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.
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.