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Winter blackouts

Friday, November 14, 2014

There has been a lot of talk in the news over the last few weeks of the possibility of blackouts this winter, but should we be panic buying candles and batteries?

Should I panic?

The short answer is no.

Why is this a problem now?

A number of of UK power station are currently not operating as normal, and supply is limited.  A recent fire at Didcot B Power Station (below), which could supply the power for one million homes, means that it is inoperable and  some nuclear reactors operated by EDF have been turned off pending safety inspections or are operating at less than maximum output.

Due to the falling price of thermal-coal, used in coal-fired power plants such as Drax, a number of gas-fired plants have ceased generating electricity and been mothballed.  As a result of these closures the amount of generating capacity has fallen.


Didcot Power Station


How big is the problem?

Recent analysis by Ofgem shows that the UK has a supply margin of 6%.  The supply margin is the amount of generating capacity above peak electricity demand.  However, prediction for next year mean it could fall to as low as 2%.  And the probability of “customer disconnections”, i.e. the power being turned off, could be the equivalent of once in every four years.

So what is being done about it?

National Grid, the company responsible for moving electricity country around the country from power stations, has new tools to try and reduce peak electricity demand.  In winter, this peak demand occurs between 4pm and 8pm during weekdays.  These new tools, called New Balancing Services, can ask large energy users (factories etc.) to reduce their electricity usage.

Other actions that can be taken to prevent a blackout is to import more electricity from France or The Netherlands.  Also, three operators who had planned to mothball gas-plants have agreed to keep them open.

What can you do?

The main thing is do not panic.  It is highly unlikely there will be a large scale national blackout due a lack of generating capacity.  However, we should all consider what our plans are if there is a loss of electricity.

  • Do you know where your torch and spare batteries are?
  • Do you have an emergency contact stored in your phone?
  • Do you have a corded phone? A corded phone is one that plugs directly into the phone-line.  Cordless phones may run out of charge during a power outage event.
  • Are you a vulnerable customer? If so, have your registered your details with your local distribution company on their Priority Services Register?

Vulnerable customers are those who may rely on electrical medical equipment, have a long term or critical medical condition, mobility issues, elderly or have audio or visual impairments.  If so, you can register with your local electricity distribution network on their Priority Services Register.   When you do, and in the event of a power cut you will receive additional support to help.  You can find your local electricity distribution network here.

Hopefully any power cut will only be temporary.

There are some practical actions we can all take to try and reduce the chance of blackouts.  The best thing that we can do is try to reduce our electricity and energy usage, and therefore the demand that we place on the system.  Explore our previous Blogs, Know-How Guides, and Forum to find some great energy saving tips.  Remember not only will you be helping to prevent blackouts, but also saving money too!

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  • Andrew Timmis
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    Andrew Timmis
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