With increasing numbers of coal-fired power plants being shut down and an unusually low output of electricity from wind farms, National Grid were forced to take desperate measures on Wednesday.
Under threat of blackouts, National Grid had to rely on large businesses to cut their electricity demand to ensure the UK would not be in the dark. Dozens of office buildings powered down their air conditioning and ventilation systems between 5pm and 6pm.
Worrying news after National Grid convinced us that the capacity margins, despite being low, were good enough to maintain supply. They blamed the power crunch on multiple plant break downs after several ageing coal-fired power plants had unexpected maintenance issues and temporarily shut down.
Combined with the recent low wind speeds meaning that wind farms had produced less than one per cent of required electricity, they had to manage peak demand with costly emergency measures.
The demand side balancing reserve (DSBR) scheme encourages businesses to reduce their energy usage with financial incentives – paid for through levies on consumer energy bills.
National Grid was also forced to call upon power plants to generate more power after issuing an alert called a Notification of Inadequate System Margin, (NISM). They explained:
“This is one of the routine tools that we use to indicate to the market that we would like more generation to come forward for the evening peak demand period. The issuing of a NISM does not mean we were at risk of blackouts. It means that we needed the safety cushion of power in reserve to be higher.”
Short-term electricity prices spiked as a result, one power plant was reportedly paid £2,500 per megawatt-hour – about 50 times average power prices – costs we can expect to be passed onto the customers eventually.
It’s expected that the situation will worsen as more and more coal plants are shut down due to age and emissions.
Yet it’s these very same plants that may be called upon to produce power should the UK be in danger of blackouts although National Grid have advised that this would be a last resort.
For now, we can breathe easy that National Grid do have methods at their disposal to ensure none of us are left in the dark.
With prices set to rise, now is the best time to lock into a long-term energy contract.