Tuesday, September 01, 2009

When the Lights Go Out

A couple of weeks ago I commented on an apocalyptic article in the Economist, which warned that within ten years we would be beset by power cuts. Greg Clark, the Conservative Shadow Energy Secretary, has started writing a new blog and has commented on the issue today HERE. Indeed, he reveals that the government's own figures show that regular power outages are going to be fact of daily life in the years ahead.
Currently, EEU is close to zero, but by 2017 the Government’s own figures shows this going up to three thousand megawatt hours a year. These power cuts are most likely to strike at times of peak demand — i.e. around teatime during the winter months. The Government’s central assumption is equivalent to a million people seeing the lights go out for 15 minutes at peak time on twenty-four winter evenings a year by 2017.

It gets worse. By the middle of the 2020s the Government is predicting over seven thousand megawatt hours of power cuts a year. This is equivalent to the whole of London suffering a fifteen minute power cut on every single winter weekday evening for a month.

Is this what Ed Miliband means by strengthening energy security? Or by being fair to the vulnerable?
So far so bad. But what on earth can be done about it?
The next government has an urgent task to accelerate the deployment of new generating capacity of all types. We must promote the rapid roll-out of ’smart grid’ technology to enable the sensitive matching of supply and demand, without recourse to the blunt instrument of rolling blackouts. Above all we must make robust margin of security an explicit object of British energy policy.

Will that be enough, though? At least the Conservatives recognise there is a problem, which is more than can be said for Ed Miliband.


Anonymous said...

What they need to do is NOT close the big coal plants just because the EU thinks it's a good idea

Anonymous said...

Nuclear power...

Newmania said...

Natural gas to the rescue ...

“A proper global market for natural gas is also rapidly emerging. But unlike the oil market, it has no Opec cartel to dominate it. Previously, gas was only moved about by pipelines and customers had to accept what they were given. But the world pipeline system is being augmented by Liquified Natural Gas, or LNG, which comes in frozen on ships. The difference is absolutely crucial because LNG cargoes can be redirected, and that means they can be traded.Indeed, the average cargo is probably traded tens, if not hundreds, of times and can change course frequently before it reaches its destination.

So, if some nasty character at the end of a pipeline starts to turn it off, the customer can at last say: “Hah. I will simply get my gas from somewhere else, where they have democracy and the rule
of law.”

All is not lost then


True Belle said...

Energy from waste must be a starter for ten. A few more incinerators and RDFs will keep communities powered up.

Heaven forbid that we return to the bad old days of power outages like we all had during Ted Heaths reign, you couldn't buy a candle for love nor money, and every one of us had a paraffin lamp (just in case) and then the price of paraffin shot through the roof.

Considering the miserable ruling given on our old bright lightbulbs, now having to replace them with the most horrible dull things, life ahead will be akin to the wartime blackout! (So I am informed)

Dick the Prick said...

Is it just me that likes coal fired power stations? Yeah blah blah, climate change bad etc etc but it'd create jobs, it's completely controllable, the Chinese knock one up a week, they can be adapted when carbon capture comes on-line (if at all - sounds like jibberish from here), they can be augmented by clean coal (err..jibberish), they're cheap, safe, quite inefficient granted, can be built quickly, demolished even quicker (unlike nukes which takes a few lifetimes), and whilst obviously there's a NIMBY thang to consider - do a survey of nuke v coal and everyone would say coal.

Me no comprende. Oh, and artificaial trees - righty ho!

Moderniser said...

Too much focus on long term climate-change "armagedeon" mumbo-jumbo and not enough focus on pragmatic measures to ensure we have sufficient energy in the short-term, is going to have dire consequences.

Oh, and lets let the EU shut down our coal fired power stations to add insult to injury.

Once again, a case of the Westminster politicians not having a clue.

wapping boy said...

Presumably this issue, like so much else (welfare reform, House of Lords reform, the NHS, immigration, addressing the prison population etc), simply goes in NuLab's "too difficult" box. This government likes to talk about problems as being "inevitable" but that's a justification for inactivity - "we can't do anything about it, so let's not even bother trying to." Although that won't stop them bringing in a new tax as the "solution"...

The Boiling Frog said...

...and yet again Iain, you don't acknowledge that Dr Richard North, on the EU Referendum blog, has highlighted this issue for ages.

He may sometimes be up his own arse, but it's hard not to appreciate his criticisms of the main British political blogs, such as yours, as detailed here:


USA-style Brown-out said...

It was indeed an informative article in the Economist.

However, as an electrically literate man, I don't see how smart meters help, unless you are suggesting that individuals are to be targeted for cuts? If so, then we have big brother gone mad.

GT said...

It might not be enough, but the most important thing is to focus resources on solutions that will fill the energy gap. That means spending money on power stations instead of wind turbines. Renewables can be part of a mix but too many people this they're the answer to the problem of low baseload. They're not.

Hawkeye said...

To solve this we need immediate payback.

1. Ignore EU demands to close older power stations

2. Reduce energy consumption immediately. Halve the wattage of street lighting, make sure it is downward directed and turn half it off after midnight.

3. Ban Eastenders and Coronation st. These two programs cause the biggest load on the national grid as kettles go on as soon as the credits start rolling.

4. Get moving on the Severn barrier, start the Humber barrier and start looking at Salter's ducks, sea snake generators and the Strangford tidal project.

5. Get started on the nukes. Fast.

Anonymous said...

Labour Planning - an oxymoron!


Demetrius said...

This developing crisis has been in the making a long time now. The first suggestions were being made in the mid 1990's that by 2010 we would need to have new power projects in place, or else. Apart from a few initiatives that have made a marginal advance we still have neither a real policy or new power sources. In 2008 China ensured power for Beijing by shutting down elsewhere. Will we be doing the same in 2012? So not only will I not be able to afford to attend, but as there will be power cuts to ensure London is OK, neither the TV nor the computer will be working.

Iain Dale said...

Boiling Frog, I do apologise for failing to acknowledge that Richard North is indeed the font of all knowledge on all subjects.

John R said...

I’m amazed this item has hit the newspapers as if it was something new. Surely anyone who has being paying attention has been aware of this impending problem for, at the very least, five years?

As far as I can see we really only have one practical way out of this as the various fantasy power eco-schemes will never provide what is required to support our society:

- Slip the close dates on the coal and nuclear-fired power stations (with appropriate safety precations)
- Having watched Labour sell off for a song our last remaining company capable of building nuclear power stations, we need to do a deal with the French to build a minimum of 40-50 standard-design (ie no R&D delays) nuclear power stations.
- As for once this really is a national emergency, cancel all local planning intervention and build a new nuke next to every existing plant scheduled to close to handle that part of the problem. Do as many of these in parallel as possible to cut the time down.
- On each existing nuke site then build another one (ie a third) to cover for some of the coal stations due to go offline
- By now some new sites will have (finally) been approved through the normal planning process, so build a round of new stations on these sites as well to allow us to get away from using as much foreign gas as we currently do.

- We'd start work in areas already used to having the jobs from a nuke next door.
- The Grid connections are already in place (an overlooked issue!)
- We'd reduce our foreign fuel dependency
- We'd reduce our CO2 output - if that actually means anything.

But we need to start now!

Anonymous said...

@ Iain Dale

Well surely even if you don't read Dr North's blog you sometimes read the Daily Telegraph. Chris Booker has been banging on about this for 4 or 5 years now.

It's ok being sarcastic but the party you are trying to get elected think the answer is windmills too.

Rather than play cheap point scoring how about getting some politics that discuses real issues not made up political guff.

The EU is about to close both coal and nuclear power stations in UK.

We have no strategic plan to build more and indeed the one modern plant that has been built at Kingsnorth was challenged in court by one Zac Goldsmith ( heard of this idiot have you?) the Conservative Party spokesthing on the Environment.

Camerons answer to all this.

Yes lets stay in the EU

Yes more windmills

Yes Green eco bollix is good

Once upon a time the Conservatives espoused common sense policies for the greater good of the country, they're just another branch of the Lib/Lab/BBC Liberal Left

The Boiling Frog said...

No Iain I didn't ask you to acknowledge that Dr North was the font of all knowledge (my "up his own arse" comment was a give away.)

My point was that given your continued regular statements that the internet, and blogs in particular, changes politics, it's interesting that you ignore a worrying issue highlighted by a major blogger, only until said same issue gets highlighted by the MSM.

But hey why don't you just rattle off another list about the top ten insects or something.

Thats News said...

There's a domestic back boiler that generates electricity. Why the hell doesn't that useless little twerp Miliband and his oily master Brown spend money in buying these units and having them fitted in to people's homes at -say- 80% off?

And then there's THIS:


A domestic heat pump that is between 200 to 400% efficient.

Get these into homes up and down the country and we would not NEED extra generating capacity!

Oh. But I forgot. Labour's energy policy involves directorships for ex-ministers and dubious Lords, funded by the nuclear power lobby. Not CHP systems or heat pumps and the like.

Any 'greens' who voted Labour must feel as if they have been left out to dry.

roadrunner said...

In the 1950's I worked for the NCB at that time this country had coal reserves for 500 years at the then rate of extraction.Since then extraction rates plummeted,we must have enough coal for another 400 years.We could be self sufficient in energy within 10 years if the political will existed.

Colin said...

I heard Digby Jones highlight this issue in very stark, simple terms at a function in 2005. If I recall, he was heckled by some new labour muppet for being alarmist.

Energy security must rank as the number one issue facing the UK today. Nonsense talk about power from wind, pig shit and the like, is just that. The UK is CURRENTLY a first world, industrialised nation, it's short to medium term energy needs will not be met by the Heath Robinson approach advocated by the environmental lobby.

If this catalogue of neglect and incompetence can be condensed into the kind of stark, simple narrative, as delivered by Digby Jones at that function at Kensington Palace, it would be political dynamite.

Anonymous said...

@John R: well said.

The 'era of cheap energy' heralded by tight gas and LNG is a bit of a red herring I think. It's called tight gas because of low matrix permeabilities - i.e. many many more wells are needed, with all their costs. And sure, if we don't want to buy from Russia or Saudi, we can buy from somewhere else. Just like the rest of the world will be doing. Increased fungibility in the markets does not ensure forever-low prices when the commodity is in high demand all over the world. It just ensures that the poorest nations will be priced out of the market while the rich ones like us will have to pay very high prices.

ayayay said...

I have to say, that I don't think the coal fired power stations will be shut. A deal will be cobbled together to keep them open.

The alternative is power cuts which the population will blame on 1. The EU and 2.The Greens making them a 100 times more unpopular than they are at the moment.


Stepney said...

Energy is the most strategic of all industries. No form of economic activity can occur without a reliable and secure supply. So consider this:

a) 90% of our energy supply is controlled by foreign companies.
b) we have a gas storage capacity of 12 days. Germany has 99 days. The majority of our gas comes from Russia and its acolytes
c) The EU has the controlling hand in any energy supply decision we make. We have 300 years of coal underground and the engineering nouse to use it. But Brussels says no.
d) The lights will go out in 5 years time.
e) 20% of French nuclear power is exported. Guess where?

In short the strategic base of this country is in the hands of foreign corporations and other sovereign states. The security of our future supply is handicapped by a hysterical belief in something which MIGHT happen.

I am a bit of a wet when it comes to relations with Europe but boy - get this: we're fucked.

Penfold said...

This is Tony and Gordon's real legacy to the UK.
Debt and power cuts, coupled with reliance on our so-called partners in the EU, who have consistently overcharged us and very, very dodgy and unreliable suppliers east of the Oder river.
The pair of them need to be held accountable and wrung out to dry.

It doesn't add up... said...

Don't get to carried away by the tradeability of LNG. There are few producers, and most are remote. Qatar is the largest producer, and competition from other consumers will increase as more ports open able to handle LNG supply. Longer term, gas reserves are dominated by Russia, Iran and Iraq. I think we may be grateful that the UK has large coal reserves to fall back on.

Anyone who wants to play a green card should go to China, where rising energy consumption is going to have a far greater impact than in the UK.

When idiots rule said...

If we in the UK were in the USA we would be reading about "108 Volts and falling" - this meaning to the Americans that a power cut was imminent.

New Labour = New Candle supply needed

The Tories' windmills are also just a sick joke. I don't think there is a single scientist on their front bench to tell them some Physics home truths.

Nick Drew said...

Heartening though it is to see the dawning of realisation, this is by no means new, as others have said. We have been banging on about the lights going out for nearly 3 years at C@W, in numerous posts: Iain, you kindly linked to us on this topic as far back as December '07, and others have generously given us credit also, e.g. here and here.

The first of the links above sets out a 5-point action plan, which only needs a little updating. It's getting more urgent - never mind 2017, the relevant London Boroughs are being told to prepare for localised cuts during the Olympics, in order to ensure the Olympic facilities themselves are not affected !

Ed Miliband started well on this, as it happens - but then the cranks and the CCS lobby gave him a going-over and he is shaping up to blow a great opportunity to deploy the latest (non-CCS) coal technology.

It is of course the Tories who will probably need to fix this problem. It's not clear they have any realistic plans. Maybe - maybe - this is changing ..?

microdave said...

Nuclear is the only long term answer - I don't like the idea, but I'm being realistic. However there is not sufficient manufacturing capacity in Europe to supply what we would need. Only yesterday I saw an article about this. Apparently Japan is the only other source of the specialised steel required.

Then you have the time scale to build and commission them. This is typically 10 years, so even if they were all started tomorrow it still wouldn't stop the lights going out.

The only short term solution is gas, and it's already obvious that this puts us at risk of being held to ransom when Russia is the main supplier. LNG from other sources has already been diverted to other EU countries which have more clout, and since all our power companies are foreign owned, there is bugger all we can do about it.

Short term peaks are the major problem, scrapping Corrie & Eastenders sounds like an excellent idea, but wouldn't be very popular! Short of arranging more staggered working hours, it would take many pumped storage plants like the one in Ffestiniog to cover the peaks.

Unless the Irish vote "NO", telling the EU to get stuffed isn't going to be a realistic possibility.

And then I read in the local paper about a feasibility study to introduce charging points for lots of electric vehicles! You know, the ones (wrongly) described as "pollution free"....

We're all DOOMED!!! (Apologies to Dads Army)

Chas said...

They know they are going to be out of power (no pun intended) for at least a generation (again no pun intended) so they simply don't care. And if the Conservatives don't have the time to get additional generating capacity on stream in time, you can just hear those shouts from the Labour back benchers, heaping the blame on the evil Tories.

From Brown's scorched earth policy on the national debt downwards, Labour's actions show us that they have no sense of responsibility because they know that they will not be responsible for anything after next June, for twenty years or more. Roll on the day.

Bath plugs for the many, not the few said...

Climate change fanatics are the enemy within, along with their fellow enthusiasts, the anti-nuclear lobby.

George Trefgarne reports, credibly, on a plentiful supply of oil and gas for the near future; Britain's lack of import facilities mean we will be poorly placed to take advantage of this, and our abject failure in long-term planning for nuclear power station replacement may well mean that we will be in serious trouble industrially and domestically.

We urgently need to face down the nonsense about carbon dioxide production and ensure that, for the sake of our energy security and economic well-being, we have a broad spread of electricity generation for the short and the for the long term.

That doesn't include those useless wind turbines that are beginning to desecrate the landscape everywhere.

Paul Halsall said...

I agree. Nuclear power.

Why will no political party say this openly.

Exonian said...

1. Leave EU, slash aid budgets.
2. Use money to start a massive expansion of nuclear power, including research into generation IV fission reactors. Include hydrogen production facilities at these plants to operate during periods of low electricity demand.
3. Build tidal barrages and flow generators everywhere practical.
4. Harness power from ocean currents.


Anonymous said...

Only asking, you understand, but would a 15-minute power cut once a day really be such a disaster?

(I do appreciate the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument that, once you allow that, what next?)

Mr T. Cup said...

Has anyone else noticed, but apparently its now DANGEROUS Climate Change.

microdave said...

Anon 8:14 - 20 years ago probably not, but now that virtually everything is dependent on computers it will cause chaos. Not so much the big servers where there are back up supplies, but all the domestic and small business installations who stand to loose work. It might lead to panic buying of UPS backups, but that will just mean more coal fired power stations in China working full tilt!

Robin B'stard MP said...

So, we'll have power cuts...why should the UK be any different from any other third world country?

Quietzapple said...

I recall that not only was it made clear last time that some of our current Nuclear Power stations can be expected to have their lives extended, as is occurring elsewhere, but that other sources can be expected to come into use.

Countries like Kazakhstan, now only middling of the natural gas producers, most likely have vast unproven reserves. These do not have to be routed via Russia either.

True Belle said...

I expect the UK will experience another population explosion when the lights go out (more headaches too)

Maria said...

Aw, it'll be rather like the REAL 1970s, instead of all the fake twaddle circulated about that decade these days!

Quietzapple said...

I trust, Iain, that when The Lights Don't Go Out, you and the other doom mongers will be sooo very pleased and sooo full of joie de vivre you will be throwing a party for those of us who got it right?

Ents I hope to lay on at that Party:

Full and Frank apologies from Tory Bloggers grinning broadly led by yourself;

Extreme Right Wingers miseries such as Janet Daley in a chorus line with recent immigrants to the UK;

A cross talk act with Douglas Carswell & Daniel Hannan, reading extracts from Marcuse & Milliband Snr.

Terry Hamblin said...

The government clearly have this in hand. We are all going to survive on Libyan oil.

neil craig said...

It is technically possible to build off the shelf nuclear plants (eg the Westinghouse* AP1000) in 3 years. What takes time is the paperwork. What is required is for Cameron to emulate Sarah Palin's words "Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines and build more nuclear plants"

I wish I thought Cameron had the gumption do something within days, or weeks, or months.

*Westinghouse used to be owned by British Nuclear until our government bamkrupted them by regulatory fiat, forcing them to sell it cheap to the Japanese & nationalised the remains without compensation.

Gareth said...

Smart meters will cost consumers dearly. Who do you think is going to pick up the £11billion cost of installing them?

The energy firms are all for them because it will save them money!

Same with low energy bulbs - The energy firms currently subsidise them and pass that cost onto their customers. Plus, as consumption should be decreasing as more and more people use them, energy prices are being inflated with carbon taxes to compensate.

GHS said...

EU Referendum have been putting out this info for years. Suddenly people have noticed but far too late.

Anonymous said...

"So far so bad. But what on earth can be done about it?"
Leave the EU? Oh wait. That's just not possible under the Tories...or Labour...or the Lib Dems.

Richard Elliot said...

Didcot A power station products 2,000MW and is due to close in 2013 due to being old/dirty. I am sure there are other coal fired stations around the country which must be listed for closure too.

The issue will have to fudged and they won't close.

We need to look at building additional capacity pronto too.