One Step Closer to Blackouts

On Thursday 24th March, Longannet Power Station closed down. This 2.4 GW, coal fired giant, was the beating heart of Scottish Electricity supply. The station opened in 1970 and was arguably past its sell by date. The Scottish supply is now based on nuclear, wind and imports with a little hydro and gas on the side. I think nuclear and wind is likely the worst combination for any grid that no sane power engineer would design. Variable and intermittent wind does not sit well with constant, base load  nuclear power. We have reached this point in pursuit of Green dogma.

In this post I examine the policy and politics that led to this event and go on to consider the social and economic consequences of a nation-wide blackout that power engineers now believe is far more likely than before.

What causes blackouts?

A blackout normally occurs as a result of an electrical fault at a power station or transmission line that causes the generator or power line to trip. Sensors on the equipment react to abnormal behaviour and automatically shut down the generator or power line. This can cause a power surge or dip on neighbouring lines causing them to trip and the fault can cascade through the system like falling dominoes.

The alternative variety of blackout is one where there is insufficient supply to meet demand and part of the transmission system needs to be shut down in order to maintain the essential and ubiquitous balance between supply and demand. This type of blackout will euphemistically become known as demand management.

Blackouts are common throughout the developing world but are relatively rare in the OECD. When they occur in the OECD chaos ensues.

August 14-15 2003: Northeast United States and Canada

It took months before the real cause of the Northeast Blackout of 2003 was finally determined. Initially, Canadian Defense Minister John McCallum blamed an outage at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, which the state’s Emergency Management Agency denied. What actually happened was a high-voltage power line in Northern Ohio brushed against overgrown trees, causing it to shut down. When the alarm system that would typically alert FirstEnergy Corporation failed, the incident was ignored. In the next 90 minutes, system operators tried to figure out what happened while three other lines switched off as a consequence of the first line’s failure.

This started a domino effect, and by 4:05 p.m. Southeast Canada and eight Northeastern U.S. states were without power. 50 million people were inconvenienced for up to two days in what turned out to be the biggest blackout in North American history. 11 people died and there was a reported $6 billion in damages. The incident prompted the creation of a joint task force between the U.S. and Canada to minimize future blackouts.

Clearly, national governments, power generation and distribution companies should do everything they can to safeguard against blackouts. It appears that what is happening in Scotland is the exact opposite where Scottish Power (a subsidiary of Spanish Iberdrola) has made a commercial decision to close Longannet forced by energy policy both N and S of the border. Scottish politicians seem more interested in scoring political points out of this event than safeguarding the best interests of the Scottish people. Had the NE USA blackout of 2003 occurred in January instead of August, the death toll may have been many thousands as old and vulnerable people would have died from the cold.

Scottish Generation

Scottish supply now has the following assets:

  1. Torness nuclear 1.19 GW
  2. Hunterston B nuclear 0.97 GW
  3. Peterhead gas 0.4GW variable supply and 0.75GW Supplemental Balancing Reserve for a total of 1.15 GW
  4. Hydro effective capacity 1 GW
  5. Wind about 5.3 GW
  6. Interconnection to England 3.5 GW

Total = 13.1 GW to meet peak demand of about 5.5 GW

On the face of it there seems to be ample spare capacity. But here’s the rub. In flat calm conditions, wind may fall to zero as may interconnector supplies. And this may coincide with a reactor trip. Thus in adverse winter conditions, Scottish supply may fall to:

  1. Torness nuclear 0.6 GW
  2. Hunterston B nuclear 0.97 GW
  3. Peterhead gas 0.4GW variable supply and 0.75GW Supplemental Balancing Reserve for a total of 1.15 GW
  4. Hydro effective capacity 1 GW
  5. Wind about 0 GW
  6. Interconnection to England 0 GW

Total = 3.7 GW to meet peak demand of about 5.5 GW and the lights will have to go out somewhere if not everywhere.

A Political Football

The reasons given by Scottish Power for closure was failure to win a “capacity contract” in the brave Green electricity market that has been created. The SNP has argued that the transmission distances from Longannet to England and attendant costs, placed Longannet at a disadvantage in an energy policy environment they claim was made in Westminster. This of course ignores the fact that several English coal fired power stations will also close as part of a broader strategy to phase out coal by 2025.

The reality of course is that the SNP have a far more progressive renewables policy than Westminster aiming for 100% renewable electricity equivalent by 2020. This has created a situation of gross over-supply, undermining retail prices and undermining the industry as a whole. Well not quite, those generators blessed with FITs and ROCs get a guaranteed high price regardless. When you have a policy that aims to displace all fossil fuel based generators with renewables you have to expect these fossil generators to close one day. It is the whole objective of the policy. It is therefore outrageous for the SNP to try and blame others for their policy success. It should be clear why no real effort was made to keep Longannet open.

There is so much propaganda circulating now that one must be concerned that the politicians and their advisors have begun to believe it. Wind can only function on a grid with 100% fossil fuel or hydro back up. The Scottish system now has about 5.3GW of wind and a maximum of 1.15 GW of gas (Peterhead) and 1 GW of effective hydro. The Scottish grid is now dependent upon balancing services from England. With 3.5 GW of interconnection, capacity is not a problem. What might be a problem is availability of power south of the border. I can see a scenario where a nuclear trip in Scotland is not balanced by additional supply from England that sets the dominoes falling.  The English and nuclear power get blamed when in reality the cause would be closure of Longannet and a policy based around 100% renewables.

Social and Economic Consequences and Scenarios

The scenarios described below are based on circumstances where high pressure in January brings cold calm conditions across the whole of northern and western Europe. An absence of wind power across the continent combined with the unscheduled shutdown of one reactor at Torness nuclear power station leaves Scotland critically dependent upon imports from England. European spot electricity prices spike at 5 pm on a Wednesday sending the UK France and UK Dutch inter connectors into reverse. Instead of receiving 3 GW from Europe, suddenly the UK is exporting 3 GW. This 6 GW swing is more than the UK grid can manage and National Grid responds by closing inter connectors to Scotland and Ireland. Torness and Hunterstone B power stations go into emergency shutdown and the lights go out everywhere N of the border at 6 pm. In Glasgow, the temperature outside is -4˚C.

Describing the possible outcomes of a prolonged blackout is a departure from our normal format. I originally tried to write this as fiction, but alas the language ended up being unsuitable. The point is to consider the possible implications of a prolonged blackout and to then ask what actions one is prepared to take to guarantee that it should never happen. And to then contemplate that the current political system has conspired to increase and not reduce this probability.

In the scenarios described below it is assumed that hospitals, emergency services and financial services have emergency backup generation. It is possible that some of the failed services I describe may also be supported by diesel generators.

Heat and light

  • All electric lighting will fail. In Scotland in January it gets light around 9 a.m. and dark again around 3 p.m. Without candles or a battery torch, many will experience total darkness for 18 hours a day. Old people will fall and break arms and hips.
  • Most heating in Scotland uses natural gas boilers, but these require electricity to function. And so most homes will be left without heat and will equilibrate to outside temperatures which are typically between +5 and -5˚C in January. Those unable to don good clothing or stay in bed will freeze.
  • Its possible that a gas hob may work, although gas supplies may fail without electricity.
  • With hard frost, pipes will freeze and burst.


  • Street lighting and traffic lights fail. A spate of minor accidents leaves traffic in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen at a standstill. Within hours, those cars that were running on empty run out of fuel and the passengers begin to freeze. It is not possible to refuel since petrol pumps run on electricity.
  • Hundreds are stranded in lifts.
  • All trains come to a standstill since even the diesel lines have electric signals. Thousands are stranded in transit at night fall and temperatures in the trains begin to equilibrate with temperatures outside.
  • All flights leaving Scottish airports are cancelled, all inbound flights are diverted to Newcastle and Manchester.


  • All internet, television and radio communications are down. Forget about the battery in your laptop since your WiFi router is switched off as is your local BT telecoms exchange.
  • There is absolutely no information available about what is going on. Most will think this is a power cut and do not realise that it may take over a week to restore power. Anxiety after 12 hours gives way to fear after 24 hours.
  • No email, no iPhone, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Energy Matters, no news papers. Just creeping cold.


  • People can’t get to work but there is no work to go to. Most work places are closed.
  • Some shops are open, but food stores will eventually run out of food. Refrigerated and frozen food is moved outside to the freezing conditions where members of the public simply help themselves.
  • Electronic payment is down. All transactions are by cash or cheque.


  • With all alarms off, petty criminals begin looting.
  • Organised gangs take advantage by raiding jeweller’s shops and a couple of banks are raided in Glasgow.
  • But the main security risk lies with the old and infirm who are deprived of social and medical care during the most adverse of circumstances.

Some simple lessons

  • Keep a small stash of cash at home and make sure you have a cheque book. Apple pay and a contactless card just won’t cut the mustard. Food and drink will still be available if you can pay for it.
  • Keep a supply of petrol or diesel in your garage (but note legal restrictions and requirements). The ability to drive to England could become a priceless commodity. Petrol pumps will not be working.
  • Have two or three battery torches to hand with a supply of batteries. These help you find your candles and matches.
  • Have a supply of utility candles to provide light and warmth + matches.
  • Buy a wood burner and have an ample supply of wood, or….
  • Have a means to keep warm in ºC conditions. Hat, gloves, two fleeces, long johns, two pairs of woolly socks and a good duvet or sleeping bag.
  • Be a good neighbour.

We live in a society grown accustomed to electricity 24/7/365. 40 years ago, when power cuts were more common in the UK, many households would by default have this simple list of equipment to hand. A little preparation may mean the difference between surviving in relative comfort and falling down stairs in pitch black.

Relevant Posts

Scotland-England Electricity Transfers

UK Blackout Risk – Amber Warning

The Destruction of Scottish Power

Scotland Gagging on Wind Power

Scotch on the ROCs

The Wind in Spain Blows …..

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107 Responses to One Step Closer to Blackouts

  1. Joe Public says:

    Hi Euan

    “Censors on the equipment react to abnormal behaviour ….” Freudian slip?

  2. burnsider says:

    I wrote to Rob Gibson, my MSP and Fergus Ewing (who is apparently Energy Minister and would be expected to be interested in such matters) about the blackout scenario set out above after one of your previous posts on the matter. I didn’t get so much as an acknowledgement from either of them, far less a reply, which rather says it all.

    Perhaps their office teams censor their mail to avoid upsetting the Great Men. Which brings me to a typo near the beginning – it should be ‘sensors’ and not ‘censors’

    Keep up the good work – a thought-provoking post!

  3. Greg Kaan says:

    The English and nuclear power get blamed when in reality the cause would be closure of Longannet and a policy based around 100% renewables.

    In case anyone thinks this would be an unrealistic response, it is almost precisely the sort of finger pointing that occurred after the South Australian grid blacked out at the start of November 2015.

    Renewables proponents, ignoring the fact that wind generation fell to 10% of nameplate capacity, deemed that the blackout was caused by the failure of the interconnector to the Victorian grid (powered largely by reviled coal generators), rather than the closure of local thermal generators.

    • Graeme No.3 says:

      Greg K:
      Not all of South Australia was blacked out, it seems to have been ‘managed’. Nevertheless the major impact was in part of suburban Adelaide, with country areas like the Barossa valley and Eyre Peninsula, a so the majority of the population were inconvenienced. About 110,000 houses. It took 2 days to get everybody reconnected, even though the interconnector was back in service within hours.
      The problem was caused by a problem with the interconnector, which might have been because it is being up-graded in capacity. Local thermal generators will mostly shut down this year just in time for peak demand next summer, so we can expect more blackouts.
      Yes, there was a lot of waffle from the local politicians, but that is so usual that it passed nearly unnoticed by us locals. I know the competition would be stiff, but in judging for political fool of the year I would expect several of our local Ministers to at least make the semi-finals.

      • Greg Kaan says:

        OK, technically it was “demand shedding” but for the people in the affected regions, they experienced a blackout.
        Port Augusta’s coal power stations were scheduled to close at the end of this month but this was extended to May 8. That will be that will be 784 MW of dispatchable synchronous generation gone (544 MW Northern, 240 MW Playford).unavailable next time this occurs. And the Heywood interconnector upgrade is only from 460 MW to 650 MW making this type of event far more likely in the future.
        Note that the blackout occurred at 10pm at night when demand was low – OK, PV wasn’t contributing but you can still get hot cloudy days.

        • Graeme No.3 says:

          “making this type of event far more likely in the future”. Almost certain I reckon.
          “but you can still get hot cloudy days”. Or a still humid night around 30℃ which seems to happen at least once a year?
          Followed by fatuous comments from the Premier etc.

  4. Kevin says:

    I don’t suppose many people have experienced a long power cut, or have any idea of the impact it would have on their comfortable lives.
    Seems a bit harsh, but something like this would be a useful wake up.

  5. climanrecon says:

    An obvious problem with the current industry set-up is that power generation companies have a mix of generation types, thus Iberdrola can close a coal plant and focus its resources in more profitable (subsidy farming) areas. SSE is doing the same, closing most of Fiddlers Ferry (coal) whilst building up its wind portfolio. The survival of Drax may well be down to the fact that the owner has no other generators.

    If the state hands ownership of its key power plants to private companies then it needs safeguards, such as an ability to forbid closure.

    Closing a working power station with all its infrastructure and trained workforce is an act of madness by the decadent OECD countries (USA and Australia are also going down this route), the Chinese and Russians must be smiling.

    To the list of preparations I would add keeping one or two 12 volt car/mobility batteries fully charged. These provide good lighting (via 12 volt LEDs) and recharging of mobile batteries (anything you can do in a car) for around a week.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      If the state hands ownership of its key power plants to private companies then it needs safeguards, such as an ability to forbid closure.

      The exact opposite is at hand where The State has sold assets to the private sector and then legislated to make it impossible for them to make money, thus forcing closure.

      • EdB says:

        Luckily, a decent chunk of those assets were promptly renationalised by a friendly neighbour that presumably does not want to be held responsible for blackouts in the UK. Representatives of the French state are probably in the process of lobbying the UK government for subsidies to keep 4GW of uneconomic British coal fired power stations on the bars for the benefit of British energy security… Bit of a daft situation, really.

    • gweberbv says:


      the option to veto the shutdown of a crucial power plant is just a matter of sensible legislation. See here:

      Maybe, in a few years from now, the court will grant a higher compensation to the operator. Maybe not. Maybe, both parties will make a settlement at some point. What really counts: In the meantime the plant stays operationable.

    • dcardno says:

      We don’t need to forbid closures if we have a rational energy policy – plants would be retained based on merit-order dispatch with some (or lots of) consideration for dispatchability, fuel mix, hydrology risk, and so on. At the same time, plants with unattractive operating characteristics (ie, virtually all ‘renewables’) won’t be built because they won’t have access to subsidies, guaranteed high tariffs, etc.
      If we have an irrational energy policy (ie, like we do now), then any arrangement to keep critical plants available is just a way of evading the energy policy. It’s probably easier to adopt a sane policy in the first place, rather than patch over a piece of nonsense with one-offs and bilateral arrangements.

  6. A C Osborn says:

    Large supermarkets totally rely on their electronic tills for sales and stock, so it is unlikely that they would take cash, but they may eventually give the food away if the black out lasts any length of time.
    Do gas lines have backup for their pumping systems?
    As you said no electronic cash transfer including ATMs, peoples Mortgage or Loan payments may go overdue leading to Credit history issues, all of which would need sorting out when things get back to normal.
    A lot of old & infirm people may not “freeze to death” but prolonged periods of cold could well lead to pnuemonia, strokes or heart attacks etc.
    Industry can suffer catastrophic damage to process lines when they go down.

    When you consider that these would all be the consequences of a deliberate Government policy it beggars belief.

    • It doesn't add up... says:

      Gas pipeline compressors are fed by the gas they pump, and produce their own back-up electricity.

  7. Nial says:

    “Some shops are open, but food stores will eventually run out of food.”

    I think most supermarkets rely on constantly being re-supplied, even the big ones will run out fairly quickly.

    What about our water supply, do the treatment plants need/have backup power?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      I don’t know if water supply and sewage treatment has backup power. Maybe someone else can answer.

      We actually keep very little food at home. We have drifted away from a large weekly shop at Sainsburys in favour of daily shops at our local Coop – 10 minute walk – where the quality of fruit, veg and meat is every bit as good as the upmarket supers.

      One power engineer with whom I have corresponded was actually doubtful that the Scottish grid could re-energise from England. Clearly 2 or 3 days is not a problem for food, one or two weeks could become problematic.

      • Ampere says:

        I do not know about scotland, here all railroad signals, water supplys, sewage treatments have emergency diesels. since they need to operate as island operation, they are usually providing 3-6 times the average load of this place.

        What I do not understand is the interconnector scenario.
        They will supply power in the direction where price is higher, going to full capacity with a price difference somewhere above 1ct I guess.
        So if there is not enogh supply in Scotland/UK, so the supply from interconnectors is needed, price in UK will be >1ct/kWh higher than on the continent, no matter how high the price on the continent is.
        So if the price on the continent is 1€/kWh price in UK will be >1.01€/kWh. So bids for electricity from UK (and others) will go as high till all capacity with contracts will come online.

        So the question is: who does in each country contract many power psoducing units, to get them online in times of high prices / high demand, does politics make it easy to contract these units?

        What is less a topic is how efficient these units are, since at times of really high demand the price payed for a kWh will cover _any_ variable costs of a power generating unit. And the time when such units are needed is small. the likelyhood of such scenarios with “A AND B AND C AND D” -like constructs are teh multiplication of the likelyhood of each cotributing factor each factor being by definition smaller than 1, resulting in very few hours per year when such scenarios can happen. So there is a demand for many GW, but relatively few GWh from such scenarios. Resulting in units with low costs per MW, and high costs per MWh being suitable for such tasks. E.g. old power stations kept in cold reserve, or aontracting the gazillion of existing emergency diesel units (which need to be operational at the grid, otherwise a expensive resistor would have to be installed, allowing the regular test operation of these units with full power while this power is not needed / useable within the island grid)

        • It doesn't add up... says:

          The problem will be that there may also be a power shortage on the Continent simultaneously, so we are in a bidding war for who gets the blackout. Euan’s scenario of a 6GW swing has already been played out for real – here’s an example from January which was 4.5GW intraday:

          • gweberbv says:

            Such swings of the interconnector flows are of course happening. But you should not ingore that they usually appear in times when relatively low power prices in UK coincide with high (I assume, heating-related) demand in France.

            See here:

            And for your example here:

            In particular the seond example shows, that the export from UK abruptly stops, once power prices are rising in UK.

          • It doesn't add up... says:

            It is a fallacy to assume that power can be re-routed to the UK regardless. Continental grid links can only carry so much power before they trip out. If there is a local power shortage e.g. because Belgium closes down its nuclear plant, then the choice for Maasvlakte and Northen French nuclear capacity is to supply Belgium or the UK. They would not be able to do both, and indeed UK power might need to flow to the Continent if the Belgians outbid us. This is not a theoretical situation: it occurred in 2014 – but fortunately at that point the UK still had spare generation capacity. Spot power prices in Belgium went over €4,000/MWh to keep the lights on there. Next time it would be between us and them for who gets the blackout.

  8. Euan: Excellent post. Some kind of load-following nuclear-wind combination may, however, not be out of the question. As noted in Blowout Week 117 Germany’s 32-year-old 1.4GW Grohnde reactor is now being used in load-following mode and is reportedly capable of ramping at up to 40MW/minute.

    • Willem Post says:


      If Grohnde could go to 60% of rated, then it would have to operate at 80% for ramp up of 20% and ramp down of 20%.

      A 20% of 1400 = 280 MW decrease or increase in 7 minutes for a nuclear plant? Really?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      So in load following nuclear is it the thermal core that ramps or the steam generator? I’d bet on the latter, which means some thermal energy is simply being spilled reducing the efficiency of the reactor. And as we all know, energy efficiency should be King.

      Another option would be to have a hydrogen plant that consumed surplus power to follow load with a 20ft thick concrete wall between hydrogen plant and power station.

      • Graeme No.3 says:

        Some of the French nuclear plants ‘load follow’ by switching some of the steam generated direct to the cooling tower. A waste of energy but easier than varying the thermal core. This may be how Grohnde does it.

      • Greg Kaan says:

        According to the following article, the cost of load following is mostly economic in terms of payback of capital costs. Perhaps the nuclear plant operators could be compensated for output reduction periods in the same way that wind turbine operators are when they are forced to curtail. Ideally, they should pay the operators for the full capacity of the plant whenever it is operational.

        This other study shows some increased operating costs and nuclear waste (for PWR types) from load following, however.

        As for hydrogen storage, on the Brave New Climate site, one of the commentators (who occasionally posts comments here), singletonengineer, has had considerable experience in the power generation industry and has nothing good to say about his experiences with handling hydrogen (used to minimise windage in generators). Fires and explosions appear the order of the day due to the high permeability of hydrogen vs other gases. In fact, his experience is that most power plants get their hydrogen from oil refineries in gas bottles rather than going through the issues of electrolysis and storage. Hopefully, he will post here to clarify (correct?) my statements.

  9. Mike Mellor says:

    Add to your recommendations, “Keep your petrol tank full.” This may be a challenge if the blackout occurs immediately following a strike by petrol tanker delivery drivers but that’s what Murphy’s like.

    The dry factual tone of this post does not guarantee wide readership. You should have included a few unprecedenteds and described the blackouts as inevitable, with hundreds of thousands of people having their lives, health and livelihood put in danger. Pets would suffer severely. If you had tropical fish or cage birds you could kiss them goodbye.

    I’m writing from South Africa where until about a year ago, load-shedding (or demand management as you call it) was a fact of life. Then Eskom bought a whole lot of OCGT capacity and built a few large solar estates, as well as prioritising upgrades at all coal-fired power stations to reduce unscheduled maintenance. Naturally all this has resulted in massive increases in electricity prices. I must say that the load-shedding was extremely well-organized between Eskom and local distribution authorities which had websites to tell you when your suburb was going to be shed.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      I dare say that lights out from 15:00 to 21:00 in Glasgow in January may be somewhat different to Capetown in July. Few people will ever have experienced total darkness. With no moon, pitch black can actually be quite terrifying – well I find it unnerving.

  10. Bernard Durand says:

    Euan, in France many nuclear plants are equipped in the load-following mode. Records of electricity production are available and show a strong potential of variations. As you know, nuclear produces in France between 75 and 80 % of the total electricity production. That is why plants are used in base but also in semi-base and sometimes to help facing consumption peaks.
    Now, we also have our Greens, and as they want us to destroy our nuclear plants, our politicians say they will do it.
    This year, CO2/kWh in France was 45 g, i.e ten times less than in Germany. But the Greens say that we must follow the example of Germany. Or they say that if we are to fulfill the COP 21 requirements we must replace nuclear plants by wind mills, and medias say the same.
    EDF is in financial ifficulty, but nobody says that ,as for RWE, E.on and now Engie, this is due to the unfair competition with subsidized wind an solar!
    There is an adage: “Jupiter fools those he wants to destroy”

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Bernard, can you clarify how nukes follow load. Is it the thermal core or steam production part that is cycled?

      I don’t understand the French stance on wanting to destabilise one of the World’s finest power systems. But the position with EDF is worrisome.

      • All France’s nuclear capacity is from PWR units. There are two ways of varying the power output from a PWR: control rods, and boron addition to the primary cooling water. Using normal control rods to reduce power means that there is a portion of the core where neutrons are being absorbed rather than creating fission, and if this is maintained it creates an imbalance in the fuel, with the lower part of the fuel assemblies being more reactive that the upper parts. Adding boron to the water diminishes the reactivity uniformly, but to reverse the effect the water has to be treated to remove the boron, which is slow and costly, and it creates a radioactive waste.

        So to minimise these impacts for the last 25 years EdF has used in each PWR reactor some less absorptive “grey” control rods which weigh less from a neutronic point of view than ordinary control rods and they allow sustained variation in power output. This means that RTE can depend on flexible load following from the nuclear fleet to contribute to regulation in these three respects:

        1. Primary power regulation for system stability (when frequency varies, power must be automatically adjusted by the turbine).
        2. Secondary power regulation related to trading contracts.
        3. Adjusting power in response to demand (decrease from 100% during the day, down to 50% or less during the night, etc.)


      • Stuart Brown says:

        Leo beat me to it but in case it’s interesting…Some (slightly old) stuff in here about load following including a comment that load following is specifically dis-allowed in the US. Cynically that explains why there is a general belief that it can’t be done – but nuclear submarines don’t go in straight lines at high speed, of course.

        Includes pretty graphs showing the ability of Grohnde and other reactors to do it. Amongst the technical detail of how it’s done there is also some analysis on the effects of load following and discount rates on LCOE in the second one toward the end, showing that nuclear is more sensitive than gas or coal as you might expect, but the effect of discount/interest rates was something I hadn’t appreciated.

        • Leo Smith says:

          Because nuclear fuel is so cheap, the opportunity cost of generating even into really low wholesale prices is minimal.

          We don’t dispatch nuclear, not because we can’t or couldn’t, but because that expensive capital investment costs almost nothing to run, compared with being offline, and every penny it makes is worth having.

          The French DO dispatch nuclear, because they have so much of it.

          And there are times when they are effectively 100% nuclear with all exports flat out as well.

          • robertok06 says:

            If Imay add one note here, Leo… the fact that the French run their nuclear power plants at a sub-optimal 76% capacity factor makes it even more stupid to think about calling them “old”, or “aging”, as usually done by green anti-nuclear websites/organization… they are literally babies, apart from some first gen ones. Could easily go beyond 60 years, with minor updates/upgrades.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        “Is it the thermal core or steam production part that is cycled?”

        A bit of both….the one thing you DON’T want to do is make rapid temperature changes, so the system is basically “throttled” – as Roger Andrews has pointed out below, the French fleet is mostly equipped with specialised control rods which can give fairly fine control – you use the “grey” rods to bring up power in the core at the same time as increasing flow through the steam generators.

        Increasing power is less of an issue than decreasing; when running, a reactor has to be in (near) equlibrium in terms of the production of 135Xenon – it’s a strong neutron absorber which is a daughter product of 135Iodine. Basically, the amount of Xenon is determined by the power production of the reactor ten or so hours back (to allow decay from the Iodine), and the neutron flux – which serves to remove the Xenon. If the neutron flux drops, the levels of Xenon can increase which serves to shut down the reaction. It can be managed, but it’s a pretty precise process, and if power levels drop too low, the reactor will shut itself down until the Xenon itself has decayed (135 Xe has about a ten hour half life, from memory) and it’s typically 48-72 hours until the reactor can be brought back online.

        There are similar but lesser effects from various Gadolinium and Samarium fission/daughter products, too.

        It adds another layer of complexity to your scenario – depending on the state of the fuel, if Torness and Hunterston were forced into shutdown because of loss of grid supply – which UK regulation obliges them to do – they’d not be available to restart/resynchronise for that 48-72 hours, even if a “black start” source to resynchronise with was available. As things stand, there’s no way the rUK would have sufficient spare capacity, in your scenario to support full load for Scotland in addition to England, even with the interconnectors at full flow inward.

        As an aside, there’s a particular virtue to BWR designs over PWR – they can achieve the same fine control without grey rods – it’s done by varying the speed of the recirculation system, which controls the water level in the core, and hence moderation/power output. Indeed, left to it’s own devices a BWR has a level of inherent load-following, as the rate of draw off of steam above the core causes water levels to rise in response to an increase.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Andy, thanks for this informed comment. One power engineer I correspond with questioned weather Scotland could be black started from England. They really do seem to have created a hazardous situation. Presumably they could black start part of the grid stretching to either Hunterston or Torness and bring the nukes back up one at a time. But it sounds like it could take weeks.

          • Andy Dawson says:

            Interesting question….it’s not my area of expertise (I’m a (former) nuclear engineer, not electrical), but…..

            The point of black start is to bring up first a unit that’s powerful enough that it can damp, out variations from the second, third and so on units as they’re brought back up – otherwise they’ll trip again. Obviously, that gets easier as the process goes, on, and the nth unit is synchronising with the (n-1) units already up and running.

            That says the second unit up needs to be relatively small compared to the first.

            Look at it this way; a large amount of the original case for the building of Dinorwig was to have a quickly available Black Start unit; Dinorwig is 1800MW (actually 6x300MW, but they’re electrically “coupled”. Now at the time Dinorwig was built, most units on the system would have been around (say) 200-300MW, with the first of the standard 500MW and 660MW units coming on line (Drax, Eggborough and so on).

            The CEGB were (mostly) good engineers, but with a bit of a tendency to gold-plate. There’d be a hefty margin built into Dinorwig, but even so it’s unlikely they’d have tried to bring back the big units until they’d got a largish number of smaller units back on-system.

            So, as a rule of thumb, reckon that the second unit on-line after Dinowig would be about 300MW. The CEGB would probably have allowed about a +50% margin, so that suggests they’d have assumed maybe 900-1200MW available from Dinorwig.

            Which in its turn suggests they’d want about 3-4x the capacity of the second unit on-line available at “station gate” for that unit.

            Wind’s effectively useless for that (it has too little inertia to overcome short term frequency fluctuation), so the restart would be reliant on a progressive build-out of the interconnectors and/or hydro – I’ve a sneaking feeling most of the Scots hydro fleet is made up of very small individual units, so possible problematic in itself, and certainly time consuming to get up to significant output. That’s probably consistent with your correspondent’s analysis.

            Which leaves the interconnectors and Peterhead.

            With 3.5GW available over interconnectors, they could bring back up a unit up to about 900MW on that alone. That’s bigger than any unit connnected in Scotland. If, however, there was less (or none) available via interconnector, they’d be limited.

            At face value it looks as though they should be able to do it – with one proviso, which would need someone with electrical expertise. One big buggeration factor would be resonances and harmonics in the system – which is made worse by long transmission lines. I’ve no idea if that’d be a significant issue for frequency stability or not in this circumstance. That might reduce the effectiveness of the interconnectors as black-start sources.

            A better strategy might be to black start using Peterhead synched to interconnectors if available, then bring on the hydro, then finally the nuclear units.

        • gweberbv says:


          thank your very much for the very good explanation! To me this immediatly raises the question what would happen in France, when larger parts of the grid are shut down. Will all reactors in this area suffer from being poisoned by Xenon? Or are they allowed to operate also without grid connection, while in UK the plants need to do an emergency shutdown?

  11. A C Osborn says:

    Well being a grouchy OAP I will not be having one fitted.
    If they want to know how much energy I have used they can send someone around to read the meter.
    I am one of those very old fashioned people that believes in “Employment”, which is why I still have milk delivered, despite walking to to the shops 3 or 4 times a week.

  12. David B says:

    Seems like a rather dismissive attitude to the serious issue of the higher connection charges in Scotland that made Longannet uneconomical.

    Surely this is a real problem and the SNP may be quite right to make ‘political capital’ out of an unfair situation?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Its transmission charges and not connection charges that are in play. But a good argument can be made for Scotland consuming all its thermal generation and exporting all wind power.

      Scotland-England Electricity Transfers

      I’m happy to stand corrected, but I see the transmission charging as a bit of a red herring. UK policy is to close all coal. And SNP energy policy is UK policy ^2. Has Longannet closed because it is too far away from England or has it closed because we now have gross over capacity and dumped electricity prices and a market that is so distorted in favour of wind and solar that the thermal generators are simply throwing in the towel, everywhere?

      And I believe its probably in Scottish Power’s interests to not fall foul of the SNP Scottish government since they want to continue hoovering up subsidies from their renewables fleet.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        But there’s an additional problem here. The grid in England and Wales is owned by National Grid. In Scotland the southern half is owned by none other than Scottish Power and the northern half by Scottish and Southern Energy. Perhaps Scottish Power got undone by its own transmission charges?

    • It doesn't add up... says:

      Salmond specifically negotiated reduced, subsidised transmission charges for Scottish wind farms. The realities are that every time there is a power station closed supplying the demand in the South/London, more power has to be routed over the grid from further afield (bear in mind there are almost no windfarms in the Home Counties, while closures of major power stations have been a regular feature – Didcot, Tilbury, Kingsnorth, Fawley, grain, etc.). That increases the grid investment required to transmit power to areas of demand, and the transmission charges along with it. Without the beefed up interconnect to supply surplus wind power to Scotland and the closures of plants in southern England the grid costs would be far lower, and so would the charge to Longannet.

      • It doesn't add up... says:

        The transmission charging system is designed to provide at least some incentive to locate generation close to areas of supply shortage, and therefore reduce the grid investment required. In fact, it tends to under-recover against that criterion, which results in higher grid charges all round. Roughly, the grid investment in real assets will be doubled compared with the grid that was perfectly adequate before we started all this renewables nonsense – and it will be supplying less power (UK consumption peaked at around 400TWh/a a decade ago, and is now down to 350TWh/a and falling as industry relocates abroad).

  13. Andy says:

    The scenario you describe at the top of the article as “demand management” is more commonly called “load shedding” and happens routinely in cities and towns around the world. Demand management is something different and is happening to good effect on the UK grid to provide National Grid with more tools to keep things balanced on a moment-by-moment basis.

    I am not sure why, in your nightmare scenario, you assume that the English inter-connector will have zero capacity? As it is routinely used to export electricity from Scotland to England, it (actually ‘they’ as there are two to four links–depending how you count them–that join the two countries) will be available to supply the required balancing current. Your scenario also avoids the fact that maximum demand never happens under low wind conditions. This is for standard thermal reasons that house wind-chill is a significant part of heating load.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Data shows that it can go flat calm across much of Europe at once. This leaves the whole continent scrambling for power. In the UK wind regularly falls effectively to zero. The UK has become more or less a permanent importer of 3GW from the continent. If that goes into reverse we are suddenly 6 GW down.

      The Wind in Spain Blows …..

      In 2016 UK dispatchable capacity, including reserves, will be stripped to the bone. It is now a matter of chance. A few outages at large stations and we dip below peak demand. Solar and wind are useless in dark, calm conditions. At one point late last year there were 5 reactors down at once – about 2.5 GW. Nuclear opponents may claim that nuclear therefore is useless. But it was designed around a system with ample spare capacity. And no one is building this because of the way the market is rigged.

      UK Blackout Risk – Amber Warning

      Think of the interconnectors as a money box. You can have a big money box, but if there is no money in it, its not much use.

      There is 3.5 GW of two way interconnection between Scotland and England that has normally been running one way from Scotland to England. That is about to change. We have it under surveillance.

      Scotland-England Electricity Transfers

      • “But it was designed around a system with ample spare capacity. And no one is building this because of the way the market is rigged.”
        The whole point of the “Capacity Auction” that is now a part of National Grid’s mechanisms, is to ensure exactly what you are fearing does not happen. Capacity that may never get used is being paid for to stand by for those rare occasions when ‘peak demand’ might happen. What has failed to be adequately incorporated into the model is that maximum consumption never occurs on still days, it happens when it’s windy … as your own data show.

        • It doesn't add up... says:

          If you look at the assumptions made by the National Grid in their Winter Outlooks, you will see it includes hydro at capacity (i.e. no summer drought reducing available output); wind at “seasonal average” output, and at least 500MW from interconnectors – bearing in mind that the E-W and Moyle routes to Ireland becomes drains on the UK in low wind scenarios. Even against that optimistic outlook they are forecasting shortages.

          Some of the capacity reserve simply may not materialise. I read that ?Ferrybridge was considering paying the penalty for failure to remain available as being a better option in the current environment. That is why there are now quiet panics while they try to run additional capacity auctions to plug the gaps.

    • gweberbv says:


      could you explain the wind-chill effect you are referring to? The windchill that is felt by human beings is due to increased evaporation from the skin when the air layer around our body is abruptly exchanged by colder air. Should not be relevant for a building shell.

  14. A Hamilton says:

    It will be interesting to see how the MeyGen tidal stream project coming on-line this summer in the Pentland Firth, Scotland gets on. The proposed capacity is 398MW by 2020.

    On a separate issue, it is Hunterston without an “e” on the end.

    • burnsider says:

      I live near Thurso on the north coast of Scotland and went to a Meygen presentation on the tidal power project a few years ago. I asked one of the guys manning the posters ‘What fraction, on average, of 24MWh is generated in a day by a tidal turbine with a nameplate capacity of 1MW?’. The answer was 25%, so it is very misleading to attribute 398MW ‘capacity’ to the tidal array in the Inner Sound (part of the Pentland Firth, near John o’Groats). The ‘capacity’ is only about 100MW on average and is every bit as variable as wind power, albeit predictably as it varies from zero at slack water to full power on spring tides at mid tide. The variation is far from sinusoidal in the Pentland Firth.

      The tidal array that will come on stream this summer will only be a few MW by the way, very much an initial trial to see how things go. The Pentland Firth is a very robust stretch of water and will very likely prove a very testing environment for the turbines as there is often a lot of turbulence at the proposed site. The jury is probably still out regarding the construction of the full 398MW (nameplate) ‘capacity.

  15. Joe Public says:

    The ultimate irony – wind turbines themselves need power from the grid to work. A blackout knocks them out, too. If they were providing power at the time, that loss aggravates the effect of the blackout.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      This post started out with the name Blackstart, but I dealt with blackstart in this post:

      Scotland-England Electricity Transfers

      All power stations need to be connected to a live grid in order to operate. Only those with back up diesel generators or hydro can function when the grid is down and they need to be able to energise the grid around the big generators (Torness and Hunterston) (spelling improving by the hour) to be able to blackstart the grid.

      • Andy Dawson says:

        Actually, it’s a regulatory requirement for UK nuclear units to shut down during a grid outage. You couldn’t even attempt restart of Hunterston and Torness until there was a reliable grid supply

        • Alex says:

          It would of course take a decade to change the policy, but why MUST they shut down?

          Wouldn’t it be safer to have a 50MW OCGT running next to the nuclear plant, and only require shutdown during a grid outage and a OCGT outage? (Still leaving the diesels for post shut-down cooling).

          Not sure how the rules should be changed for “walk away safe” reactors.

          “Only those with back up diesel generators or hydro can function when the grid is down and they need to be able to energise the grid”

          How does this apply to big diesel generators in the >100MW class. Can these supply both a black start capability and a capacity reserve?

          It seems that however funded, Scotland could do with a GW of diesel plant, in the hope that it’s not used in most years.

          • Andy Dawson says:

            “Wouldn’t it be safer to have a 50MW OCGT running next to the nuclear plant, and only require shutdown during a grid outage and a OCGT outage? (Still leaving the diesels for post shut-down cooling).”

            All except Dungeness DO have multi-MW OCGT’s sitting on site – four 17.5MW Rolls Olympus for each two reactor station. Dungy was the only AGR to use diesels.

            And AGR’s are power-hungry beasts. It’s a long time ago, but from memory the gas circulators alone need a couple of MW apiece at full power, and there are eight per reactor. OK, the need for full-pelt circulation drops off very rapidly after shutdown, and they’ve a lot of inertia, but you’d still need at least two to start reliably if things weren’t to get tighter than you’d like.

  16. Gaznotprom says:

    Excellent post Euan…

    I’ve always wondered how they would trigger ‘riots’ in our streets, imagine a week with no power – a realistic scenario, now…

    Good positive points/pre cautions that we should take…

  17. gweberbv says:

    This blackout scenario starts with mainland Europe stopping exporting to and starting importing from UK – in fact importing more than UK can provide. For this to happen you assume that the continent is going to outbid Scotland in a bidding war for electric power from England. I doubt that this is a realistic scenario. From a very general point because England and Scotland belong to the same country. And of course from a practical point because the continent has a lot of overcapacity, even if wind is near zero. Due to the very low power prices, this situation will not last forever. But at least for the next few years, there is more than enough capacity on the continent. And after 2020 UK will have a lot more interconnectors which might change the electricity market there significantly. Maybe UK will then have a supply structure like Italy (more than 10% of electricity – and as a consequence also grid stability – is imported).

    What your numbers are telling, indeed, is that Scotland will be completely dependent on the UK grid. But I think this is not an unusual situation for a (relatively) small region of a bigger country.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Gunter, your perspective is valued here even though I don’t agree with it. Why does the continent have over-capacity and the UK not? It may suit Germany to have the UK end up like Italy but I’m not sure that scenario suits me. And Scotland run by the Independence party will become totally Dependent on the whole UK to keep its lights on. Until last week we were a perennial exporter to England like Europe is today but I’m quite sure, as the data we are gathering will show, that from next November we will become a seasonal importer.

      What is good about any of this from my perspective dangling on the end of a 500 km power line?

      • David McCrindle says:

        Euan, I think you are being a little pessimistic here. While I agree that our governments are vandalising what was a reliable electricity supply system we are still in a UK national grid system and the 3.5GW ‘interconnector’ to rUK is not going to disappear. Independence may change this but reliance on rUK electricity will be one more anti-independence argument should the need arise.

        The UK has past experience of managing load shedding in extremis (remember the miner’s strike in the 70s) and that is what would be done. People wouldn’t like that, but it could be managed to avoid the long term blackout you suggest.

        The big problem will come when the AGRs close down. Then we will have almost nothing but wind and the ‘interconnector’ to rUK.

        • It doesn't add up... says:

          I’m not sure the problems don’t start sooner. With all the coal and nuclear station closures in Northern England and Wales it’s far from clear that there would be supply for Scotland available. There is also a big supply shortage in the South and London – and you can bet there would be reluctance to let the lights go out there in preference to in Scotland (at least while there’s no independence vote in the offing).

      • gweberbv says:


        I do not know why being exposed to even lower wholesale prices the power plant operators on the continent seem more resilent/reluctant to permanent shutdowns than the ones in UK. I may speculate about the reasons, but other frequent readers of this blog for sure have deeper insight into the electricity market.

        Regarding ‘ending up like Italy’: The value of not depending on your neighbours/trade partners with respect to energy might be an issue where people from the continent and people from UK won’t find common ground. During the Cold War, (western) German stoves and heaters were fired with gas from the Ivans. By this standard, I do not see any problem for you. As long as one has trust in UK grid operators to follow the n-1 rule. (Like having trust in someone not shooting in his own head.)

        • Lars says:

          “I do not know why being exposed to even lower wholesale prices the power plant operators on the continent seem more resilent/reluctant to permanent shutdowns than the ones in UK.”

          Firstly because the British government has decided that coal is not a part of the UK power system after 2025. Why continiue running a coal plant that is unprofitable and will be forced to close in a few years anyway? In Germany, the Netherlands etc. you don`t have this limitation, you have even built new coal plants recently.

          Secondly, in Germany “die Bundesnetzagentur” can prevent a plant closure if deemed necessary for the stability of the grid as you know. No such mechanism in the UK which seems to be a country full of happy go lucky people.

  18. Stuart Young says:

    Re A Hamilton’s post about ” the MeyGen tidal stream project coming on-line this summer in the Pentland Firth, ” this project only has planning permission for six machines at present. The reasons given for this limitation were :a) to see if the machines worked and b) to see what environmental damage they would do. Meantime, a vast infrastructure project is under construction to harness the possible 398MW if the machines work and the environmental damage is acceptable. Where else in the world would you plan your energy system around the hope that something will work?

    • robertok06 says:

      “Where else in the world would you plan your energy system around the hope that something will work?”

      In Energiewende Land, a.k.a. Germany, for instance?

      “We’ll stop all our nuclear reactors, coal and lignite plants, and generate 80% of the electricity with renewables by 2030”, that is the mantra, if I remember well (or was it 2040?… doesn’t matter, won’t make it either).

      • mark4asp says:

        A typical justification for Energiewende lists 6 objectives

        A. Fighting climate change
        B. Reducing energy imports
        C. Stimulating technology innovation and the green economy
        D. Reducing and eliminating the risks of nuclear power
        E. Energy security
        F. Strengthening local economies and providing social justice

        Consider objective A (Fighting climate change). This one would probably be considered most important for us Anglo-Saxons because we’re supposed to be pragmatic. It’s done by an carbon-accountants trick: renewables are defined as CO2 free. Every naysayer is defined as a climate change denier. When I query Energiewende supporters, they often say: Germany is moving towards decarbonization with renewable energy. In some vague, undefined, future Germany will become carbon-free. When dis Energiewende, boosters will try to befuddle me with arguments using one or all of the 6 objectives above. In contrast when I dis German energy policy I can just say Germany is not reducing CO2 emissions, it’s creating social injustice. They can’t refute those two claims. They can refute the claim that Energiewende is bad with endless sophistry.

        So I say: stop dissing Energiewende and start dissing German energy policy.

        • Mark

          A post on this blog called “CO2 Emissions – Who Are Europe’s “Dirty Men”?” shows Germany and how its poor performance has been. You could use this to answer question A.

          Further grid related emissions have not changed much since the period 1997-1999 to 2015. That is CO2 emissions from the grid have not changed much when going from a period of few renewables to a period of load of renewables. I wrote the post some time ago detailing the grid related stuff.

          • robertok06 says:

            “The majority of the emission declines were achieved during the first period. A modest decline was noted in the first year and all of this was due to reduced lignite”

            Well, in the peer-reviewed literature this effect is clearly explained by the fact that at very low penetrations RENs do have an effect on emission reductions, but that is quickly lost as soon as their penetration raises, different values for PVand wind, not combined penetration.
            Your blog/site/discussion is interesting, but, if I may suggest, you should add some graphs, to make it more quickly readable, to make the conclusions you want to make easier to understand.


  19. Colin MacDonald says:

    I’ve just added up the rated output of hydro stations in Scotland and get a figure of 1.5MW not 1 MW. I suspect 1MW is the average output, any output above that will tend to drain the reservoirs. All dependent on the top pumped storage reservoirs being “fully charged” of course, and probably only sustainable for about a day. In any case I’m not sure if an extra 0.5MW is enough to save us from civilizational collapse. Perhaps Torness and Hunterston will install manual overrides on their shutdown systems?
    We have quite a bit of new pumped storage planned, is this actually intended to provide cover in case one of our reactors trips? Will they be kept full in the winter months for this purpose?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      If you check UK grid graphed you’ll see that UK hydro rarely gets much above 1 GW even though there’s about 1.6 GW insatlled.

      And so that is why I say effective capacity. I imagine it comes down to all power stations can’t run at once and water availability. I can imagine a cascade effect, where one power station runs, releasing water to the next and so on.

      But the Scottish system is very conservative compared to Norway. We rarely see the water levels going up and down. In Norway they drain the magazines.

      So what pumped storage is planned? It is totally uneconomic to hold water in big reservoirs waiting for an emergency. The profitable pumped storage we have runs on the diurnal nuclear cycle.

  20. Pingback: One Step Closer to Blackouts –

  21. Leo Smith says:

    No, they modulate the reactor core. It screws up the fuel a bit.

  22. Electrical Engineer Richard Duncan, author of the Olduvai Theory, has the following to say on our electricity-based, industrial civilisation’: “Although all primary sources of energy are important, the Olduvai theory identifies electricity as the quintessential end-use energy of Industrial Civilization…The reliability of the electrical power networks is failing. And the instant the power goes out, you are back in the Dark Ages.”

  23. Pingback: One step closer to blackouts | windfarmaction

  24. Rob says:

    What disturbs me is we have we seem to be obsessed about not building 1 power station Hinkley Point but ignoring the rest of the grid. What amazes me is people genuinely believe we don’t need any new powers stations and can be replaced by efficiency batteries DSR & interconnectors

    Is there any signs that cancelling onshore wind and increased capacity payments may solve some of our problems and kick start new build power plants,

    • Leo Smith says:

      Why would anyone take a commercial risk when
      (a) your competitors are gettinggovernment guaranteed returns
      (b) the next government can pull the rug from under your feet?

  25. Ampere says:

    I can not explain to you why british gouernment does what it does – since it often remains a riddle to me too.
    If you feel like “dangling on the end of a 500 km power line” is not comforatble (I’d say you’re ricght if it’s just one or two power lines) I’d add power lines in 5-6 directions, and in the end 1500km long, so the interconnections are really redundant.
    E.g. Adding a double version of Icelink to your scenario would change the scenario a lot. (Iceland could add a lot of geothermal, Hydro and especially wind power, but has no good use for them now)
    A link like this additionally: a lot must happen to make dangeling uncomfortable.
    Having old power plants as reserves as operational museum would help, adding other low fix cost/high variable cost capacity too.
    Benefit of doing both (interconnectors + reserves) is you could help out other countries in case of troubles as well, at high payments per kWh.
    And still reduce CO2 output.
    But the question is to UK gouvernment. It’s less a engineering question.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Or we could just keep Longannet open and not have the problem at all. One plank of UK energy policy should be self sufficiency in electricity. Where is the advantage in developing an import dependancy?

      • robertok06 says:

        I think this is the only point on which I disagree with you, Euan:

        “Where is the advantage in developing an import dependancy?”


        “Electricity generation and health”, The Lancet, 2007

    • It doesn't add up... says:

      Icelink makes no economic sense at all. Iceland has found a far better way to export embedded electricity – via aluminium smelting.

      • Connect says:

        Well for Aluminum smelting you get a equivalent price of <2,5ct/kWh wholesale price, because you compete with the loctions with lowest possible electricity prices. If you build a power line from iceland to UK, you can ean the price diffencebetween both markets.
        A 1GW power line carying power the whole year earns 87,6 million € per year at full capacity, with a poerational life of 60 years. per cent price difference (without losses) – losses are counted as percentage of the lower price.
        Wholesale prices in UK are more than 1 ct/kWh above 2,5ct/kWh. Britned is earning good money although operating with the higher continenatal electricity prices.

        • It doesn't add up... says:

          The project cost is alleged to be £4bn, and expected export 5TWh/a. At 5% financing cost they’d need income of £211m p.a. to pay the project off over 60 years, before maintenance and operations costs. So they’d need a margin of over £40/MWh between UK and Iceland – more that the current UK wholesale price.

  26. Dave Ward says:

    “All internet, television and radio communications are down. Forget about the battery in your laptop since your WiFi router is switched off as is your local BT telecoms exchange”

    When I joined the PO Tel in the 70’s all medium to large exchanges had dedicated battery rooms, backup generators, and on-site engineers who tested them regularly. The small rural exchanges just had larger battery banks giving a minimum 24 hrs reserve. When things went digital each equipment rack was supplied by onboard PSU’s and sealed lead/acid batteries which were supposed to give an hours reserve. It wasn’t unknown for these to fall over as soon as they had to supply a load – even before the genny kicked in…. At the same time all the smaller exchanges had generators installed. However….staff cutbacks means there is less regular testing carried out, and an even smaller chance of a quick response if something fails in earnest.

    But, assuming things work as intended, the main telephone network should continue to function…..UNTIL the generators run out of fuel. The same should apply to major data centres – one near me has a row of containerised generators in the compound. As you’ve already pointed out, fuel pumps and distribution depots rely on electricity, so a week long blackout would probably be critical. What would actually have far more direct effect is our reliance on mobile communications. The typical street corner mobile phone mast is powered by the local mains, and only has battery back-up – no generator. These would (I suspect) start failing within 24/48 hrs, and would remain out of action until power was restored. The same applies to new generation “Fibre” broadband, which also relies on street corner cabinets, again with only battery back up. You might want to bear this in mind before you sign up for “Superfast” broadband! There is a lot to be said for an ordinary ADSL line and a simple telephone – i.e. NOT cordless (which also need the mains to work). Most domestic routers run off 12 volt PSU’s, and I already have a suitable lead and portable battery to keep mine going if the mains fails. Combine that with a car charging lead for your smart phone or tablet, and some degree of communication should be possible for several days.

    If things haven’t been restored within a week, I think surfing the net is likely to be the least of your problems…

    • It doesn't add up... says:

      I presume that those who have a battery powered radio might still be able to get 1500 LW and SW radio bands even if FM and DAB transmissions cease.

      • Dave Ward says:

        If the relevant transmitters have emergency generators, yes. I imagine that most UK sites will only have limited backup power – so they would not be able to run all services, and those probably not at full power, either. And there might be little or no programming available if the studios were also down. However, many overseas shortwave broadcasts originate from relay sites which ONLY have diesel power – usually because the location doesn’t have sufficient, or reliable mains supplies. It would be an interesting situation if the only source of news about problems in the UK was from a foreign broadcaster – that is, assuming they were able to get information in the first place! Also, bear in mind that Radio Amateurs are usually the the first to provide communications after a major disaster – this is accepted by many governments worldwide. As I said above – it’s all very well throwing out “old tech”, but such equipment will often find a new lease of life in an emergency. Time to dig out my old CB radios…

    • Alex says:

      In Germany – and soon in the UK? the trend is to have VOIP phones that plug into the router. You don’t have to worry about cordless power, as the router is out anyway.

  27. Grant says:


    One of the points you did not stress in the list of “things to do” was “Store tinned food.” I’m assuming, of course, that one lives in a place with some spare capacity to store a reasonable amount of food. Probably most small new builds do not.

    Make sure it is the sort of food that can be eaten cold out of the tin. Cooking and washing facilities may well be compromised.

    A decent supply of Damart clothing might be advisable for winter concerns. Also candles, although the H&S officers may not allow them on the basis of fire risk – something that could become a rather major issue if many other utility services are not operational.

    Having an extended total power failure would be an interesting experiment but I would prefer to observe it from afar rather than be a participant.

  28. Olav says:

    This winter I was without electricity for 36 hours due to flooding which also made the road unusable.
    The Internet on mobile phones worked as long as the battery held, then by husbanding the laptop batteries I held the mobile phone working for the event. 36 hours was not long enough to make the freezer content unusable. Actually no real harm from this thanks to the wood stove that kept the house warm. Without that I would have to move over the hills..Being without electricity was inconvenient but compared with having the living room flooded by 3 feet of water which a neighbor had it was nothing, and that happens every year in UK.

  29. nukie says:

    With a efficiency of 37% This power station has a severe problem in competition – it consumes a significant higher amount of coal per kWh (about 20-25%) than a typical hard coal plant in the market (continental Europe especially), only the oldest lignite plants have higher emissions per kWh – but those get their fuel for a small fraction of the hard coal costs, and are mothballed most of the year, too. (And are about to go out of service in the next years).
    Also as it seems, the plant does not have it’s own harbour, like most competing plants I have in mind, which increases transportation costs and deceses competitiveness even more.
    I guess it were these points, instead of the grid costs which kill the plant as baseload / middle load-Plant.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Longannet was a mine mouth power plant, i.e. it was built by the coal mine which flooded some years ago. So I have no objections per say to a planned a scheduled closure of the plant for the right reasons and if a sensible alternative was planned. But in the current Green market, no one is going to build new FF plant in the UK and we seem incapable of building new nuclear. This is the fault of government in both Westminster and Hollyrood. They need to get this situation sorted fast.

      • Rob says:

        Is there any solution besides the obvious stop building offshore wind.

      • Rob says:

        Greens genuinely believe we don’t need new power stations See attached Carbon brief

        I wonder how likely power cuts are we always seem to scrape through

      • nukie says:

        Thats not a special green problem, since the same would happen with other colour of politics too, it’s a UK gouvernment problem, which is not green so far.
        The problem is you’d neet to have the plant mothballed with 48h to start operation untill grid connections are strong enough for any case, or other measures are in place. So colour independent some reasonable politics. For this Longannet is still useable for some years.

        Nuclear is not wat you want to have to restart a grid due to the Xenon posening. (Someone else mentionened this also above), otherwise they would be capable of blackstarting with their emergency diesel fleet.
        Hydropower in Scotland cold black start, but it is not stron enough by itself, and would need other generators to start.
        Wind can be equipped for black start – like hydropower, a battery or a small diesel is enough to keep control online and turn the systeim into the wind. Both only if Wind/Water is present. And both need to be ordered in this way (Again a querstion for the gouvernment, since private companys will not do this since it includes extra costs. Moderate, but extra.
        Modern HVDC-Connecors ar black start capable. So with Icelink or the Scottland-Norway connector there would be about 1,4 GW available to black start the grid again. They aleo need to be ordered with this fuctionality (-> Gouvernment). Since they can operate in all 4 Quadrants they are much better to handle to restart a grid than AC-connections to restart a grid.

        • Andy Dawson says:

          “Wind can be equipped for black start – like hydropower, a battery or a small diesel is enough to keep control online and turn the systeim into the wind. Both only if Wind/Water is present. And both need to be ordered in this way (Again a querstion for the gouvernment, since private companys will not do this since it includes extra costs. Moderate, but extra.”

          That’s highly unlikely – something like a 3MW wind turbine would need 12MW or so online to maintain stability as part of a black-start. You’d need a hefty diesel to provide that – and there’s an obvious issue with using batteries. Any thoughts what it is (see below)

          Building from black start using large numbers of individual small capacity units – like wind turbines – would be an extremely slow process – that’s leaving aside the fact that wind turbines themselves are poor frequency regulators, and hence the last thing you’d use for black start where the whole point is providing a stable frequency to which other units can synchronise.

          (as to why you don’t use batteries…..have a think. The whole point of black start is AC synchronisation. Synchronising to DC is something of a non-sequitur. I suspect you don’t quite understand what happens in a black start, or any synchronisation process…?)

          • nukie says:

            Not with a modern generation 4 Wind turbine. Which can produce any siglal frequency and form as you want, depending on the low voltage comparison signal you give the inverter.
            In stndard installation the signal comes directly from the grid (milliwatt), and the inverter replicates the grid (Megawatt)
            If you give the same system a 50Hz signal from a battery powered signal generator, it provides the grid with this frequency, if you use 60Hz (US) or 16 2/3 Hz (Railroad frequency) sinus, you get this in your grid, if you use Beethovens 5th synphony as input, you get a very low pass, but several MW stron (given enough wind) version of Beethoven in the grid (whatever the use of this would be). It’s the same with the modern HVDC-Systems.
            So from the signal side the inverter can hold the 50Hz as stiff as you want, or adopt to loads and frequency losses as it is required, it’s a question of the control software which produces the reference signal.

            Second point is the energy the system can provide to the grid in case of low frequency or short circuits.
            Here the wind turbine (G4) can provide the available wind power+ rotational energy of turbine and synchronus generator.
            The later to a higher degree than a usual synchronus generator – in case of a frequency drop from 50 to 49 Hz a usual synchronus generator can just provide the difference in rotational energy (ca. 2%) to the grid, the inverter can make the frequency of synchronus generator and turbine drop by 10 and more %, so provide more energy to the grid.
            But there are also limits. The inverter semiconductors are designed for a certain maximum current. The maximum currents are usually lower than tose of a similar synchronus generator of the same size (copper windings) for a short time. This does not matter with a big fleet of generators in the grid
            (Example: if you have a fleet of 50GW Wind power Gen4 with the grid stabilizing features, and they can each just provide 10-20% extra output in W, and operate at the moment at 30GW output, they could increase output for some seconds to 55-60GW, wnich is enough for immediate response.) To black start a grid you might want to have inverters whoch can provide more extra current. (So it is a question how you order them) .

            About bringing many small generators back online – this is not done manually one by one, but by software, and accordingly fast (they re-synchronise themselves as soon as grid is present) how this is done on system level you can ask companies like PSI.

            Nevertheless this does not help when there is no wind present.

  30. Lars says:

    You should look at it with a positive twist. A few days with blackouts in Scotland would assure a baby boom 9 months later. A few thousand extra Low- and Highlanders would benefit both Scotland and the UK.

  31. Steve says:


    Perhaps a little alarmist – but only a little. The consequences of a prolonged power outage were (and are) fully considered as part of the UK Black Start plans [for example see major study produced around 2007].
    Land line telephones should continue to work for at least an hour, but that is of no use if you have walkabout phones at home, as the base station that plugs into BT needs mains power.

    The key message is to look out for vulnerable neighbours etc

    Ref knowing what is going on – car radios will continue to work. If you know that the risk of a blackout is high it may also be worth downloading some comedy shows from BBC I-player onto laptops and phones. That way you can snuggle under a warm duvet for a few hours (in between sleeping).

    It may not be worth getting a generator – if you recall the BBC drama a few years back, having a lighted house, served only to attract less desirables to share or steal from those with forethought!

  32. Peggy says:

    I can see a new word entering the lexicon: greenout. It’s the new blackout.

    Instead of relying on your furnace, you can now bask in the warmth of your conviction that you saved the planet.

  33. John Lyon says:

    One other point, the wind turbines need energy to keep themselves cosy, ten essential functions apparently from rotating to keep the bearings okay, the blades free of ice and the lubricant’s fit for use. Some will have diesel backup but if they don’t, will they work after being frozen up!

  34. gweberbv says:


    maybe you are interested in this:
    In particular figure 8.

  35. Pingback: What Energy Policy | windfarmaction

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