hacked into my account.

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:32 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

How about a conspiracy play; deliberate fire to remove 2 GW and force power cuts to change DECC's policies?

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterturnedoutnice

So there for putting sanctions on Russia ...

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeP

Biomass has become unusually sulphurous as a result of global warming.

Hence the fire was caused by climate change - which will be the headline when this begins to affect electricity bills.

Fortunately, warming has reduced the need for electricity by the peasants.

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

Don't worry, plenty of nice clean diesel generators around to take up the slack. Ed says so.

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

resilience and reliability must have been a big chapter in "dave"'s business plan that led to all this fancy "investment" ?

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

I predict that power cuts will be triggered by a series of unforeseen and unconnected events. A coal station incident here, a strike there, a winter epidemic, a little trick by Putin at a crucial moment. The dominoes go in one by one.

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

You really need to get with the program!

“We keep thinking that we want it to be there and provide power when we need it.....We are going to change our own behaviour and consume it when it is available.....”

Chris Holliday, National Grid

Jul 31, 2014 at 6:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBetapug

Don't worry, according to RenewablweUK (and they never lie or try to mislead people):
“Offshore wind is already powering the equivalent of two and a half million British homes and that’s set to more than treble by the end of the decade, providing a secure supply of clean energy at a cost which is reducing constantly through economies of scale". You may just be one of the lucky 2.5 million homes with a secure supply of cheap wind energy.

Jul 31, 2014 at 7:02 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Another biomass casualty
Tilbury power station mothballed after investment burns out

Jul 31, 2014 at 7:04 PM | Unregistered Commentervukcevic

Like Mikky, I've been following Roger Harrabin's series this week on BBC Radio 4's PM programme. Today, some words of comfort:

Will the lights stay on? Well, I think this didn't get much publicity. Ofgem, the regulator, says: thanks to all the attention on this issue, over the past few years, the chance of getting a blackout in our worst year, which is 2015, is now 1 in 73, which doesn't sound like a very high risk, to me. But there are so many imponderables in energy policy, Eddie, you really wouldn't want to be the minister working it all out - it's like... it's like juggling a tray of jellies.

I trust that everyone's minds are now at rest.

Jul 31, 2014 at 7:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Meanwhile....just off Anglesey the huge array has been scrapped.

Jul 31, 2014 at 7:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn de Melle

Deadly winter, unfortunately yes.

One big power coal plant down puts ever greater strain on the other remaining coal generation plant, I can't foresee any chance of our surviving winter without a major outage.

No help from France?

Meanwhile, Europe's only fall back - Britain/German reliance on French nuclear power to say the least, could be curtailed.

According to the Times, dependence for nuclear electricity is about to be cut. Monsieur Hollande's ex and now energy minister, Segolene Royal says, France will embark on a major drive to construct new wind arrays and to reduce French reliance on nuclear fission sources from 85% to 50% by 2030 whatever............are they totally stark staring bonkers?

But...................The cheese eating surrender monkeys have gotta have some good news for President "my golf handicap is coming down man" Barry Obarmy when the Paris get COP climate catastrophe gab fest - NGO civil servant jamboree happens in 2015..........I can't bear to think, I mean what if - Miliband is returned with a majority in May 15?

I am cheering for Putin - to bring down thunder on the lunatics - the One World Government designers.

Jul 31, 2014 at 8:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Offshore wind is already powering the equivalent of two and a half million British homes
Fair number of questions going begging there. For how long a period is this happening? 24/7? A couple of minutes when the wind is ideal? Some indeterminate and indetermimable time in between?
And what is powering all the other homes in Britain? And the rail network? And the traffic lights? And the CCTV cameras? And ...? And ...?
But the answer to the first question is the one that demands the answer. Because since the actual functioning capacity of a turbine is only ~30% what is is that is powering those same two and a half million theoretical homes for the other 70% of the time?
I really tyhink we should be told

Jul 31, 2014 at 8:19 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Reliance on French nuclear could be a bit iffy unless Hollande and Green Segolene are of sterner stuff in a crisis than priors.

"Churchill shuttled between England and France in his desperate attempts to shore up Allied morale, and was shattered to discover it was Reynaud's mistress who was really influencing decisions. The Countess Helene de Portes had sapped whatever courage remained in the French Premier as she lay crying hysterically on his bed, pleading only to be left alone".

William Stevenson, "A Man Called Intrepid", Fight On

Jul 31, 2014 at 9:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterBetapug

@ Mike J

"Offshore wind is unpredictably occasionally powering the equivalent of up to two and a half million British homes."

There, that's fixed it.

Jul 31, 2014 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

They are too dangerous, close them all down ;>)

Jul 31, 2014 at 9:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterson of mulder

I don't think that we'll need to wait long before FOE, Deben or Davey will be using this incident as yet another reason to invest in renewables.
After all, the 800 or so wind turbines that would 'replace' the Ferrybridge would hardly be likely to all catch fire at the same time, would they?
That's even more unlikely than 8 'related' IRS computer hard drives failing at the same time:)

Jul 31, 2014 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Question from a Yank, where electricity use is highest in the summer, for you Brits: Your electricity consumption is highest on the coldest days. Do you really use that much electric heating? If so, how much of that is electrical resistance heating (glorified toasters...) and how much is using heat pumps?

Jul 31, 2014 at 9:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurt


For domestic consumers, the majority, living in cities and towns, benefit from connection to the mains gas grid. So their additional electrical load is a function of the load required to run the boiler controls and circulation pumps plus occasional extra electical heaters, additional lighting for the long hours of darkness, additional use of tumble driers etc. But a significant minority in rural areas are not on gas. They use a variety of oil fired, solid fuel or LPG boilers, wood burners and a substantial use of electrical storage heaters wired to switch on during a 7 or 10 hour a day off-peak cheaper rate electricity tariff.

Commercial properties, obviously, consume far more electricity in winter. Shops with fan heaters near doorways, pubs restaurants office blocks industrial units warehouses service bays theatres cinemas churches etc all using an array of radiant heaters etc etc

Jul 31, 2014 at 10:28 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

What a bunch of comedians y'all are to be sure to be sure to be sure.

You'll have the lot of dem gobshite Greenies and similar idiots rolling around in the Isles (sic) while they are waiting for wave power, wind power, fart power and all the other imaginary types of power to keep their butts warm this winter.

Jul 31, 2014 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterTom O'Connor

What would be really funny is if the fire was as a result of the carbon capture plant.

Jul 31, 2014 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Well spotted!

Huhne's 'flagship test programme at Ferrybridge represents an important milestone in the UK's plans to develop CCS... This is the first operating carbon capture plant attached to a power station at this scale in the UK and has benefited from more than £6m in public money.'

Soot- carbon - chimney fire. ( I know its really carbon dioxide, but serves them right for lazy terminology)

Jul 31, 2014 at 11:20 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Curt - Pharos' summary is on the ball, but a couple more factors:

In Scotland just about all public water supplies are from rainfall / run-off, which for the winter months of the year (Nov - April in the Highlands) is barely above freezing. So kettles, electric showers, dishwashers and washing machines all have to do another 15C of heating compared with what they have to in summertime, (and compared to many parts of England where water supplies are often taken from ground aquifers which are 10-15C all year round).

Also, when the weather is cold people here tend to drink more hot drinks to keep warm, so 3kW kettles are on more frequently in the winter than they are in the summer.

Jul 31, 2014 at 11:25 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Well at least we have mothballed plants such as Didcot to fall back

Jul 31, 2014 at 11:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike

It may be that CCS is the culprit.

"the fire is actually in the flue gas desulphurisation plant"

Well, in Saskatchewan, "flue gas desulphurisation" is part of CCS.

"A flue gas desulphurization (FGD) system will be placed to allow the installation of CCS equipment, which will reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 90%.
The flue gas will be treated and hydrated before being compressed and transported to oil fields. The treated flue will contain zero SO2 and just 10% CO2.
Cansolv's FGD technology will integrate the SO2 and CO2 systems that will work in unison within a single plant."

Aug 1, 2014 at 12:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

So removing the CO2 (the principal ingredient in a class of fire extiguishers) could exacerbate fire risk in the flue system?

Aug 1, 2014 at 12:11 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

Finally ... a photo of black smoke coming out of a coal fire power station that isn't a doctored photo of steam.

Aug 1, 2014 at 1:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Question from a Yank, where electricity use is highest in the summer, for you Brits: Your electricity consumption is highest on the coldest days. Do you really use that much electric heating? If so, how much of that is electrical resistance heating (glorified toasters...) and how much is using heat pumps?
Jul 31, 2014 at 9:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurt


I don't think I have *ever* seen a house with air conditioning in the UK in my whole life. In shops, restaurants and so on, but essentially *never* in houses. For the occasional very hot day (eg 80°F) an electric fan can provide relief from this extreme heat (which is normally accompanied by low humidity).

In contrast to France (where I now am), the cost of electric energy in the UK precludes the use of electric heating for routine heating of houses. But most households will have one or two 2kW fan heaters ready for adding extra warmth on cold mornings, heating an otherwise unheated garden shed workshop, and so on.

I would say that heat pumps in UK houses are an extreme rarity. In Northern France you see them now and then, but not often.

Aug 1, 2014 at 8:26 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Bruce +1

Carbon clearly doesn't enjoy captivity.

Aug 1, 2014 at 8:42 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp


"I don't think I have *ever* seen a house with air conditioning in the UK"

Nor me, and there are some expensive summer homes round here. I was at one last weekend, on a hot day, and they were debating whether to turn the AGA off! Mind you, there was a swimming pool 20 yards away...

Aug 1, 2014 at 8:47 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp


Shame about Didcot, as you say. The curse of Davey..?

Aug 1, 2014 at 9:04 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

IIRC most FGD plant, ducting, tanks, chimneys etc are rubber lined. Nasty fire!

Aug 1, 2014 at 9:35 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

That would be the flue gas desulphurisation that was required to stop the acid rain that never happened...

Aug 1, 2014 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Aug 1, 2014 at 8:26 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Aircon is not expensive, even the inverter type. I nearly fitted aircon to my home in London, just the lounge and master bedroom, but in the end I did not. I concluded that I could live with a few muggy nights.

Air based heat pumps are reasonably expensive, but by no means prohibitively so, but they do not work well in the UK because in winter you require an air temperature of +3 to 8 degrees. The highher the ambient air temperature, the more efficient the pump is. With high ambient temp, one can get nearly 5 times energy out, but as the ambient temperature drops this soon becomes 2.5 times and even less. They will work at -1 degC but the advantage is very small.

Further, they work best with underfloor heating where water temp is usually no more than 40 degC. To heat a radiator is diifficult since a heat pump tends to have a maximum output temp of abiut 55degC. Some do 60 or even 65degC (and sometimes people install 2 in series, the first acting as a pre-heater), but that is still less than the hot water from a gas fired boiler. The upshot is that if you intend to use a heat pump direct with radiators, you need an efficient design of radiator and you need radiator over capacity, say 40% to 60% more than would be the case if the radiator was being fed with water at about 75 to 78degC as from a conventional boiler.

In Southern Europe air sourced heat pumps work well because night time lows are rarely below 8degC.

For the UK a ground source heat pump is a more efficient option, but this is expensive in view of the ground work required.

In summary, heat pumps may be a new build option, where underfloor heating can be installed, but are not a practical option for an old house with an existing hot water radiator system. They are not a replacement option for a gas central heating boiler

PS, In summer, the inverter type heat air sourced heat pump can be used for cooling. But as others have said, it is relatively rare that aircon is required in the UK.

Aug 1, 2014 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

This'll be the same SSE that lost power to most of W. Scotland earlier this year....switching problems with windmill surge?

I don't recall seeing on UK houses the humming fridge (lump) in a wall. What is available is mobile air con units from the DIY stores (B&Q), about £290 for 9000 BTUs. That'll be approx equiv of 2KW electric toaster which can only plug up to a 13A socket. Think a lot of elderly folk have to use them as they waste away in v. hot cr*p UK buildings (aka homes). Spendy stuff at 11 - 13p/Kwh + meter charge/day + VAT.

Aug 1, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Pharos omits the fact that most blocks of flats are heated by electricity for safety reasons as are most conversions of houses into flats and sheltered housing facilities. So the people dependant on electricity tend to come from the lower income groups - hence the"premature death" statistics we see every winter.

Aug 1, 2014 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Flanders

From The Mail:

"The National Grid said the power station was not currently generating electricity and so it did not expect power cuts as a result of the fire"

Wikipedia says:

"In the 1960s, Ferrybridge C power station was opened with a generating capacity of 2 GW from four 500 MW sets. Units 3 & 4 were fitted with flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) equipment in 2009. Units 1 & 2 remained untouched and closed on the 28th of March 2014"

So the site was capable of just 1GW before the fire, and is only likely to get half of that back online by the coming winter.

Aug 1, 2014 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Ward

"solar so abundant in Germany that they have to give it away almost for free"

I'd like to see them do that without the subsidy.

Aug 1, 2014 at 12:58 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Dave Ward,

"In the 1960s, Ferrybridge C power station was opened with a generating capacity of 2 GW from four 500 MW sets. Units 3 & 4 were fitted with flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) equipment in 2009. Units 1 & 2 remained untouched and closed on the 28th of March 2014"

So, doing it on the QT, no fanfare and no national news dissemination about coal plant being shut down - is a very sneaky way to go about it. Of course, yes we knew that sometime around about now - these plants were to be closed. Naively [how stupid can you be?] I hoped that, someone who knows a thing or two about base load and power outages would inform the politicians that, any more closures will put Britain in the dark - ha ha ha ha no chance of any common sense breaking out in the DECC ...... much to ask? B bbbbb......better start praying then y'all @!!?##@@ And no, I do not think it is funny - this grid will crash.

Aug 1, 2014 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

jamesp on Aug 1, 2014 at 12:58 PM

Solar energy is free in our back garden though, when it rains we do rush out to bring in the washing, unless it has already poured!

Aug 1, 2014 at 1:27 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Here is what SSE says about Units 1 and 2 being shut down:

Unit One (490MW) and Unit Two (490MW) at Ferrybridge power station were opted out of the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), and turned off once they used up their allowed 20,000 operating hours at the end of March 2014.

Unit Three (490MW) and Unit Four (490MW) have been retrofitted with Flue-gas Desulphurisation (FGD) technology to enable them to comply with the LCPD. They have also been opted-in to the Transitional National Plan under the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) which provides a number of alternative options for how they will operate through to at least the end of June 2020. SSE has not made a decision on how the plant will operate and this will depend on market conditions and the effects of any future capacity mechanism.

A new 68MW multifuel generation plant is currently being constructed at the Ferrybridge site as part of a £400m joint venture between SSE and Wheelabrator Technologies, called Multifuel Energy Ltd. This project is progressing well and is expected to be completed and generating its first electricity in 2015.

Aug 1, 2014 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Ok - I know I am expatriate - but looking through the main on-line media outlets I am not seeing this being covered - WTF?

Has it been on the TV news back home ?

Aug 1, 2014 at 2:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterHysteria

One more comment on heat pumps in the UK.
As mentioned previously, the number of days when cooling is needed is pretty low, but the number of days when heating is needed but the air temperature is too low for effective heat pump operation is high.

But probably the biggest reason for non use is that house construction in the UK is very different to that in the US.
Houses are much smaller, and constructed from cinder block (breeze blocks in UK), not easy to include air ducts, and practically impossible to retrofit them.

Windows are typically not of the sash type, so window units are hard to install.

Heating is typically via wall mounted (hot water) radiators connected to a boiler by "micro" tubing.

It would be possible to replace the boiler by a heat pump and heat/cool the water (which would now require anti-freeze), but the heat pumps designed to work like this are quite expensive, as are the heat exchangers which are more complex than the typical US domestic air handler.

Aug 1, 2014 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

Hysteria said:

Has it been on the TV news back home ?

I am in Yorkshire. It has been on the local telly news and it was briefly on national news I think. As a local story the local news gave it more attention than national news, speaking to residents and getting updates from the fire brigade. I imagine something similar was the case when there was a biofuel fire in Essex at Tilbury power station. It was a headline story nationally but then quickly disappeared.

Aug 1, 2014 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Winter is coming. Has anyone ever studied the effect on a modern, industrialized western society once the power goes out in winter. Can you imagine all the 90s and 00s kids without the ability to google stuff like "how to light a fire" or "how do i open a can of beans"
Not to mention the effect of cold-turkeying facebook, twitter, instagram etc.

Aug 1, 2014 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin S


In an extended power cut the mobile phone network will die after about 90 minutes.

Land line exchanges have generators so they should be OK.

(Part of a study I did for work - a 12 hour cut in an area will be pretty frightening)

Aug 1, 2014 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic

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