National Grid (LSE: NG.L – news) proposes bringing in emergency measures to bolster electricity supplies as new analysis shows power crunch worsening
Britain could face blackouts if the wind doesn’t blow in winter 2016-17, unless emergency measures are brought in to bolster electricity supplies, official analysis suggests.
Output from Britain’s power plants would not be enough to meet peak demand if there was “low wind” meaning the thousands of wind turbines across the country would generate very little electricity, forecasts show.
Old mothballed power plants are now likely to be paid millions of pounds to fire back up or factories paid to switch off at peak times, under proposed emergency measures to ensure the lights stay on.
Normally, the UK’s electricity grid has a spare capacity “margin” meaning more power is available than is expected to be needed to meet peak demand.
The margin ensures that “consumers are not affected” if demand for electricity increases unexpectedly – such as in a cold snap – or power plants break down, Ofgem says.
But the margin has eroded in recent years as environmental regulations force the closure of old coal-fired power plants.
Emergency measures to keep the lights on were first introduced last winter, when the margin fell to 4.1 per cent, and are also in place for this winter, when the margin is expected to fall to 1.2 per cent.
The measures had not been expected to be needed in winter 2016-17, but officials now believe the situation could worsen significantly as more plants may be closed, meaning the margin could fall to zero .
With unusually low wind, the margin could fall to minus 1.1 per cent – meaning peak demand exceeds the amount of power typically available.
National Grid has now proposed extending the emergency measures for two more winters.
An Ofgem spokesman said: “In a small minority of scenarios there is the possibility of negative margins. But the likelihood of these sorts of circumstances is very low.
“Even (Taiwan OTC: 6436.TWO – news) if this were to occur, National Grid already has a range of tools at its disposal to balance supply and demand without having to resort to controlled disconnections.”
A National Grid spokesman said: “While we want an adequate safety cushion to manage unforeseen events on the network, negative margins do not mean blackouts.”
Peter Atherton, analyst at Jefferies, said the UK was heading into “uncharted territory, where the underlying situation on the system is becoming very unstable and therefore National Grid is having to deploy more and more emergency measures to compensate”.
“These emergency measures should work, but there is clearly a greater risk of a security of supply incident than we have been used to,” he said.
Telegraph analysis earlier this year showed that peak demand coincided with the lowest wind output of the winter just gone.
In its security of supply report, Ofgem said: “There is a widespread belief that the wind stops blowing when there is a severe cold spell, resulting in lower wind availability at times of high demand for electricity. We have considered the possibility that a relationship does exist, and have assessed its impact.”
Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said: “Our number one priority is to ensure that hardworking families and businesses have access to secure, affordable energy supplies they can rely on.
“In the short term, we have put measures in place to meet sudden increases in demand. In the longer term, we are investing in infrastructure and sensible policies to improve energy security.”
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