Mothballed Plants On Standby To Avoid Blackouts

Posted: October 15, 2015 by oldbrew in Energy, Uncertainty

It’s time for the annual ‘will they or won’t they?’ – lights stay on – as the UK National Grid limbers up for the stresses and strains of the coming winter’s electricity demands, as Sky News reports. Nobody wants to end up praying for wind….

The National Grid has insisted it has the “right tools” in place to cope with this winter’s energy demands. The company’s Winter Outlook report said that without the measures it had put in place, spare capacity – the gap between generating capacity and peak demand – would plunge to just 1.2%.

It sought to reassure families and businesses that its plans, to pay to have mothballed power plants on standby and for factories to shut down operations at critical times if needed, would raise its capacity margin to 5.1%.

The findings mirrored predictions made in July that the lights should not go out, despite falls in typical generation caused by the closure of old power stations. It said then that the precautionary supply measures would cost £36m – adding 50p to the average energy bill.

National Grid’s director of UK market operations, Cordi O’Hara, said of the Winter Outlook report: “Electricity margins are manageable throughout the winter period and we believe we have the right tools in place to manage the system. This includes using the 2.4 gigawatt of additional balancing services that we have ready in place for times of highest demand.”

On the gas side, supplies are expected to be comfortable this year, thanks to good availability of liquefied natural gas on the global market and stable flows from the North Sea and Norway.”

Source: Mothballed Plants On Standby To Avoid Blackouts

Or, for a slightly different view: Schneider raises alarm over looming British ‘energy crunch’ this winter

  1. oldbrew says:

    More coal generating plants are due to close down in the next 6-12 months.

    ‘Union warns of blackout risk over UK power station closures’

  2. ivan says:

    This is the sort of cockup you get when politicians with vested interests in all things green are allowed to set energy policy. Gummer, Yeo and Red Ed should be made to pay for this rather than it coming out of taxation, any shortfall could then be taken from subsidies that are given to the wind and solar subsidy farmers.

    If this is going to work then these power stations are going to have to be up to pressure and ready to spin very shortly after the wind stops blowing therefore it would be sensible to forget wind and solar – and just send the payments which would be going to wind etc to the real generators that way energy bills will fall rather than rise.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Certainly forget solar at peak winter times – they’re mostly after dark.

    When they say ‘we have the right tools in place to manage the system’, that includes paying hefty sums to companies who volunteer to close down for the duration, or cut their usage, when total electricity demand gets too close to max grid output.

    Plus even heftier sums if they ever really do have to stop work.

  4. Fanakapan says:

    Interesting that they tell us how much such measures will cost, when they must have been coining it for half a year and more with gas and oil prices half of what they were, and still going down ? And yet their prices still stay the same 🙂

  5. The winter of 2016/17 will be the interesting one after more coal power station closures. I hope it’s a really cold one.

  6. oldbrew says:

    On the theme of: ‘after more coal power station closures’

    ‘The GMB Union, which represents energy workers, has accused the Government and National Grid of complacency with 7.4 gigawatts of capacity due to be lost as nine power stations close during 2016.
    Ofgem forecasts suggest that by next winter Britain could experience ‘negative margins’ – meaning output from Britain’s power plants would not be enough to meet peak demand – if it is very calm, resulting in low wind turbine output.’

    Meanwhile nobody wants to build any new primary energy plants for economic reasons, i.e. it’s too difficult to make any worthwhile profit when renewables have full grid priority.

  7. Amber Rudd has promised to ‘keep the lights on’ ahead of crunch Cabinet talks next week – so that’s all right then.
    The buffer between peak supply and demand this winter will be just 1.2%, according to the National Grid.

    What I find utterly ridiculous is that companies are being asked to power down or move to backup generation at peak times to reduce demand. These companies are then often forced to depend on diesel generators to keep their own production going! So that’s great for the environment, too. Where’s the joined up thinking in all this?

    Every year we have this same power crisis pantomime. And every year nothing is done about it. Dithering over green energy policy while fresh nuclear power stations are pushed further and further into the future.

    This is probably behind a paywall…

  8. Ben Vorlich says:

    Does anyone know for certain if the factories “shutting down operations” actually do just that or do they switch on the emergency diesel generators and continue as close to normal as they can? Doesn’t seem to be a good way of generating economic growth whichever solution is used.

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    And what happens if Russia turns down the gas spigot to Europe and a load more demand for gas moves to spot markets? Is there nocompetition for those LNG supplies?

    I fondly look back on those long ago times when the power company had Engineers do the Engineering, Managers managing, and politics didn’t make the power fail… Ah the memories. ..

  10. oldbrew says:

    Ben V: under the ‘STOR’ system, industries can plug their diesel generators into the National Grid and get paid for that as well, including stand-by payments.

    ‘National Grid has several classes of reserve services, which in descending order of response time are: BM Start-Up, Short-Term Operating Reserve, Demand Management and Fast Reserve.’

  11. oldbrew says:

    EM Smith: LNG is going to be cheap as chips the way thing are going.

    ‘LNG producers are forecast to add 50 million metric tons of capacity next year, the largest annual increase in history and equivalent to a fifth of current global demand, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.’

    ‘Amid the anticipated surge in exports from Australia to North America, prices could fall to $4 by 2017’

  12. oldmanK says:

    @e m smith: my feelings exactly. Most of what happened was as a result of Enron and their dirty games. Enron disappeared but the mess that made has remained.

    @ oldbrew: gas may remain cheap but LNG transport has its own high investment cost. There has also been a change of mind with nuclear. Fukushima restarting, and a number of others are revising their knee-jerk reaction to nuclear. Part of that LNG tanker demand may evaporate.

    Nuclear has an unseen cost , decades down the line and if nothing happens. See the cost of Chernobyl, Fukushima. And the bad practices of Tokaimura for the potential to cause a mess.

  13. Ben Vorlich says:

    So if you’re a business with an emergency diesel generator rather than this being a cost on the business it becomes a nice little earner.

  14. oldbrew says:

    Ben V: it has to be generating over 3 megawatts to qualify, if not it’s possible to join a group of providers who reach the 3 MW target between them.

    If all else fails there are ‘Other National Grid measures’:

    ‘There are other similar arrangements which are used only as a last resort since they do involve disconnecting consumers. If Frequency Response and spinning reserve fails to control grid frequency and it falls too far, then the fans feeding air into power station boilers begin to lose power since they are synchronous, and the grid’s entire power-station output then goes into irreversible decline. To prevent this, frequency sensitive relays on entire substations trip out, disconnecting entire customer areas on a pre-determined schedule.’

    ‘This continues until, as a last resort, large areas can be switched out manually.’

  15. Russ Wood says:

    In South Africa, the power shortages (as a result of non-investment followed by a belated and badly managed catch-up program) are paralysing industry. Mining, already under pressure of low mineral prices, has to cut down on its power usage. Companies are not investing, because they can’t be sure if they will have the power if they expand. It’s not just about keeping warm (S.A. is mostly hot enough), but keeping industry and the economy going!

  16. oldbrew says:

    Russ Wood: The UK has a different approach.

    By using high electricity costs to force heavy industry to pack up and go to other countries, demand is reduced, so lack of investment in reliable power generation is hidden for a few more years.

  17. J Martin says:

    Oldbrew +1
    Also that industry moves to China where it quadruples its co2 output on average. Jonova.
    The UK continues to progress it’s forward march towards a third world power supply and with it a third world economy, standard of living, healthcare, nutrition etc etc.
    I await the perfect storm of a hard winter and an electricity industry over reliant on solar and wind with our top up feeds from Europe being cut off as they find they need their electricity for domestic consumption. When ? If the winter we experienced during the last solar minimum is any guide then 2022 will be when the snow hits the fan.

  18. oldmanK says:

    J Martin: I have heard those words before—spoken for Italy. They said Italy would not invest in energy supply before some major blackout. That didn’t take long coming. France could not provide for some reason. They blamed the trees for competing for sunlight with the power lines, and a heavy pruning followed. Then italy resolved to invest.