Blackout panic misses the facts (pt. 2)

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

Total: 16.9GW

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.

4 Responses to “Blackout panic misses the facts (pt. 2)”

  1. Christian

    Blackout panic misses the facts (pt. 2) | Left Foot Forward: We already know that half of the 18 GW gap will be .. http://bit.ly/zlHsj

  2. rwendland

    Also the 2 AGR nuclear plants with an “accounting closure date” of 2014 are very likely to be life extended by 5 or 10 years: Hartlepool and Heysham 1. British Energy policy is to decide on life extensions about 4 to 3 years before current “accounting closure date”, and these two are currently lifed at 25 years after “Full Operation” (or 31 years after “Connected to Grid”). The oldest two are currently at 40 years after “Full Operation”, so it is very likely the 2014 two will be extended beyond 25. So that is another 2.3GW extra likely for 2016.

    It has been very common to see “accounting closure date” for nucs used as if it is “firm closure date” by those that have an interest in bigging up the “energy gap”.

    This isn’t to say that the AGRs don’t have worrying graphite core problems, but it does seem likely they will mostly get 35 to 45 years life, perhaps power reduced toward the end.

  3. Thomas Fairfax

    Will,
    How much of the proposed GW in planning/construction is the capacity being planned and described in the BETTA documentation(c.2004/5), which seemed to indicate between 7.5GW ~ 15.5GW off shore wind capacity being planned at the time?

Leave a Reply