This isn’t good news, really, it isn’t

Britain’s power grid has repeatedly fallen below its targeted frequency level this year, raising fears that it is struggling to cope with intermittent energy supplies.

It comes amid rising international energy costs and a recent drop in wind power due to particularly still weather. Earlier this week the UK was forced to bring a coal-fired power plant back online to boost the grid.

The grid’s level of frequency dipped to between 49.79Hz and 49.67Hz on 11 occasions between February and June, according to data analysed by The Sunday Telegraph from the Gridwatch database which measures frequency at five-minute intervals.

It’s not, particularly, that the grid will go kablooie if this happens too much or too often. They’ll manage to stop that happening.

Rather, it’s that a lot of the industrial machinery attached in the factories doesn’t want to have to deal with this. There have been reports out of Germany of manufacturers looking around for someone to sue for compensation as a result of lines switching themselves off as a result of such variations. Part completed runs meaning heating/cooling and the ruination of the run, possibly even of the equipment.

The answer to which is the factory setting up its own generators to ensure consistency. But those are likely to be diesel of gas, meaning that the supposed emissions savings actually reverse.

Grid instability just isn’t s good thing.

30 thoughts on “This isn’t good news, really, it isn’t”

  1. “The answer to which is the factory setting up its own generators to ensure consistency.”

    Which is a description of how things worked 100 or so years ago. Then the growing grid made it cheaper to use grid power than generate your own. Now we might return to the old way. The wheel of reincarnation is as much a technical concept as a religious one.

  2. Bloke in North Dorset

    The answer to which is the factory setting up its own generators to ensure consistency.

    Or moving production to a country where they wealth creation.

  3. “It’s not, particularly, that the grid will go kablooie if this happens too much or too often. They’ll manage to stop that happening.”

    Dream on.
    Exactly who will ‘stop that happening’? And using what as unicorn farts?
    The CEGB is abolished, and the grown-ups in National Grid are being replaced by art graduates more faithful to Princess Nut Nut’s religion.

    One great thing about thermal generators was the massive inertia, that gave stability, and crucially, allowed a black start.
    Windmills, solar cells, and interconnectors don’t do that, they have inverters that synchronise to an existing stable grid. In short, they are parasitic.

    There are serious concerns (demonstrated by the London outage a few years ago) that a black start may no longer be possible. Or very lengthy, if achieved, though how the Nut-Nut acolytes would know what to do is dubious. It was suggested it might take a month or more to get Scotland and the NE back up.

    The problem is each addition of new power must be stabilisied by the existing rotating inertia, of which there isn’t much, and each new addition just makes it worse.

    It’s very easy to knock over a house of cards, and much harder to rebuild it.

    The answer will probably be to describe the technical term ‘black start’ as waycyst and therefore pretend it hasn’t happened. Zimbabwe, here we come.

    NB Some years back, HMG did a role-play of heavy show in Scotland causing an emergency. After 3-4 days, all the local diesel generators (Telecomms, hopsitals, etc) ran low on fuel, re-supply tankers were being ambushed by freezing & starving people with shotguns, and the exercise was terminated before it went full zombie apocalyspe. But then, snow is a thing of the past, isn’t it?

  4. Back when I was a ‘prentice we had meter on the wall a foot across scaled 49 to 51 cycles/second. When the needle dipped a bit the old feller would mutter “They’re shedding load again.” I recall that they made it up overnight so that consumers received 50 x 60 x 60 x 24 cycles midnight to midnight because we had mains electric clocks in those days.

  5. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    Is, perchance, the lack of wind caused by Glurbul Werming? As well as the hurricane-strength wind?

  6. It comes of having morons and ignoramuses in charge of things. People who don’t understand any science (let us set aside people who don’t understand SI) are scarcely fit to be let out of the nursery. How many bazillions a year do we spend on “education”? To what end?

  7. ” the exercise was terminated before it went full zombie apocalypse. But then, snow is a thing of the past, isn’t it?”

    I often consider what would happen to the UK if we got a repeat of the 1963 winter, months of heavy snow. The country would literally starve and freeze to death I think. Everything is designed nowadays to be ‘on demand’, there is no fat in the system, nobody has any idea how to survive other than by flicking a switch on the heating system and driving to the nearest supermarket every few days. How many people live in a house with no fireplace for example, or any method of cooking without gas or electric? All systems are predicated on there never being any extremes at all. For example diesel nowadays has added biodiesel, which makes it more likely to wax at low temperatures. Added to modern engine management systems and you could easily create a scenario where all diesel vehicles are unable to operate. I can recall the winters of the late 70s and early 80s, which were bitterly cold, and my father used to bring cans of diesel into the house to stand by the stove, to warm them up over night so that they wouldn’t wax up when used in tractors or Landrovers the next day. We had a wood fired range that both heated water and could be cooked on, so had no real need for the grid.

  8. We have intermittent “load shedding” as a matter of course in South Africa – lack of new plant and unskilled but affirmative action staffing has turned a world leading power generator into an expensive laughing stock. Welcome, western Europe, to a small taste of our world.

  9. The main line of warming theory is that low wind days increase – poles warm faster than the equator so less temperature difference between the two by a small amount. Static pressure systems should be more common and last for slightly longer. Sorry sailors!
    Temperature differences between day and night also narrow.
    And the turbines themselves take a tiny bit of wind energy out of the overall system

  10. @Jim – yes, a sobering thought.

    @Philip C – a mate of mine in the village (Namibian farmer by origin, his dad still farms thousands of acres back home) told me the story of how the governmenty tried to instal power to the rural regions. The locals just stole all the cable. The farmers just supply their own power via a collective.

  11. They’re gurgling with glee in Oz as well at the prospect of replacing reliable power with more windmills. I wonder which’ll collapse first, the UK or the Aussie grid?

    Still at least we don’t have to worry about the diesel freezing here, unless all this trying to cool the planet causes the end of the interglacial.

  12. BB

    Didn’t one of the Oz states do that already a few years back (collapse their grid and struggle to do a re-start due to too much flatulence)? Had to ask a neighbouring state to provide some base load to get them back up or something?

  13. I rather fancy having one of those Rolls Royce miniature nuclear plants in my back yard.
    They shoot nuclear generators into outer space, which must be a bit of a trial for the safety, so I’m sure the planners wouldn’t object.

  14. Tends to be nuclear batteries they send into space. An isotope of plutonium I think? One which has also been used for pacemaker batteries I seem to dimly recall…..

  15. PF. The one I think you’re referring to is South Australia. They switched to wind and blew up the coal fired power station at Port Augusta to make sure a new government couldn’t restart it. They kept on whinging and whining that Victoria wasn’t providing the backup they needed.

    As I understand it, they eventually installed diesel generators to provide the necessary backup.

    Victoria was the place I had in mind when I mentioned the joyful push to get rid of the horrid coal-fired power stations.

  16. The Grid has been using coal-fired electricity almost continuously since Midsummer, so the article is seriously misleading – switching it on was *not* unusual.
    What *was* unusual was switching on the *admittedly* inefficient Open Cycle Gas Turbine.
    One new CCGT plant should have been built instead of umpteen unreliable windmills (last time I noticed a windfarm while driving past three out of eight windmills weren’t turning).

  17. The reality is that unless the NutNuts and similar don’t stop, then we need to prepare for some combination of weird mains electricity – that is, not 50 (or 60) Hz, but whatever turns up; not 240v (or 110v) but whatever turns up.

    Regions will need to be fairly small and will need to be separated by dc-dc converters to allow that sort of supply independence. You’ll need to have electricity generating capability yourself, and means for energy storage.

    So yep, backyard nuke sounds pretty good.
    Plus a startup idea – let’s open a nice big ole “mine” near one of the continent sliding under another continent sites and chuck stuff we don’t want down there.

  18. When we lived in South Oz – which was before the present mad times – I was told about a grid problem they had: the day was saved because a single Honda generator managed to restart one station and then the rest could be brought back online. After that scare they built an interconnecter to Victoria which had oodles of capacity based on using their brown coal deposits.

    I did visit an outback power station in South Oz – the quarry from which they took their coal was ultra-impressively huge. We stayed in power company accommodation – in the canteen I noticed that almost everyone had a regional British accent. I enquired: their children would grow up with more or less Aussie accents but then move to the cities and never return. It was the oldish English and Scots who kept the thing running. The Aussies are basically a suburban people.

  19. Due to roadworks last year we had a few days of power off for long stretches most of which we were given notice about, I broke out my camping gear and just setup on the kitchen work surface and charged up a few lights for strategic locations around the house, but it’s amazing how many of our neighbours complained about not being to even make tea/coffee or cook anything etc.

  20. Bloke in North Dorset

    We have intermittent “load shedding” as a matter of course in South Africa – lack of new plant and unskilled but affirmative action staffing has turned a world leading power generator into an expensive laughing stock. Welcome, western Europe, to a small taste of our world.

    Yes, but SA was only supplying 10% of the population and the screw-up was trying to expand it to 100%. Not an unreasonable demand, just done incredibly badly.

    We started with a system that supplied 100% of our needs and then let the lunatics take control of the asylum.

  21. Dearieme

    I’ve always had an outside gas grille (propane tank) so that when all services disappeared, teas still possible to heat water and cook something. Seemed prudent.

    LED flash lamps seem to be quite a convenient cure fir darkness, especially now they’ve invented rechargable batteries

    But heating the house when it’s seriously cold outside for too long is not something I’m set up for…

  22. We have an emergency propane grill. But we’ve not checked it for decades so presumably it’s worthless now.

    I think we’d better buy some modern camping equipment. Should we disconnect a gas fire somewhere in the house so that we can burn wood in an emergency? Should we buy some dried wood? Where would we store it? God, it’s preposterous to have to think like this.

  23. Jim @ 9.50. 1970’s (probably earlier too but before my time)Lorry drivers lighting rags under the engine to warm the diesel up, mates dad spraying a whole can of Bradex Easy Start into his FX3 black cab (black glass in the rear window version) to get it started.

    Tim @ 10.56. I believe NASA did away with the nuke on at least one asteroid probe – Solar power up in space is abundant apparently – unfortunately, the probe landed in a crater on the asteroid and stopped working…….

  24. I’ve only got a couple of old candles. I found them in a cupboard down stairs. I’d guess they’d be about a century old.

    I suppose I really should buy some solar panels and a battery. But they’d end up smashing the fibro-asbestos cement roof and it’d cost me thousands upon thousands to replace it.

  25. Looks like the French interconnector has gone titsup. Big fire on the endpoint site at Sellindge in Kent. Capacity has been cut from 2GW to 1GW according to gridwatch.org.uk.

  26. When we lived in South Oz – which was before the present mad times – I was told about a grid problem they had: the day was saved because a single Honda generator managed to restart one station and then the rest could be brought back online. After that scare they built an interconnecter to Victoria which had oodles of capacity based on using their brown coal deposits.

    Problem is that interconnectors require frequency stability. Once SA started to drift, the interconnector automatically cut out. They’re reliant on the world’s largest battery farm (Tesla) now.

  27. @Chris Miller
    Indeed.
    And this hugely expensive grid battery, like all other grid batteries, provides no enery storage.
    It only provides a substitute for ‘rotating inertia’, for grid stability.
    £Billions to solve a problem the Victorians has already sorted.

    March of the Morons. Ah.

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