When the lights go out

In its strongest ever warning, Ofgem said there may have to be “controlled disconnections” of homes and businesses in the middle of this decade because Britain has not done enough to make sure it has enough electricity.

The regulator\’s new analysis reveals the risk of power-cuts is almost 50 per cent in 2015 if a very cold winter causes high demand for electricity.

Yes, it is a problem. Old stations being closed down under pollution regulations, not enough new stations being built. And of course, very cold winters in the UK tend to coincide with areas of high pressure and no damn wind at all.

But here\’s the big part of the problem:

Ofgem said that in case of shortages \”industrial demand will be disconnected first, then household demand if the former is not sufficient\”

Politically home electricity is paramount. Not having that is what will raise the ire of the populace. But economically turning it off to business is much worse.

Some companies do have contracts where they agree to be turned off in return for lower prices. There are others out there where even a slight variation in power, let along being turned off, entirely trashes either current production runs or possibly the capital stock itself (anywhere running electric furnaces would be most, most, pissed off to lose power for example).

But that seems to be the way it\’s going to play out. We\’re going to find out just what a cock up the politicians have made of this reaction to climate change thing. And find out the hard way.

15 thoughts on “When the lights go out”

  1. Perhaps this will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. We’re being left with new gas plant as the only option with any chance of providing the power we’ll need in the time available. If we’re building new gas plant, then the pressure to make use of shale deposits will probably be irresistible. Possibly win win.

  2. If there’s an event that’s going to wipe out the political class, replacing the ever-increasing-spenders and polar-bear-huggers with more pragmatic leaders, it’s this.

    Most people don’t see debt rising, or how badly the NHS looks after people, but the power going out is very clear and affects everyone.

  3. What Ofgem’s statement actually means is “industrial customers who have agreed to take discounts in exchange for a less secure supply will be disconnected first”. Because, y’know, the people who run the National Grid are career engineers who know what they’re doing, not politicians.

    From the Guardian piece on the same report:
    Ofgem pointed out that National Grid, which runs the pylons and pipes and co-authored the report, can safeguard the position of householders if all else fails by cutting power to businesses and industrial customers under the terms of special contracts.

    The scenario is also grossly misleading, since it involves a colder winter than the UK has had in a decade *and* the assumption that we maintain net energy exports to Europe while this is happening. Which we wouldn’t.

    The lights going out (either literally or metaphorically) is scaremongering bullshit. The prices going up is probable. Whether and how the government intervenes to stop price rises is anyone’s guess.

  4. Steve

    It’s a sad state of affairs but I think you are right. We will get to the right answer the wrong way.

  5. Has the government the power to keep bills down? Besides not requiring all us poor people to pay for the rich to have solar power subsidies etc (large roofs more commonly found on large houses than small houses).

  6. How dare you write such a piece- Wind power will meet all our needs according to guru Caroline Lucas!

  7. john_b

    “The scenario is also grossly misleading, since it involves a colder winter than the UK has had in a decade …”

    perhaps you have forgotten the winter of 2010-11, summarised by the Met Office as:
    “The UK mean temperature for the winter as a whole was 2.4 °C, making it less cold than winter 2009/10 which was 1.6 °C but still the second-coldest winter since 1985/86 with 2.3 °C.”

    In that particular decade, the UK was blessed by 2 successive winters worse than anything in the previous 20 years! The second part of your point, regarding exporting energy is sensible but the first part is, to use your favourite term of criticism, bollocks. Bad winters can and do occur on a fairly random basis.

  8. Staring intently at my crystal balls, I see some things.
    I see some Brussels bureaucrats rubbing their hands.
    A special derogation to allow old reliable plant to continue to function.
    In exchange for a humungous fine.
    Which will be redistributed to cronies, more regulators, more red tape.

  9. It is worth mentioning that the second part of john b’s point is also bollocks – the UK became a net energy importer several years ago and has been ever since.

    Last figures I saw suggested something like 2% of our electricity demand is imported, hardly a vast amount true but we are a net importer.

  10. good point Phil – I remember checking on the generation stats and seeing that, even in the relatively benign winter of 2011/12, we were pulling in energy from France, Ireland and the Netherlands. So john b is talking bollocks – as if anyone really doubted.

  11. The Ofgem report looks at various scenarios, including a “high demand” case, which it describes as being “characterised by high economic growth and the low penetration of energy efficiency
    measures” (weather uncertainty is included in its probabilistic analysis, not in its scenarios), and a “Maximum exports” case, which it describes as highly unlikely. The highest probability of black-outs is in the “high demand” case, which it estimates would give on average one blackout every 2.4 years during the highest risk winter (which is 2015-16). Assuming a poisson distribution, that implies that there would be one or more blackouts that winter with probability 34%. The Telegraph’s “almost 50%” is an exaggeration.

  12. Only 34% chance of blackouts. Oh well that’s alright then.

    We (and I mean the world) need to be rid of the eco-scum.

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