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« Thought for the day, tricky edition | Main | Salt for the Earth »

Belgian brownout, German emergency, British plan

I recently chanced upon a report about the plans that Belgium has put in place to deal with its impending electricity crisis, brought about by the shutdown of several of its nuclear reactors. It seems that the country is to be divided into six zones, which will each take their turn to be switched off when the grid is about to be overwhelmed. A more detailed version of the plan, released last week, shows who will be affected, right down to street level.

We knew about the Belgian energy crisis already, but somehow seeing the brownout plans up close brings the whole thing home.

Meanwhile, in Germany it seems that the national grid operator is having to make ever more interventions to keep its charge operational,

Already 3500 emergency grid interventions per year – According to the TAB report of 2011: More than a couple days of blackout would be a national catastrophe – Germany sacrifices its uniquely reliable power supply for the ‘transition to renewable energy’.

And some major energy users have already been forced to shut down to keep things afloat.

The situation in Britain seems to be little better, of course, with calls for emergency generation capacity already having been issued. But don't worry, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey has a cunning plan, as he explained to Liberal Democrat Voice:

One of the five green laws we are proposing in our Pre-Manifesto is a Zero Carbon Britain Bill which would include a legally binding decarbonisation target and measures to end the use of unabated coal.

That will help, I'm sure.

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Reader Comments (75)

He is quite mad.

Sep 25, 2014 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterAgouts

I am scheduled to have a "temporary interruption of electricity supply" next month to "carry out connection of new properties to the electricity network in your area". I am not aware of any new properties that need connection. The last time this happened was to connect two smallish wind turbines. Is this blackout just testing in preparation for the big one this winter. The generator will be on standby.

Sep 25, 2014 at 9:37 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I notice here that the French are supplying surplus power to Belgium, Italy, Spain and us. Let's hope they don't need it all for themselves too soon.

Sep 25, 2014 at 9:45 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

"the plan, released last week, shows who will be affected"

Does DECC even have one?

Sep 25, 2014 at 9:49 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Sometime yesterday on Radio 4 I caught the end of an interview with one of the directors of these STOR diesel backup companies (Short Term Operating Reserve) .. (it was maybe in the 1pm news)
"well you see what we do is more ecological than having a conventional power plant idling on standby."
..I am not sure that comment stands up to close analysis .. as if the conventional plant already exists then you might aswell run in rather than have the new ecological impact from construction of new diesel generator plant ..which run more inefficiently anyway.

Sep 25, 2014 at 9:50 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

So the French are going to supply the whole of Europe then, based on the list of countries planning on using it its not far off.

Sep 25, 2014 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

I have a simple answer for the Belgians and Germans: turn your reliable, 24/7 nuclear reactors back on.

Or is that just too obvious?

Sep 25, 2014 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterAsmilwho

I'm sure I read it somewhere before but.....he is quite quite mad.

Also, he will never be brought to account for what happens in the years ahead.

Sep 25, 2014 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

Two Belgian nuclear generators are damaged; at least one by sabotage.

When the Belgian down-time was announced the politicians were actually boasting that it would only be three hours - they should all be shot.

Sep 25, 2014 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered Commentersteve l

Yesterday I read in the Telegraph business section. The National Grid has signed contracts with TATA and Flextricity for them to be paid to reduce power demand at peak periods this winter to help avoid blackouts. In all 431 sites are involved allowing total demand on the Grid to be reduced by 319MW between 4pm and 8pm, between November and February.

In the event of payments being made who will pick up the tab - the poor old consumer.

No doubt at the same time the NG will be making constraint payments to the windfarms in the north of Scotland.

Wonder if the Western Link will be completed by 2016?

Sep 25, 2014 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterShieldsman

@ jamesp - Sep 25, 2014 at 9:45 AM
"I notice that the French are supplying surplus power to Belgium, Italy, Spain and us. Let's hope they don't need it all for themselves too soon".

Well, they are going to reduce their nuclear generation by a third and replace??? it with wind energy.

> reference to certain politicians being eligible for Croft's deleted<

Good luck to all in the UK as the lights go out.

Sep 25, 2014 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

we can probably cope with the lights going out and missing a bit of Corrie, but what happens in winter when the heating stops and people start to die?

Will Eddie the Eejit take responsibility? (I'm speaking rhetorically)

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:14 AM | Registered Commentermangochutney

One hundred years ago as WW1 started Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary said "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."

Vastly different circumstances, but the remark is ironic in view of the impending situation in 2014 and makes you wonder just how far we really have progressed in the intervening period!

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterKen

When the electricity goes out I understand the gas goes out as well.. Keep a generator or a big pile of logs/coal.

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

When I hear such idiotic statements coming forth from Ed Davey's mouth I really fume. The man is a dangerous fool, and Cameron should be ashamed that he gave the LibDems such a nationally important department. Though Cameron seems as keen a warmist as any LibDem.

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

The real problem is that this goes further than just "Eddie the Eejit", the whole of our political class with few, very few honourable exceptions, are infected with the greenery. They listen to everything the eco terrorists say but totally ignore the People who are going to suffer. Eco activists are allowed a free ride every time, let off when guilty of criminal damage and no doubt being well paid out of our taxes. This has to end, just how many will have to die before sanity takes over....1000, 10000, just how many "Eddie the Eejit" do you want out of your way?

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterDerek Buxton

An old saying applies - they're used to meat so they won't go back to gruel. Or at least quietly ...


Sep 25, 2014 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

'When the electricity goes out I understand the gas goes out as well.. Keep a generator or a big pile of logs/coal.

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:24 AM | confused

Certainly most modern gas boilers require electricity for their electronic controls. I'm considering getting an inverter so that I can provide 240v from a back up battery in the event of regular power cuts.

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Sheesh - Ed Davey is simply stupid beyond words.... "I'm writing from the Climate Change Summit in New York" blah, blah, blah

His earnest clueless-ness simply shines through to the point where it's blinding.

Faced with this sort of absolutely weapons-grade idiocy it's very difficult to not get very angry indeed. If he was a broom pusher or burger flipper it would not be of much importance - but he's a Government Minister purportedly advised by objective and knowledgeable specialists. When is somebody going to tear this berk very publicly to tiny pieces?

I hope the voters of KIngston & Surbiton dispose of this idjit at the next GE.

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Registered Commentertomo

You might want to get a spare battery for the laptop, too. Of course that won't help your internet connection.

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

The problem is often framed as a shortage of electricity and therefore shutting big users down and running generators at peak times would solve the short term blips, but the deeper problem might be a shortage of gas.

Imagine a point where Europe is having a cold winter and like the UK uses its gas supplies to the max. Russia cuts of everybody over the border to the Ukraine and beyond. Call it business, call it revenge. Gas and electricity supplies are being demanded by every country. Prices naturally soar. We’re managing with our emergency measures. Supply from our connectors might dry up because of other demands or worse, we might be feeding the other way. So the gas power stations would be running full tilt and the gas supply would decline rapidly. The UK has about 21 days of gas storage but I suspect that figure depends upon the rate at which we use it.

40% of gas demand is residential, 23% for electricity (and heat), 24% industry and 13% commerce and other. So asking the big users to power down won’t massively reduce the decline in gas use even if the pressure on electricity is eased somewhat.

To tip things over into crisis, how many additional events need to happen? How many different things could trigger the crisis? How late would government leave it before they asked the public to reduce gas (ie turn down heat) and electricity to preserve the system? At that point how useful would STOR be?

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


as far as STOR is concerned why are so many of the STOR contractors "Greenie" outfits with no history of operating heavy plant and backed by fly-by-night eco funders of opportunity?

It absolutely stinks to high heaven and nobody in the MSM has asked the very obvious and awkward questions - at all.

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Re. – our own National Grid – total production capacity in Belgium is 15358Mw.

Included therein is 1394Mw hydro, of which Coo 1 & 2 (that are pumped hydro, and thus need a surplus in a previous time period) can supply 1164Mw for 5 hours.

Equally included is 755Mw wind

Our 7 nuclear power stations total 5926Mw, of which now unavailable – Doel3/4 and Tihange2 – 3052Mw

If Doel4 doesn’t come online (just this morning came news that it will be available beginning December), total possibly available is 10387Mw, to which one can hope to add Coo 1&2 for a total of 5 hours.

If Doel4 comes online, that “possibly available” total becomes 11425.

It is unknown to me how much of that “possibly available” is “really available”, i.e. not in maintenance, technical breakdown, or other.

The interconnector with France supplies between 500Mw and 2500Mw approximately, the interconnector with the Netherlands between 500Mw and 2000Mw, and together they supply up to 45% of our nightly demand. This “foreign” supply is most probably necessary atm.

The big question is whether you can put France and the Netherlands with the possibly available or with the really available during this coming winter, when our consumption reaches 13500Mw at times, and they might have to choose between their own customers, and Belgian customers …

Our fate is in the joint hands of CAGW, France and the Netherlands …

Sep 25, 2014 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterducdorleans

Yes, tomo. Running the system on batteries is an idea that has emerged from the renewables and eco brigade. I'm sure that if we had electric cars they'd be writing them into the plan as a supply of last resort. Since it's clear we can't do that, they adjust the idea to generators that can be switched on and off as needed.

Sep 25, 2014 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Davey has a plan? That man never had an idea let alone a plan, he is an idiot and demonstrates the fact every time he opens his mouth.

Sep 25, 2014 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

My log store is full, and the oil-fired Aga doesn't need electricity to run.

Last time we had a lengthy outage (after some storms at New Year a little while back) the whole street ended up in our kitchen happily eating and drinking in the warm. We got all the children to do their party tricks and generally had a great old ceilidh.

Fun for a day but not for a month... these fools need to be reined in pretty sharpish, but who is to do it?

Sep 25, 2014 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

Just a reminder to those considering running their gas fired central heating systems from a battery / inverter combination. DO NOT use a standard, low cost, "Modified Sine Wave" inverter - you will almost certainly wreck the programmer (I did), and quite possibly the boiler control PCB as well. These use very simple power supplies which don't like the harmonics produced by such inverters. Buy a "Pure Sinewave" model - they are more expensive, and not so readily available, but you won't damage expensive parts when you need them the most! The total demand is not that great - the circulating pump will probably be the largest. My system draws about 100 watts with the pump and boiler running, and a largish leisure battery will keep it going for most of the day, with sensible use. The obvious thing to do is not have the pump running just to heat one or two radiators - get the whole house warm, and then turn everything off for a while. All inverters draw a small amount of DC current, even when not supplying a load, so turn that off as well.

And regarding gas supplies being affected by electricity cuts - I stand to be corrected, but I believe the industry will move heaven & earth to avoid cutting gas supplies to consumers, as they can't simply be turned back on again, as with electricity. I would go as far as to suggest that targeted electricity cuts would be made to ensure that gas compressor stations remain in service.

Sep 25, 2014 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Ward

It's impossible to improve on the very first comment in this thread, by Agouts.

Sep 25, 2014 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterCheshirered

"You might want to get a spare battery for the laptop, too. Of course that won't help your internet connection"

Many domestic routers run off a 12volt DC input, and normally have a standard 2.1mm or 2.5mm socket. Suitable plugs can be had from Maplin, and if you are handy with a soldering iron and some 2 core flex, making up a lead is easy. An in line 2 amp fuse and some crocodile clips will allow you to connect to a battery, and get your internet up and running. But MAKE SURE that you get the polarity correct - normally the centre pin is positive. I have an assortment of small sealed lead/acid batteries kicking around - these are typically used in burglar alarm panels etc. But any 12 volt one would do - I'm not suggesting a standard "wet" car battery, unless it's outside the house!

Sep 25, 2014 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Ward

I would have thought that the risks this nutcase is taking with our energy supplies amounts to treason...

Sep 25, 2014 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Ed Davey also has a plan to encourage "community energy", he doesn't know how it will work but has a team looking at it, not because it make sense as an energy policy, but because its such a Green PC Planet Saving idea.

We all know how "community oops no-energy" will work.

Sep 25, 2014 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

"a Zero Carbon Britain Bill"

Howzat work, then?

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:00 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I live in France, and I have little faith in an uninterrupted supply here this coming winter. Our nuclear supply can only go so far - there won't be enough to cater for the shortcomings everywhere else. Even here, the mad Hollande is shooting himself in both feet by not wanting to invest in new nuclear, and banning fracking. As elsewhere, the windmills are just not up to the job, and never will be.

We appear to have a collective death wish.

Any road up, here, I am ready:

4.5 KVa diesel generator - check
plenty of diesel - check
extra firewood - check
additional propane bottles - check
supply of candles - check
supply of regular incandescent light bulbs (in case we do have some electricity) - check
Warm clothes - check
spare potable water capacity - check
additional alcohol - check
extra food - check.

I think I'm about ready for most eventualities...

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterOld Goat

Sep 25, 2014 at 11:35 AM | Bloke down the pub

Thats it..everything electric and the "new technology" using electronics fails. So back to a box of matches and some wood (furniture) and/or coal/coke. Thats if you have a chimney?

I suffered power cuts in S. Arabia. Diesel Gens running power to compounds. Exhaust manifolds glowing red and back up already failed before. Try that in 39 deg C or somewhere heading for 5 deg C and lower.

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Thanks, Dave. Does that typically include power for the wireless connection?

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Last week..EU Parliament Strasbourg after Farage let rip. The session was on about energy supply/security or some such sh*t.

An italian female MEP (maybe green) suddenly let rip about Russia turning the taps off. She said, " can't we just switch to 100% renewables".

Just like!!

There are some real serious weirdos in that place.

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:00 PM | Registered Commenter jamesp

"a Zero Carbon Britain Bill"

Howzat work, then?

Everything shuts down, last person to leave turns (what's left of) the lights out

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:12 PM | Registered Commentermangochutney

"everything electric and the "new technology" using electronics fails"

I don't suppose that Mister Ed has a clue about any of that. He will just assume that we will suffer the minor inconveniences of no TV and having to break out a few candles, and the penny will only drop when he is woken from his slumber by the sounds of sirens in the street or when a Molotov cocktail arrives through his office window.

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:12 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

"The energy ministry has provided a map to show residents which zone they live in, and brownouts will always be announced a week in advance."

"It seems that the country is to be divided into six zones, which will each take their turn to be switched off when the grid is about to be overwhelmed."

About to be overwhelmed next week!

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

For those with a strong stomach, you can listen to Eejit Ed and other green eejits auch as Rebecca Willis (ex Sustainability Commission) on Costing the Earth.

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:23 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

WRT brownouts, don't modern electronics simply draw the required current irrespective of the voltage? Not a large factor in the overall demand equation, I realise, but not wholly insignificant.

It's also just occurred to me that employers, who these days are required to post their wages details online every week (the dreaded RTI scheme) will be in line for hefty fines if they can't do it. Will HMRC play ball? Only when it happens to them, I'm guessing...

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:26 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

@ michael hart - I imagine you could get the power consumption down a bit by turning the wireless off and just connecting via an Ethernet port, but how much difference it would make I really don't know without doing an experiment. From memory my router draws just under 1 amp at 12 volts with wireless operational. As per my other comment, run it as long as needed to check your emails, and surf the web, and then turn it off / disconnect the battery.

"WRT brownouts, don't modern electronics simply draw the required current irrespective of the voltage?"

Good point jamesp. Virtually all modern electronic devices use switch mode power supplies, and these can often work from about 90 volts right up to 260 ish without adjustment. Reduce the mains voltage, and they will just draw a greater current to maintain the same output wattage. That won't help the grid one little bit! The same will apply to CFL and LED lamps, but not of course to those evil filament bulbs which Davey wants us to stop using.

Another "law of unintended consequences"...

Sep 25, 2014 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Ward

jamesp..current and voltage:

All electrical/electronic devices draw current at the voltage they are safely able to use. The general design since the advent of transistors (semiconductors) is low voltage/low current i.e 3 to 12 volts at milliamps (thousandths of an Amp). Power semiconductors get up into big Amps today and the term Power Electronics has emerged. Apart from that they require the generation of electricity to be constant or at least 100% present.

Semiconductors rely on stable voltage levels and as regards digital electronics a drop of about 20% lands them in or near a state of its not a 1 or a 0. Imagine that in large or even small scale computing. Industrially and for Government systems priority power supplies exist..for us - tough!

Sep 25, 2014 at 2:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

My street in Brussels is in there. The occaissional black-out could be fun. I remember as a kid the blackouts in the early 70s in London, with the 5 min warnings. The evenings of candles and board games were charming then, and would be again now.

Sep 25, 2014 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood

Can we legally bind Davey and jail him when the power cuts start?

Sep 25, 2014 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Old Goat
Also in France, I have stocked up on wood, Gas, Paraffin and tins/jars of food plus flour. The wood burner has an oven so technically the gas for cooking is only required for cups of tea in a hurry. Should be able to cope with Camping Gaz and hurricane lamps. Childhood with electricity taught me that you can manage without it, but life is a whole lot more civilised with it.

As you say Hollande is about as mad as Davey as far as energy is concerned.

Sep 25, 2014 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Unmoderated* wind power seems to be far more of a threat than unabated coal.

* Moderated as in having some form of buffer between generation and pouring it into the grid in order to reduce the problem of intermittent generation, and of grid operator approved disruption to other generators.

Sep 25, 2014 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Yes @John Marshall

How can Ed Davey have a plan, when he doesn't have a clue ?

Sep 25, 2014 at 2:44 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Blackouts? Nein Danke!

Sep 25, 2014 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean OConnor

What happens with the partially cooked chicken in the electric oven when there is a power cut?

Sep 25, 2014 at 2:53 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

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