Friday 26 August 2016

Silly Season Over: Energy Troubles Ahead

I am not one to shout "the lights are going out" too readily, because the government will always make the Grid do whatever it takes, however costly & stupid, to keep homes and hospitals supplied.  But while everyone has been marvelling at Olympic success /  Corbyn lunacy / mass drownings on the beaches of Britain, over the summer we have been tipped off that there could be some real problems for power and gas supplies this coming winter.

On the power side, the pace of closures of coal-fired power stations this spring really caught the authorities by surprise.  We were always going to be down to about 1% capacity margin in the depths of next winter, and now it's going to be negative - even after the Grid has bribed a couple of the coal generators to stay open for just one more season, which is the only thing they have come up with.

And on the gas side, the UK's only really big gas storage facility (the large offshore Rough field) has run into serious problems of old age.   Centrica (the owner) is nursing it back into a few more years of reduced operations, hopefully in time for winter: but we know of old what happens in a cold snap when Rough falters - it's at very least a peaky spot-price spike.  We just about got away with it during a cold snap three years ago.  Next winter, anything much more than a week's worth of extreme cold and we may be (a) completely reliant on some fortuitous LNG cargos becoming available in the Atlantic (= not so cold in Spain + Eastern USA), or (b) stuffed.

[Rough isn't the only large and ageing provider of gas flexibility in winter we won't be able to rely on in future: the mighty Groningen field in the Netherlands, Europe's biggest for over 50 years (sic), and the very large Norwegian Troll are both ailing.  In the Dutch case, the hammering of Groningen for decade after decade is now causing fairly noticeable earthquakes.] 

The real killer will be winter 2017-18.  This game of keeping coal plant on life-support cannot be repeated indefinitely: it's in the nature of large capital assets of the steel'n'concrete variety that once they've been fingered for closure, discretionary maintenance work stops and the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Recall also that back in 2008 the EDF Chief Frog said that by 2017 we'd be cooking Christmas lunch on Hinkley Point C electricity, because otherwise the lights would be going out.  Well, he lied about HPC but otherwise he knew that of which he spoke.

Yes folks, it was broadly forseeable way back then (which was when we started blogging about it!), but neither Labour nor the Coalition did anything serious about it.  Takes a while for those plump Xmas turkeys to come home to roost, but they are on the horizon - and they may escape the lunch table altogether.



ivan said...

There are several things that could be done but the is no one in government with balls big enough to do what is required.

The first thing would be to cut all subsidies for wind and solar, after all that is free energy so it must be able to produce with out taxpayers money.

Next energy from wind and solar will only be bought at a price that is the same as that from gas-fired units and only when it is required - sorry no payments if they produce when it is not needed.

Then fracking should go ahead without the requirement for long drawn out ecological studies and approvals.

Last but not least, the Climate Change Act must be repealed and green taxes removed from industry and the public.

After that gas-fired power stations should be built as fast as possible.

Electro-Kevin said...

Brexit will be blamed. As with the housing crisis the energy crisis support for the EU is the main culprit.

K said...

But didn't you know? For a brief moment in May 2016 Britain wasn't burning any coal and was using 100% renewables (minus the nuclear, gas, etc, etc). At least that's what I've heard...

100% this will be blamed on Brexit even though (especially) Richard North has been warning about this for years.

To be fair though, 10-15 years ago we used to get power cuts practically every day at 8-9am when the factories started up (it was a great excuse for why I missed classes!). I won't be worried until that starts happening again.

Demetrius said...

May I disagree, this one has been coming since the 1990's, we are lucky it has not already happened. Now the luck is about to run out. I am glad I did not throw away all those lovely woollies knitted for me back in 1970's.

Raedwald said...

Local lore here in the Alpine valley suggests a harder winter this year - so supplies for a week, a diesel genny for light and t'internet and 6m3 of split beech at £44/m3 for heating & cooking takes care of the basics, but 4G here in the mountains (no cable or ADSL but in good weather blistering speeds for HD films etc) is vulnerable to snow, lightning and temps below -20.

So we may have a kind of reverse shadenfreude - enjoying the cheap heat, gl├╝hwein and wondrous landscape here but unable to share the UK's misery except via poor quality world service news on shortwave radio ...

Thud said...

Sitting here toasting in the California sun this all seems so distant but back in a week so I'd better get cracking on tree felling for winter 2017 and keep warm this winter doing it!

James Higham said...

Accepting this premise, Nick, what then can any of us do, collectively?

Electro-Kevin said...

James - We'll bugger on with it. But Brexit will be implicated somehow.

Nick Drew said...

'any of us, collectively ...'

vote for honest politicians!

[- but did you mean 'individually', James? for self and nearest/dearest, recalling that govt will bust a gut to keep residential supplies going, no need for major-league survivalist stuff: worst realistic case is resilience needed for a few very cold winter hours per evening for a week at a time
- windup LED lanterns: stock of energy-giving food that doesn't need cooking: board-games for the bored; total cost 20 quid & keep the long-johns handy
- phone charged at all times
- check your burglary defences
- I realise some in remote areas will add gennie + shot-gun to that list, but that's moving into survivalist territory]

it's the green-greens that have most to fret about because their dreams are about to come to dust, and that's an effect that lasts a lot longer than a couple of chilly evenings