Two faulty generators are to blame for a major power cut that caused travel mayhem and an electricity outage for almost a million people in England and Wales.
One of the worst power cuts in Britain in years may have been caused by simultaneous failures at a gas-fired power plant in Bedfordshire and an offshore wind farm in East Yorkshire, according to experts.
Energy watchdog Ofgem has demanded an urgent report from National Grid into how the failure happened as parts of the UK were battered by strong winds and heavy rain.
The power cut left thousands of train passengers stranded during the busy Friday night commute, knocked out traffic lights, plunged railway stations and Newcastle Airport into darkness and affected Ipswich Hospital as its back-up generator failed.
More than 900,000 customers have had their power restored following blackouts late on Friday afternoon after what the National Grid Electricity System Operator said were issues with two generators.
Professor Tim Green, co-director of the Energy Futures Laboratory, Imperial College London, believes the two generators disconnected were at Little Barford and Hornsea.
He said: “The first generator to disconnect was a gas fired plant at Little Barford at 16:58. Two minutes later Hornsea Offshore wind farm seems to have disconnected.
“This might be linked to disturbance caused by first generator failing; might not.
“We will need to wait for National Grid’s full technical investigation to get to bottom of that.”
Devrim Celal, chief executive officer of Upside Energy in London, which contracts with National Grid to help balance electricity, told Bloomberg: “What happened is a major offshore wind generation site and a gas turbine failed at the same time.
“There was a significant shortage of generation, and that sudden drop created ripple effects across the country.”
The National Grid has described the loss of power across the country on Friday as an “incredibly rare event”.
Spokesman Duncan Burt told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that two power stations had disconnected “almost simultaneously”.
He added: “What happened then is our normal automatic response mechanisms came in to help manage the event, but the loss of power was so significant that it fell back to a set of secondary back-up systems which resulted in a proportion of electrical demand across the country being disconnected for a short period to help keep the rest of the system safe.”
Asked if National Grid would investigate the possibility of the power cut being triggered by a cyber attack, Mr Burt said: “We are already very confident that there was no malicious intent or cyber attack involved.”
A “major incident” was declared amid the power cut, which came just hours after new Chancellor Sajid Javid visited National Grid bosses and trainees at its Eakring Training Centre in Nottinghamshire.
Ofgem said on Friday night: “In any incident the priority is to get power restored to customers as quickly as possible. National Grid has now informed Ofgem that the system has been restored.
“However, Ofgem understands the frustration this power cut has caused consumers.
“Ofgem has asked for an urgent detailed report from National Grid so we can understand what went wrong and decide what further steps need to be taken.
“This could include enforcement action.”
The Government must be held to account for the power cut “fiasco”, according to a transport union leader.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: “We urgently need answers from the Government over this fiasco. Having our rail network brought to a standstill in this way is totally unacceptable.
“We’ve seen thousands of passengers stranded, unable to board trains and a number of cancellations; others have been taken off trains and onto the tracks. We need to know why this occurred and the lessons to be learned.
“As we face the growing prospect of a No Deal Brexit it’s reasonable to wonder if this is a foretaste of things to come.
“Along with an economy sliding towards recession and expected food shortages we now seem to be a country where blackouts happen without warning, travel grinds to a halt, traffic lights stop working and – terrifyingly – hospitals are left without power.
“Boris Johnson can’t remain silent over this – he must quickly provide answers and illumination.”
Around 300,000 UK Power Networks customers were affected in London and the South East, a spokeswoman said, and Western Power Distribution said around 500,000 people were affected in the Midlands, South West and Wales, with power restored to them all shortly after 6pm.
A spokeswoman for Northern Powergrid, which serves Yorkshire and the North East, said 110,000 of its customers lost power, while at least 26,000 people were without power in the North West of England, Electricity North West said.
Trains began to run out of King’s Cross late on Friday night after the station was shut down amid “apocalyptic” rush-hour scenes across England.
The first train bound for Peterborough left the central London station at around 9.30pm after all services were halted for several hours.
Passengers were filmed forcing their ways through the barriers in an attempt to get themselves on to the first northbound service.
Travellers at London’s Kings Cross station expressed frustration on Saturday as services continued to be disrupted.
Raymond Holland, 62, who was trying to get to Boston in Lincolnshire with his family, said: “We didn’t know how bad it was going to be, we knew there were delays but not like this.”
Trains to Leeds and Edinburgh were among those cancelled.
Heading home from a night out with her friend, Kimberly Berton, 31, described the situation as “appalling”, adding: “We just want to get home. We’re so tired.”
A student who declined to be named said he had had no information about the disruption, adding: “It seems even the information desk doesn’t know what’s happening.”
The 23 year-old said he spent £100 on a first class ticket to get to Edinburgh but his train was cancelled and he was not sure if he would get his money back.
Thameslink said its services would be disrupted until midday on Saturday due to the displacement of trains and crew.
Harriet Jackson described an “apocalyptic” scene when she witnessed the power outage causing traffic lights to cut out on Northcote Road in Battersea, south London, after leaving Clapham Junction train station at around 5pm.
“(I) realised that nothing was open and there was hardly any phone signal,” the 26-year-old told PA.
“All the traffic lights were down, but there were no police present, which meant it was dangerous to cross – cars weren’t stopping either.
“It was like witnessing something out of an apocalyptic film.
“No one knew what was going on and, given it’s a Friday afternoon, it’s the last thing you want to encounter.”
A back-up generator failed at Ipswich Hospital after the power cut, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The generator which was supposed to supply power to outpatient areas of the hospital did not work as expected.
“There were some issues with regard to our outpatient areas and the generator that provides cover (to them),” said a spokeswoman for East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust.
She said other generators “kicked in as was required” and “patients were kept safe and cared for throughout”.
The problems lasted about 15 minutes before power was fully restored, she added.
Problems with power were first detected late on Friday afternoon when UK Power Networks, which controls power lines for London and the South East, and Western Power Distribution in the Midlands, the South West and Wales both confirmed widespread outages.
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