Sunday 23 November 2014

UK Power: How Did We Get here?

One of our esteemed Anons asked the following a day or so back:
I'm doing a college essay on "are we in danger of the lights going out and if so, how did we get here?". Anyone know a non-Wiki source of info on annual change in UK generation capacity, ideally showing what's come on stream and what's gone off, for each year since, say, 1997? (My theory is that Blair's dash to close coal and nuclear, replacing with wind chimes and pixie dust, is the culprit, but the facts may not support what seems a likely thesis)
First of all, I don't do the leg-work for college essays.  If you don't like the Wiki page (which admittedly is only a starting-point, and not 100% accurate) you'll see a link to DECC there; and I suggest that Ofgem's security of supply reports, and also the Grid, will be useful sources.

But Old Drew's History Corner can give you a quick top-of-the-head tour of your theory. 
  • yes, we are in danger (well, mild peril) of the lights going out - but more likely they will flicker a bit, then some dirty diesels will swing into action at great cost in £££ and CO2, to save the day
  • how indeed did we get here ?  A question worth posing because it is an absolute bloody disgrace
  • some hark back to the dirigiste days of the CEGB, claiming all would be well if they were still in charge.  This is bollocks: the CEGB gold-plated everything and were inefficient at our expense (no different to British Gas or any other bloated monopoly - but wastrels nonetheless.)
  • the break-up of the CEGB / introduction of competition was a SUCCESS.  A qualified success, which needed much more adroit subsequent regulation in some aspects than it got, see below, but still a success.  Remember: no country had ever introduced competition at the residential level before, and many claimed it was outright impossible
  • it has to be recognised that for approx 15 years during the post-CEGB 1990's and early '00s, firstly under the 'Pool' regime and then 'NETA' (mandatory bilateral trade, much superior to Pool) from 2001, there was no shortage of private £££ pouring into the UK, building a large fleet of big new gas-fired power plants where none (0) (nil) existed before 1991, which effortlessly displaced coal from the #1 slot, materially reducing both electricity prices AND CO2 emissions.  Oh, and the lights stayed on.  Mark well.  (The precise way in which this happened is subtle - but it did not involve government diktat, 'picking winners', or dirigiste subsidies.)
  • unfortunately, in the second half of this period a creeping reintroduction of vertical integration took hold: could have been stopped by regulatory authorities here and in Brussels - but it wasn't, and now it's pretty bad
  • the rot really set in when it was decided (a) to impose a 'green' agenda atop the newly competitive market; and (b) not to rely on the Emissions Trading approach to achieve this (the ETS has its flaws but they could have been corrected, instead of the scheme simply being sidelined.  (To be fair, some say you'd need a carbon import levy as well, which is certainly an arguable point.)
  • don't blame Blair for closing coal.  The EU directive (LCPD) is generally fingered as the proximate cause - but even that's over-simplifying matters.  Only crap old coal plant couldn't make the grade under this directive and the rest will (or could) soldier on for ages (Germany would be dead in the water otherwise). 
  • Blair is a big fan of uranium (as are Brown and Camerosborne). He kept schtumm about this until after the 2005 election - he thought nukes were electoral suicide - after which he hurled us into EDF's arms for a promised "fleet of new nukes".  That was 2008.  Needless to say, EDF has committed to none (0) (nil) at the time of writing, despite bizarre sums of money being offerred to them
  • simplistically, I suggest you blame the subsidy-culture resulting from non-stop governmental meddling (Miliband a big early culprit) that has set in since the green agenda really kicked off.  Would-be developers of new PP's have been on investment strike since they noticed that only suckers (and the Irish, curiously) put their money on the table without demanding a bung
  • finally: why haven't politcians been told the truth about how infeasible the situation is (i.e. that you can't do modern society based on windfarms, or catch up on a decade of non-investment in proper power plants)?  One important answer is that the National Grid gets a guaranteed return on any investment it makes that is mandated by government / regulators.  Their engineers are clever fellows and can 'solve' most problems by, errr, throwing money at them.  So when ministers & civil servants ask: can this be done? the Grid has every incentive to say - yes.  
There are of course other ways of framing this state of affairs but that's my two-minute explanation ...

PS as I have often remarked hereabouts, for a fully-functioning example of a big and equally vital industry that has worked just fine after the introduction of competition & dismantling of monopoly - take natural gas (in the UK as elsewhere).  Excellent levels of competition; massive amounts of new investment without subsidy - in the UK, completely replacing the steeply-declining indigenous North Sea gas production with new import facilities, both pipeline and LNG. etc etc.    


Demetrius said...

Our Finite World and Energy Matters blogs have lots of stuff.

Electro-Kevin said...

Off topic if I may - perhaps not off topic if your blog eventually gets censored for not giving us unalloyed Good News !

The Emily Thornberry issue is a ruse by the Conservative Government. I fell for it, as did everyone else.

The Ukip trouncing of the Tories is off the front pages and a Tory loss has been turned into a Labour crisis. How very Nu Labour - truly Mr Cameron is the slippery heir to Blair that he said he would be (about the only promise he's honoured.)

With one bound he was free !

More disturbing... MUCH more disturbing...

The removal of newspaper headlines from public view by Tescos and Waitrose at the behest of Left wing pressure groups, ostensibly in the interests of protecting children from obscenity.

What ? The same Lefties who would have lambasted Mary Whitehouse as prudish ? Branded Bible Belt Americans as nutters ? The same Lefties who want children educated in sex aged seven, the age of consent lowered and who want the liberalisation of cannabis ?

Are we seriously to believe they've gone all buttoned-up-the-neck Victorian over newspapers on us ? The modern equivalent of covering up table legs because they are overtly sexual ?


We were given a clue on BBC1 this week. A Left wing commenter stating "The reason for Ukip's success is the people are not getting their news from the BBC. Every other outlet is just so negative."

So here we are. Any news headlines which are not filtered through the BBC prism are to be censored from the public eye like toxic cigarettes. They don't want our thoughts polluted by Ukip-isms and without the Daily Mail or the Express telling us otherwise we'd all become sedated and accepting of the Left wing Utopia we live in.

Be in no doubt. This political rebellion has got them all worried and press censorship shouldn't be surprising in the least.

Where is all this leading ? Razor wire and machine gun towers ?

Nick Drew said...

Kev, if the Thornberry issue is a ruse by the Conservative Government then I am even more impressed by L.Crosby than previously

even the grauniad reckons it has turned Rochester into a Labour / Mili-thing

Electro-Kevin said...

Nick - Even Labour needs the Conservatives. Please read today's Hitchens' article. He explains why. It's a must read.

It doesn't take a conspiracy or a ruse (I chose the wrong word.) What it takes is a meme. A zeitgeist. A Hive Mind.

Here we are. 2015. Journalists being arrested and front pages being hidden from public view.

In what way am I being hysterical ? Please tell me.

Nick Drew said...

I notice that guido is being credited with setting that meme running

(but then, these days he is a fully paid-up member of the wicked tories, we are told)

I read the Hitchens piece (I first met CH in 1977 - sic - he looked exactly the same then): but haven't people long said exactly the mirror-image thing about Labour ? that we need house-trained 'socialists' because the real thing is too scary

it's all the same issue

Anonymous said...

Thanks ND. Looks as if I'll have to do more digging for the "what's on and what's off", but most useful as a "tour d'horizon", and thanks to ivan for the pointers to gridwatch and its source data.

Kilgore Trout said...

More energy posts! This and the posts like them are great... depressing, but the details are fascinating.