Professor David MacKay - soon to take up post as a key adviser to Energy Secretary Ed Miliband - has poured fuel onto the media fire telling the Today programme that blackouts could be caused from a shortage in power stations around 2016. Looking at the numbers, it is difficult to see how he has come to that conclusion.
A few days ago Left Foot Forward reported on flawed claims that intermittency problems with renewables could lead to blackouts. Now Professor David MacKay – soon to take up post as a key adviser to Energy Secretary Ed Miliband – has poured fuel onto the media fire telling the Today programme that blackouts could be caused from a shortage in power stations around 2016. He told the BBC’s Roger Harrabin:
“There is a worry that in 2016 there might not be enough electricity.”
Looking at the numbers, it is difficult to see how he has come to that conclusion. The total installed capacity of the UK now currently stands at 78 Gigawatts (GW). The amount of capacity expected to come offline around 2016 is approximately 18 GW. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change,
“Around 12 GW of existing coal and oil power stations will close by the end of 2015 because of the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), and a further 7 GW of nuclear is scheduled to close by 2018…. Beyond the middle of the next decade, further closures will be driven by the proposed Industrial Emissions Directive.” (p.5)
So the worry is that there is an ‘energy gap’ approaching 18GW. However, almost the same amount of power generating capacity is either being built or is about to be built to replace those stations that are coming offline, and this is all happening less than 7 years before the supposed ‘crunch.’
We already know that half of the 18 GW gap will be filled by what is already under construction. In addition to this, the equivalent of half the UK’s existing installed power capacity is either in planning, consented or proposed.
And that’s all before you take into account:
- Energy efficiency gains. (Under Article 4 of the Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive the United Kingdom has adopted and aims to achieve an overall national indicative energy savings target of 9 per cent from 2008 to 2016.)
- The greater interconnection between the UK and other countries which is anticipated over coming years and allows electricity generated elsewhere to be used in the UK.
All of which is to say, there is no need to panic about blackouts.
For anybody interested in the actual numbers, Dr. Dominic Maclaine, one of the country’s most respected energy experts and editor of New Power, outlines how much energy generating capacity is approved to be built between now and 2016:
8 GW of gas plant currently under construction
2 GW of wind currently under construction
6.9 GW of onshore wind that is consented and ready to be built
4.7 GW of proposed biomass plant
10 GW of proposed wind stations
20 GW of gas plant that is either consented or in planning
No wonder the Department of Energy concluded recently:
“The analysis to 2020 suggests that we will see sufficient investment in flexible back-up generation to ensure secure supplies… The Government’s assessment is therefore that the risk of interruptions to electricity supplies over the next decade is relatively low.”
David Mackay went on to say, “My guess is that what the market might do is fix that problem by making more gas power stations, which isn’t the direction we want to be going in.”
That’s a whole other discussion.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.