Blackouts and Renewing Power to Power Up

This month there is discussion of an energy capacity crunch whilst other organisations, in this case the UK’s National Trust charity, are powering up with renewable solutions and aiming to save energy through efficiency measures. In three to five years there could be severe pressure on the UK’s national grid without major investment in new generation capacity: preferably of the renewable variety.

Blackouts Predicted

The director of one of the large UK energy companies, SSE, has warned of forthcoming blackouts in power supply. This is mainly due to a number of large power stations coming off stream in the near future and the fact that there is not enough new power being added to replace the lost capacity. Unless there is a significant reduction in the energy use there will be power outages. The report highlights around 2,000MW of existing thermal generation capacity that is due to cease operation during the 2013/14 financial year.

There is a discussion of the economics of electricity generation at gas-fired power stations. These are said to remain very poor, with spark spreads – the difference between the cost of gas (plus carbon) and the price of the electricity generated from it, at historic lows. It is said to even turning negative on occasions. If the energy companies cannot provide a return on investment, then what is their interest to keep generation going? Some gas plants, such as Keadby in Lincolnshire are therefore being ‘deep mothballed’ which means the plant at the power station will require up to one year to recommission. The UK’s least efficient coal-fired power station at Uskmouth will shut due to having to pay for carbon. Whilst this is good in terms of the environment, what will the net effect of closures be on the total country’s generation capacity? Other efficient, but remote, power plants such as the Scottish Peterhead gas fired plant are being scaled back due to high transmission costs. In addition, it is suggested that the Government has not really considered its electricity market reforms in context of the reducing capacity. The reforms have created “uncertainty” for generators in terms of timing and operation of a capacity mechanism.

This report highlights the political, corporate and economic impacts on power generation and some of the potential consequences on national electrical power generation capacity. It shows that the strong carbon restrictions and regulations are starting to close inefficient plants, but with no replacements there will be a negative impact on the country’s capacity to create electrical power. Companies are in the business of generating profits and returns on massive investments. It shows the lack of a strong national energy policy is catching up with the country. Bringing much less renewable power plant capacity into operation than is required will not solve the energy gap in the short term. The report shows SSE’s commitment to halving the carbon intensity of its generation capacity for the next few decades to 2050.

Supply Pipeline Cut Off

The risk of a failure of the UK’s national gas supply was recently shown when a pump failure cuts off gas supply from the Belgium. The gas price increased by 50% following the incident that occurred in late March. The UK generally has 15 days gas supply, but that ran down to a few days amid cold weather. This incident demonstrates just how dependent Britain is on imported gas after the domestic North Sea reserves are being depleted. The Guardian covered this story on March 22 2013.

Powering Up On Renewables

The National Trust, arguably the UK’s premier conservation charity, is aiming to install much more renewable energy at its old properties. In the South West of England there have been many examples of historic properties being retro-fitted with new energy technology. This has included hydro-power, solar panels (PV), ground-source heat pumps and biomass heaters for example.

By 2020, the Trust aims to reduce their use of fossil fuels for heat and electricity by 50%. It has been shown to sympathetically include renewables on historical and nationally important buildings that have some of the highest restrictions placed upon them. An example is the installation of solar panels on the roof of Dunster Castle, a most highly protected (Grade I) listed building, and on Greenway House, another listed building (Grade II listed), in Devon, South West England. The Trust’s report anticipates an energy shift from 74% of energy being generated from oil and fossil electricity to just 37% over the years 2008 to 2020. There will be a reduction in consumption through a 20% energy reduction.

Currently the Trust has 140 renewable energy systems in operation across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The installed capacity is 2.3 MW for heating and over 1 MW for electricity production. Potential future schemes include solar, wind, biomass (through managed landscapes) and a Low Carbon Village Project. The Low Carbon Village Project is being trialled at the Trust-owned villages of Coleshill in Oxfordshire and the Wallington Estate in Northumberland.

This is a bold move and should lead the way in sustainable heritage energy provision. Using renewables to supply a range of historical properties makes economic sense and is a good example to be followed by other landowners.


These examples are very different approaches to energy provision: one local, one national and an international supply of gas. The local approach focused upon resilience in the provision of energy for historical properties; the national one focuses on commercial electrical power provision; the international one highlights how small incidents can affect supply and put a country’s energy provision at risk. The national and local approaches both are aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next few years: one because it is an environmental charity and the other largely due to regulation of carbon. SSE is operating under regulation and wider government policy. It is also forward looking in terms of renewable sources of power. These reports illustrates the need to obtain energy from more resilient sources in the future to avoid a potential “energy capacity crunch” and the increasingly international reliance on gas.


About mappedit

Geographical practitioner with an interest in climate change, open mapping, sustainability, the transition movement, transport and many other things.
This entry was posted in Carbon Dioxide, Climate Change, Energy, Politics, PV, Renewable Energy, Solar, Sustainable Development. Bookmark the permalink.

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