How Long Can We Stay Blind to Blackouts?

As an energy specialist, it seems to me that one of the most important points about meeting the energy challenge head-on is that we can’t change those things that we don’t acknowledge.

Well, the inevitable has happened: ‘Blackout Britain’ has made its way back into the news as the National Grid announces that this winter brings with it the highest risk of power cuts in six years. Not that it’s anything to be smug about, but this news isn’t really new…

Peter Rolton: Chairman, Rolton Group

There are several blogs in the Rolton Group archive (see here or here) that demonstrate long-standing awareness of the uncomfortable issue that is the energy gap, each spelling out an increased need for the integration of proper, working solutions.

A sizable part of the problem is that energy sourced from Britain’s indigenous coal has sharply declined since last winter in response to EU emission regulations. The increased chance of blackouts makes it clear that measures taken to replace this gap with alternative sources thus far have proven to be too little, too late. Whilst some are content to sit back and blame renewables targets for the current state of affairs, it is the blinkered and short-term thinking of successive governments that has really put us in this bind. Roots of the issue can be dated back to the 1970s, when the government halted its nuclear development in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster and by doing so set the snowball rolling for ever-shrinking capacity headroom.

You have to wonder what the government makes of the effect on economic recovery in all of this, because if worse comes to worst, they will have to prioritise who gets what energy is available, and it isn’t going to be the industrial sector. If supply can’t meet demand, the UK’s largest energy users are at the mercy of their interruptible contracts, which state that the government has the authority to reduce or even shut down their power supply in times of shortage. Consider who these users are: heavy manufacturing industries such as automotive, steel foundries, aerospace, chilled stores, even supermarkets, whose frozen food must be wasted if power remains off for twenty minutes or more.  If these operators are forced to slow or stop production, it doesn’t take an expert to see that it spells bad news for the nation’s economic growth.

Potential repercussions don’t stop there, either; many of the global players have taken their production lines from the UK in search of cheaper shores, and those who remain have done so based on principles of heritage and quality among others. If they are no longer able to trust the security of their supply, they have one more reason to up sticks with the others, and that is something we really cannot afford to risk. This is, of course, not to say that industrial users should be put ahead of keeping hospitals, schools and services up and running. The point is that we shouldn’t be in this position of choosing either/or.

UK Government is making the right noises as it pushes forward on electricity market reform (EMR), and Greg Barker MP hit the nail on the head when he stated that ‘the Big Six must become the big 60,000’ in terms of who controls the energy market; the crucial point is that they must make sure funding and planning is streamlines to make the progress necessary. The energy gap needs addressing before it becomes a chasm that destroys British business.

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3 Responses to How Long Can We Stay Blind to Blackouts?

  1. Martin October 17, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    I share the concern about planning having been inadequate and the consequent risk which has now become obvious – hence the dash to gas regardless of the environmental consequences.
    (Chernobyl disaster was on 26 April 1986)

  2. simon Turner October 17, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    Why doesn’t the British government subsidize the purchase and installation of wind generators and solar panels on all buildings, homes and offices? advance the research and development sector for the use of wave power electricity generation.
    Perhaps medium to Large office blocks in the cities should switch off all the lights at night, street lamp usage could be reduced, there are many ways that energy could be saved if successive governments would only listen to their advisors and act on the advice given

  3. Gerald Katz CEM October 19, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Survey/energy audit all end users especially those in the highest use in their sector. Provide most cost effective solutions, LEDS, Weatherization, better controls, combined heat and power, more efficient motors, responsive lighting and hvac equipment and controls. These measures can quickly provide long term solutions that can produce more jobs and benefits throughout the country. Renewable energy investments must advance through orderly and sustainable development. Research end use needs, optimize efficiency, reseach renewable energy sources (the closer to the end use the better , reseach, develope, produce, and install the most effective devices to utlize the renewable energy source. Regularly update and refine analysis, options and solutions.