Is there enough power for the UK this winter?

As the colder days draw in at this time of year, attention again turns to fuel poverty and the consequences of those living in a cold home. This particularly affects the most vulnerable in society; the elderly, those suffering with disabilities and those on a low income, with one person dying every seven minutes from cold-related diseases. An expected 2.3million homes in the UK will not be able to afford to heat their homes adequately this winter.

However, even if you are fortunate to be able to pay your energy bills this winter, with UK power systems creaking under increasing pressure to work harder, is there even enough power available to meet demand?

Recently, numerous reports have suggested that there will be occasions this winter during which there will not be enough power. Reports have particularly pinpointed the week of 11th January 2016, during which it is thought we should have our candles and torches at the ready. According to the National Grid’s forecast, this is when the gap between Britain’s energy needs and power supply will be at its thinnest.

The Grid’s crucial reserve margin (its capacity to produce more power during peak demand) is 5.1% (57 megawatts). To give this some context, the busiest time of the coldest day is expected to require 54.2 gigawatts.

The National Grid has two new powers to prevent blackouts. The first is the Demand Side Balancing Reserve (DSBR), which pays industrial users to turn down the amount of power they are using by 40 megawatts.

The second mechanism in place is known as the Supplemental Balancing Reserve (SBR) which involves paying companies to fire up old power stations (many of which cause pollution) however, industry figures have commented that it is likely to take several hours for the extra power to become available.

Another possibility is to import power from Europe and reduce the amount being exported to Ireland, however, these measures are expensive, especially if other countries such as France and the Netherlands are also having a bad winter – it will be a case of who is willing to pay the most to get the extra power.

Conclusion

Whilst some are worried there will be blackouts or brownouts (dimming of lights to prevent full scale outages) during the forecasted harsh winter this year, the National Grid is confident that energy shortage will not be a problem. Nevertheless, looking forward to winter 2016/17, it may be a very different story, with four coal plants (such as the plant in Eggbrough, Yorkshire which produces 4% of the UK’s energy) about to be decommissioned to meet the EU’s target of 15% renewable energy by 2020.

Going forward, it will be important to build more renewable energy resources to ensure consumer bills remain as low as possible and the threat of blackouts and fuel poverty are a thing of the past.

Joanne Lau, PA to Jeremy Williams, Construction, Energy and Projects