In October 2014, the National Grid stated there was a 4.1% surplus of peak supply over peak demand. Since that figure was published, the power station called Didcot B was destroyed by fire in October 2014; on 21st May 2015, Didcot C was closed, not because it wasn’t working, but in order to comply with regulations relating to emissions. Didcot C’s closure reduced the Grid’s capacity by 7%.
Since then nine more power stations have been shut down for the same reason. They are all smaller than Didcot C, but the overall effect is that the Grid simply will not be able to generate the electricity that is required, and by a substantial margin. Dungeness was due to be decommissioned in 2015 but has been reprieved until 2020, with a possible extension to 2024.
On a local level, the project of cutting back trees to prevent power cuts from falling branches ceased approximately six years ago in most areas in order to save money. What power cuts will cost the country is anyone’s guess, but it seems inevitable that it will be far greater than the cost of tree surgery.
So, what is to be done? Renewable energy sources can do quite a bit, but solar power is dependent on clear bright sunny days, and wind turbines self-evidently are dependent on wind! In perfect conditions they can get close to 20% of the Grids power requirement, but on a cold overcast winters day they produce little. Nuclear contributes some 22% but must significantly increase in the future – but a long way in to the future! Fracking for shale gas could help enormously, but is fiercely opposed by many. Drax, the country’s largest power station (10%) is in some turmoil following the withdrawal of subsidies for carbon capture. For the future, the country needs a fully thought-out, balanced generation of power using all the resource available to it.
All the forecasts show that consumer and general industrial demand will continue to increase, and some major new projects such as the electrification of fast rail networks will consume huge amounts, so the gap will only increase further.
What, therefore, can we expect? Reduced voltage, certainly. Most electrical equipment will run on 210 volts, just perhaps not as well as with 230 volts but some will not cope with it without suffering damage. And it seems inevitable that there will be power cuts at peak times particularly in vulnerable areas until a better managed power supply is put in place …. and that will not happen for many years.
If you are interested, the National Grid has a website (below, right) showing the contribution from all sources of power. It makes fascinating reading. Unfortunately for all of us it shows that on an average day the contribution by wind and solar is simply unable to come to our rescue!
Everything that has been set out above is in the public domain, and nothing has been exaggerated – indeed the writer has carefully avoided any overstatement or alarmism. But he must own up to a vested interest: he is a Director of Generating Interest Ltd, a company which supplies and installs generators of all kinds and specialises in those which cut in automatically when there is a power cut, and cut out again when mains power returns. Whilst there are a number of ways of coping with power cuts, at present a backup generator is by far the cheapest and most reliable solution.