Why a perfect storm awaits UK power 

Posted: May 31, 2016 by oldbrew in Energy, government, ideology, Incompetence
Tags: ,

Image credit: BBC / PA

Image credit: BBC / PA

The storm clouds are gathering over UK electricity generating capacity. The government seems paralysed by the absurd belief it can ‘save the climate’, or something.

Urgent government intervention is required to ensure that current uncertainty in the UK market is replaced by developer confidence, writes Paul Webber.

The recently confirmed closure of all large UK coal-fired plants by 2025, along with the planned closure of older and less efficient gas-fired plants, means Britain should be investing in large-scale replacement capital power.

Yet the ongoing delay in constructing the new nuclear plants that will replace the advanced gas reactor (AGR) nuclear fleet, which is nearing the end of its life, means the UK will become more and more reliant on building additional modern and efficient combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants to meet its electricity needs.

Lack of certainty in the regulated power market has meant that private developers, including the so-called ‘Big Six’ utilities, are currently struggling to build new large-scale gas-fired power plants.

Meanwhile, existing coal plants and some gas plants must close in order for the government to meet its commitments to environmental targets. Urgent government intervention is required to ensure that the current uncertainty in the market is replaced by developer confidence, and that a realistic timeline is established that will deliver the necessary construction of new-build capital generating capacity.

A recent paper by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers points to a potential UK electricity shortfall, as existing coal-fired power plants are phased out by 2025, existing nuclear plant is decommissioned and newbuild nuclear continues to be delayed. The UK potentially needs up to 30 new CCGT power plants to fill the gap, but the problems in achieving this target are numerous.
Capacity constraints

Worryingly, the 2014 and 2015 capacity agreements for coal-fired generation showed a drop in capacity from 9.2 GW for 2018/19 to 4.6 GW for 2019/20. This is going to be further exacerbated by the impact of The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which came into force on 1 January 2016 and will force the closure of virtually all existing coal and a number of gas plants on or before 31 December 2023 under the ‘Limited Life Derogation’ option.

The total capacity of coal-fired generation with agreements for 2019/20 is just 7 GW, approximately.
As a result, the UK may need many more newbuild CCGT developments to replace this capacity. Given a typical four-year period to design and construct a CCGT plant, these newbuild projects must start now if they are to be completed in advance of the coal station shutdowns.

Full report: Why a perfect storm awaits UK power – Power Engineering International

  1. oldbrew says:

    ‘Fiddling while Rome burns’ might be one way of putting it.

  2. Stephen Richards says:

    ‘Fiddling while Rome burns’ might be one way of putting it

    And not doing even that , well

  3. […] Source: Why a perfect storm awaits UK power  | Tallbloke’s Talkshop […]

  4. TinyCO2 says:

    No, ‘perfect storm’ isn’t the right name for it. ‘Spiral to Disaster’ would be a better term. It was the name of a programme made about the Piper Alpha disaster. At every turn decisions were made that on their own wouldn’t have ended in tradgedy but together caused the final outcome. Probably the last twist in the power saga will be ‘unforseen’ in that it won’t be a planned event but it will be within the range of reasonable possibilities. A strike, a company failure, a terrorist event, something that would be an inconvenience if we weren’t so close to the edge.

  5. It has become increasingly obvious that this governments cannot be swayed by the mere threat of powercuts into doing the right thing. As such, nothing will be done until they start happening – and then it will take many years to remedy the situation.

    As such, what I really want to know is when we are going to start experiencing power cuts and the scale and severity of those cuts. In other words, do I buy a few torches and batteries, and live without central heating and a warming fridge for a few hours, or do I need to buy a generator or make substantial modifications to continue semi-normal life over a large number of power cuts possibly end to end?

  6. Just watched a couple of horrendous and dangerous setups for powering a home from a generator but eventually found this video which suggests a safe way:

    The alternative is to connect whole circuits together (like the lights) and connect them to a plug and socket to the mains. Then the plug can be disconnected from the mains and then connected to the generator.

  7. Gerry, England says:

    The big six aren’t struggling to build new plant – they are not interested in building new plant that will be phased out under Blue Labour rules shortly after. Why would a private company invest under those circumstances? Capacity is closing faster than expected as it becomes uneconomic under government rules to run fossil fuel plants as more windmills and solar farms are built. Being thick, this comes as a surprise to our climate change politicians. Same as Amber Dudd pleading with the big six to make electricity cheaper when a DECC report says the policy of her government is to make it more expensive.

  8. oldmanK says:

    Watched the video. You have a techie freak with the means. But its an expensive and cumbersome way to revert back to the dark ages. It won’t help the environment in terms of fumes pollution, noise, and increase in burning fossil fuels. Efficiency there is less than 30% engine-wise, less as a complete set-up.

    As a country going the society-way with dedicated CC plant burning the same type of fuel, it can most likely be done for half the price, in cash and pollution.

    As someone in my neighbourhood commented, today’s generations main characteristic is egoism, and one can see that trait in today’s leaders, the common-good is on the backburner.

  9. p.g.sharrow says:

    Bureaucrats are best at saying NO! As a bureaucrat, You can’t be disciplined for saying no. No to keeping old plants operating until they can be replaced. No to construction of new plants.
    Soon there will No electrical power available.
    What we really need is NO bureaucrats. They just get in the way of progress . We don’t really need Them!…pg

  10. A C Osborn says:

    You know Amber Rudd the dud “Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change”

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    @Scottish Sceptic:

    Watched the video. That is an accurate description of a good solution for the “most of house” frequent use $8000 or so price point. What is shown is all correct and valid.

    My only complaints are about what is NOT said. What can you do for sporadic use at a $1000 price point? For minimal emergency use in a hotel? etc. I cover that kind of thing here:

    In it there is a link to my minimal emergency kit that costs about $50, delivers 300W with lighting of your space, and runs from your car “lighter” socket, or in a hotel via a portable “jump starter” syle battery pack (I typically have one in the car on trips aw ay from home. Hours of LED light just by itself, and with “lighter” socket, directly powers things like car cellphone chargers).

    At the top end, you just fork over $12k to Onan for a whole house generator with automatic transfer switch.

    In between? Well, I lived that dream (nightmare?) under Democrat Governor Grey “out” Davis. My first generator was a 5 kW w/Briggs & Stratton motor bought on clearance for $350. Worked great. Used it about 2 years. Issues: It is LOUD. I rarely needed the full power, and surge to full lagged (likely killing a wall mount AC unit). Run time of a couple of hours meant frequent refilling. The wife could not start it.

    That Diesel generator will be even louder…

    It did let us run the washer and dryer one weekend, when other solutions were not enough.

    I then bought a very small Honda 1 kW generator for $800 or so since the spouse could start it. The improvement in quality of life from the 58 dB quiet running was dramatic. From that point on, I never ran the 5 kW unit again. Living in California, with a fireplace and (on the patio) ability to cook with propane and charcoal, we did not need to power the heater or all electric kitchen during outages ( just avoid starting to bake anything just after noon into 7pm when outages were most likely). The Honda run the entertainment center, communications electronics, lights in 4 rooms, and our fairly new and efficient medium sized fridge. After that, I didn’t need much else during a normal daily outage. It also ran about 7 hours on a fillup of about a litre.

    The wall mount A/C would kick in and dump a sudden motor start surge onto the 5 kW job that would be near idle making under a kW when powering the same stuff the Honda ran. It would stumble for a few seconds, then pick up rpm and the load. This worked for a few days, then the A/C died. I suspect voltage and freq sags killed it.

    Per connecting: I had pre-layed drop cords to the entertainment and electronics cluster (that was on a kW UPS), and coiled under the end table to reach down the hall to bedrooms. One floir lamp was plugged into the cluster. On power fail, the UPS world chirp (or we mihht not notice watching TV :-). I would wait about 2 minutes to see if it was just a flicker… then unroll the cord down the hallway (flashlight from end table in hand if needed) and plug t heir floor lamps into the drop cord. Another was run to the fridge, then the UPS unplugged from the wall TV and satellite recvr still running… can’t miss a moment 🙂 …and plugged into that prelayed drop cord. All three male ends under the end table. Now, about 5 to 10 minutes in, bedrooms on flashlights tv on UPS, I would step out the back door and start the generator. Then unroll that dropcord to the endtable and plug in the three distribution cables. Sometim es I’d wait 1v5 minutes if not much was goin on or there has been recent fast power returns.

    Once past 20 minutes (now on generator) we usually had several hous of outage. Rarely a whole tank on the Honda. Though one weekend was a couple of days, though IIRC, that involved a large vehicle taking out a power pole, lines, and more…

    This all worked rather well and with minimal trouble, really.

    I did plan a better replacement system for long term, but we recalled the Governor instead and changed the government, so it was never needed. Still have the parts, though.

    That system? Basically, duplicate an RV. Recreational Vehicle system. Battery box with 2 deep cycle batteries, 2 kW inverter (could add more if my load justified it) and typical battery charger to wall power. All key lighting, fridge, and entertainment circuits to a subpanel via the inverter to battery /wall charger. Essentially a 2 kW UPS for 1/2 the house. In an outage, the wall charger gets plugged into the generator when convenient. The inverter nicely handles the A/C surge and the generator can catch up later… I’d also get the 2 or 3 kW Honda, as needed, then I could plug the washer /dryer into it, or the dishwasher, if things ran long.

    Oh, and I had put 12 VDC lighting in the garage. Presently on a transformer, but I intended to hook it direct to the battery box, so my work area was always 100% lighting available without the flashlight.

    I do have to say, though, it is far far better to just change your government… Fixed things 100% for us on the power stability front. Even “Governor Moonbeam” has avoided burning his fingers on that stove again, despite being batty as heck and an ecoloon supreme.

  12. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, “as a society” solutions are great… right up until your society fails you. Then it is your duty and responsibility to “fix it yourself ” with the best means available to you.

    I can get a cogen gas turbine of 30 kW capacity. I only need 1 to 2 kW… so that isn’t going to cut it. For a grocery store? Sure. Call up Capstone Turbine and order one. The kids grammar school did that. Great product.

    But when your choices are sit at home, cold and hungry in the dark, or fire up your own generator (petrol or Diesel) and start dinner on a gasoline camp stove; well, my family appreciated the consistent light, food, and even TV and internet access. Even tossed a drop cord over the fence to the neighbors a couple of times…

    Sidebar on the video:

    That guy is not some special tech freak. Just a guy with basic electrical skill. Any electrician knows as much. FWIW, I made one of what he calls a “suicide cord” and tested it. I still have it in my earthquake preparedness pack for emergency use only. I isolated my exterior light, power, and the garage to a subpanel. The test involved isolating just that sub panel and powering the exterior via generator. IFF post quake, we are living in the emergency tent in the back yard, I need only flip one isolation breaker inside the garage, then fire up the Honda, plug in, and have full exterior lighting, power outlets, patio micro fridge and patio cooking facilities. Now that’s the way to live post disaster… Also zero risk of backfeeding into the local lines, with subpanel isolated and main breaker off (it is outside, so easy to turn off post quake).

    Anyone with basic electrical skill can do that level of work.

    For folks with less skill, get a 300W inverter (sold at most car parts stores, truck stops, radio stores, Walmart, Amazon, etc. etc.) and a car jump starter pack. Keep the pack plugged into the wall float charging the lead acid batteries for longets life. In a power outage you have a couple of days of light, cell phone, and radio… If your garage is near, you have days to weeks of minimal emergency power.

  13. oldmanK says:

    @ E M Smith: The point of my comment was – don’t let it come to ” right up until your society fails you”. With everyone thinking only for himself (social egoism) that’s where it will eventually end. You may have power for yourself enough to turn your place into a fairground with lighting, but what about the rest, especially the infrastructure which collectively will have next to lowest capability to help itself technically (stores schools hospitals(*) airport(*) industry(*) [ (*) these all have the best emergency gens, supposedly, but normally the worst attendants – including the military –I know I saw all those examples fail, including some of the worst in the power plant itself when politics interfere.]

    Your “earthquake preparedness pack” comment intrigued me. I spent forty years in power plants, including design-build-operate CC plant. But the first ten years of my life where on a farm without any amenities, a way of life not far removed from Hesiod. Electricity then was a useless luxury. I assure you, in an ugly event bordering on cataclysmic, electrical power is the last thing you will ever need to survive. Unless what you envisage by earthquake is similar to a severe storm.

  14. JohnR says:

    I suggest anyone installing a back-up generation system has it installed by a professional. Apart from changing plugs, most electrical work needs to meet part P of building regulations. Failure to meet the requirements of part P, and most DIY will fail, is a criminal offence. Alteration of incoming utilities fusing is illegal unless fully trained, and good luck to anyone attempting live installation! You can, of course, install it all yourself and then pay to have it checked. You may also wish to converse with the company carrying liability for your household insurance, in fact I recommend it!

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    @John R:

    Good points, but do note building codes and inspection requirements vary dramatically around the world. Frankly, “code” is why my first few years of Democrat driven rolling blackouts were spent on generator and drop cords: no code requirements.


    Living in California over 1/2 Century I’ve been in a few quakes. Largest was a 7.x so I’ve got my Big One badge. My kit sytem is likey overdone. Minimal kit lives in the car when at work (pup tent, camp stove, messkit, small camp gear like cup and matches, etc. first aid kit-small, 2 quarts water, 3 days food) while the bigger one is typically in a “garbage can” near the most survivable and reachable corner of the garage. (family sized tent, folk fold up camp potty, bigger camp stove etc.) I also have fallback plans if the kit is lost or time runs out (like used up all the stove gas) like this DIY stove from a half dozen bricks (in a Great Quake lots of chimney bricks will be available)

    For more detail on what is in the three levels of Packs see:


    Maybe it is a Yank Thing, but your comment on “social egoism” is just alien. We know that post disater we will be “on our own” for a week or two. Post Loma Prieta 7ish quake, things were down about 3 days (varied a lot with location, some freeways disrupted for years as rebuilding takes time). We know and expect to be “self reliant” and that government is NOT going to succeed at fixing things or giving aid to everyone (see New Orleans flooding).

    You imply that one person preparing means blowing off your neighbors. That just isn’t what happens. Everyone “pitches in” and shares. Folks set up neighborhood watch groups. I’ve many time stated I would be setting up “Smith’s Kitchen” for the block (no electricity means lots of frozen food to cook the 2nd day so it lasts the week…)

    Is electricity last on the list of needs? Yes. Is it very useful to have? Heck yes! We had a Quake Party at our house. Friends without power stayed with us a while. Dinner, wine & cheese tray, TV News via satellite from “back east”(local tv was off the air, little local news existed). Your life is greatly improved when you know what the heck happened, that it is worse 40 mile away, which way to go for better conditions, what help us likely to come, and when you are NOT worried how long the flashlight will last as the sun sets… A freezer full of food kept frozen makes a week of no stores much less a worry. Besides, I like my white wine chilled, and what good Quake Party doesn’t have white wine and brie? 🙂

    Maybe it is just the product of living in a place with disasters every year (floods now, fires in summer, hurricanes in summer to fall, quakes from time to time, etc.) but “being prepared” is considered a good thing here, not ego. But don’t worry, if you are near for the next one, y’all come to the Disaster du Jour party!

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    “fold up camp potty”… sigh. proof read THEN post…

  17. oldmanK says:

    @ E M Smith Thanks for the informative post. It is clear what you are prepared for. I would agree that in the conditions you describe a handy gen-set would be a great advantage.

    But the conditions envisaged in the piece above are somewhat different. I recall a situation post the 1973 fuel price hike. The reflected cost on electricity saw a drop in power demand. Additional plant already contracted was cancelled. When things stabilised and better times followed after a couple of years demand picked up on the same trend it had prior to the fuel hike, but nobody took notice of the situation at the power plant. It took years working at the edge in times of high demand, black belching chimneys from over-driven boilers to meet the peak , reduced voltage, and augmented with rolling blackouts (it was called rotating routine maintenance) when something failed, which was regular when you could not stop for maintenance. It was also the time when those who had a standby generator found they did not know how to start it (I personally saw several).

    I assure you bringing back to life plant abandoned and ignored for years is a tough job (that was my lot, and it taught me a lot). And it could get worse (there are a few stories I still find very uneasy to talk about publicly). My case is that of a small country but the equation is the same; supply must meet demand.

    For the man-in the -street blackouts can be an inconvenience, but at a higher national level it is serious. You would know that when factory management is on your phone asking “when will power be back or do I send the workers on leave?”. They won’t do that often.

  18. oldbrew says:

    The EU is paying Germany and Spain 4 billion euros to close some coal-fired power stations and coal mines.

    Brits get zilch?