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Blackout Threat Gets a Little Brighter

national grid logoNational Grid and the coalition government breathed a collective sigh of relief following the Peterhead folly of late November.

RWE’s Littlebrook oil-fired power plant, one of the three plants ring-fenced for the Supplemental Balancing Reserve (SBR) contract to keep the lights on this winter, completed its first standby test successfully.

After the fundamental failure of SSE’s Peterhead plant in late November, Littlebrook’s success was well received.

Data from National Grid showed Littlebrook delivering maximum output availability at 570MW. The result however, though welcome, was not surprising given the facility, unlike Peterhead, had been recently used operationally.

The third SBR plant, Scottish Power’s Ryehouse, also passed its proving test without incident.

That left SSE’s Peterhead as the lone straggler amid concerns about its ageing technology and reliability. The plant operators were forced to repeat its mandatory monthly test to prove to National Grid that it can be relied upon to ramp up generation should winter demand exceeds the UK’s diminished supply margins. This, happily for all involved, it did at the second attempt.

Amid the ‘celebration’ however what needs to be remembered is that these are simply standby generation plant to be called into action should the precarious demand / supply balance of Winter 2014/15 fall out of kilter. With a mild winter thus far predicted the SBR plant may never be called upon, but given the fragile nature of the generation market should any deterioration in capacity occur it will be these three plants that the nation relies on to keep the lights on, and the government in power.

No wonder the relief was palpable.