The European Blackout Risk

At 2000 hours Central European Time on February 8, 2012 combined electricity demand in the UK, France and Germany peaked at a high of 231GW during a winter cold snap. This caused no serious problems at the time, but the UK, France and Germany could have a combined total of as little as 210GW of capacity on-line this winter, and if another 231GW demand peak coincides with 210GW of available capacity the alternatives will be either large-scale “demand side” management (i.e. paying lots of industries and businesses to shut down) or blackouts.

In this post we will look at how these conclusions were arrived at and also at some of the uncertainties that make it so hard to predict blackout risks. The chief uncertainties in this case are a) how cold might it get, b) will the wind be blowing when and if it does get cold, c) how much of the French nuclear fleet will be down for inspection at the time and d) how many French households will turn their electric heaters up to “high”, as many of them did in 2012.


The February 8, 2012 demand peak is used as the base-case (although it’s probably a worst-case) demand scenario in this post. Figure 1 plots electricity demand in the UK, France and Germany and the sum of the three from February 5 through February 12, 2012. The data used are hourly readings from the P-F. Bach data set:

Figure 1: Electricity demand, UK, France and Germany, February 5 through 8, 2012. UK data are shifted to match Central European time.

The three demand curves have very similar shapes and peak within an hour of each other. French demand was, however, about twice as high as UK demand and about 50% higher than German demand, with the reason being that French homes are heated by electricity rather than gas and the French like to stay warm. As shown in Figure 2, electric heating came close to doubling French demand at the height of the February 2012 cold snap:

Figure 2: The contribution of electric home heating (purple) to French electricity demand, September 2011 through August 2012, daily averages. Image from Renewables International


The best estimates of current installed capacity I have been able to come up with are summarized in Table 1. There are some uncertainties related to these estimates because different sources sometimes disagree as to what the current installed capacity is. There are also some questions as to exactly what category a particular generation source fits into. (Trying to reconcile the entries in Table 5.6 of the latest BEIS summary , which contains three separate tables and ten explanatory footnotes, was particularly challenging – so challenging in fact that I decided not to use them.)

* Total installed nuclear capacity is 63,130MW
** Sum of conventional + run-of-river + pumped
** * 2012 estimate

Data sources for Table 1 were:

Capacity is segregated into dispatchable and non-dispatchable categories. Dispatchable power is sent to the grid when the grid needs it. Non-dispatchable power is sent to the grid when the wind blows or the sun shines or the tide flows whether the grid needs it or not. Interconnector capacity is provisionally classified as non-dispatchable because there won’t be enough of it to go round if there is a 231GW demand peak this winter. Germany will  have a substantial surplus, but because of limited interconnector capacity it won’t be able to export enough power to France and UK to make any significant difference to their power deficits, as discussed later in the section on Derated Capacity.

The “Capacity reserve” includes idled power plants and other generation sources such as diesel peakers that have been contracted to supply emergency power during high-demand periods when on-grid resources can’t generate enough power to meet load. A “capacity market” is already in place in the UK. France has recently enacted capacity market legislation and but so far as I know has yet to contract any capacity. Germany has passed enabling legislation for a future “power market”, which is supposed to be different to a capacity market but which appears to amount to the same thing. (Capacity markets are a good indicator of how vulnerable a country’s grid is. The UK enacted one when it became clear that fossil fuel and nuclear plant closures had left the country with an inadequate reserve margin. France recently concluded “that without the capacity mechanism the uninterrupted supply of electricity could no longer be guaranteed if France faced extreme winter conditions”. Germany has no immediate reserve margin problems (except in Southern Germany, as discussed later) but foresees, correctly, that it will have when it begins to phase out its lignite and nuclear plants. Germany’s plan in fact contemplates that the phased-out lignite plants will be transferred to an “emergency reserve” that will “ensure efficient power station operation at a time when more and more renewables are entering the electricity market, and to ensure security of supply.”)

When both dispatchable and non-dispatchable generation are summed total capacity handily exceeds February 2012 peak demand in the UK and France and exceeds it by a factor of almost three in Germany. But only Germany has enough dispatchable capacity to cover the 231GW 2012 peak demand, were it to recur this winter. The UK would need a ~2MW contribution from intermittent wind and solar to see it through and France would need a ~15MW contribution – always provided that all the available dispatchable capacity is generating at 100% at the time. Which brings us to the question of “derated” capacity.


Dispatchable generation:

A plant that generates dispatchable power can deliver it to the grid as and when required provided it’s not down for scheduled maintenance or because of an unscheduled outage. Consequently we have to make an estimate of the percentage of the time the plant will be in service and “derate” its capacity accordingly.

The derating factors the UK National Grid applied to dispatchable generation sources in 2014 are in the low 80% to low 90% range (Figure 3). The two-decimal-place precision is, however, going a little far, and the 81.39% derating factor for nuclear seems a little harsh. After consideration I concluded that the 85% across-the-board factor Euan Mearns used in the post linked to earlier was as realistic as anything, so I used it too.

Figure 3: Derating factors used by National Grid, June 2014

Intermittent generation – solar:

This is an easy one. Winter peak load in the UK, Germany and France occurs after the sun has set. The derating factor for solar capacity is therefore zero.

Intermittent generation – wind:

Since the wind can blow at any time at any strength a probabilistic approach is needed to establish a derating factor. A detailed loss-of-load expectation assessment would have taken too long, so I used the following relatively crude approach:

  • Download the P-F Bach hourly wind and load data for the UK, Germany and France for the three winter months (December, January, February) in the years 2011 to 2015.
  • Extract wind generation data at the time of daily peak demand (yielding 450 individual numbers).
  • Convert wind generation to a percent capacity factor by dividing it by installed wind capacity in the relevant year using installed capacity data from Wikipedia .
  • Order the capacity factors at peak demand from low to high and plot them against the percentage of readings.

An example of output is provided in Figure 4, which plots wind capacity factors at peak demand for the UK, France and Germany by year:

Figure 4: Wind capacity factors at peak winter demand by year, country and percent of samples, 2011-2015 data

Figure 4 shows a few curious features, such as the anomalously low UK capacity factors in 2011. These are likely a result of inaccuracies in the installed wind capacity estimates. As shown on Table 2 the overall results are reasonable:

Combining the results for all three countries and all five years of observations yields the plot shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Average wind capacity factors at peak winter demand derived from Figure 4 data

The question of how to convert this plot into a derating factor now arises. Figure 5 tells us, for example, that wind delivers power at a capacity factor of 22% or more for half the time, but we are clearly going to need a probability of better than 50-50 when the security of the nation’s electricity supply is at stake. But how much better? In the absence of an obvious answer I chose 85%, the percentage by which dispatchable capacity is derated. As shown in Figure 6 the 15% ordinate on Figure 5, above which 85% of the data occurs, corresponds to a capacity factor of 8%. Accordingly I have used 8% as the derating factor for wind in all three countries.

Figure 6: Estimation of wind derating factor


Interconnectors flows are not assigned a derating factor but are distributed between Germany, France and the UK as discussed below.


We are now in a position to apply derating factors to the installed capacity numbers listed in Table 1. The results are shown in Table 3:

After capacities are derated Germany has a generation surplus of 19.6GW relative to 2012 peak demand while the UK has an 8.8GW deficit and France a massive 28.3GW deficit. Table 3 does not include interconnector flows, but including them makes no significant difference (Table 4). Germany can  export only 2,400 MW to France through the France-Germany interconnector because that’s all the interconnector can handle, and it can wheel only 1,000MW to UK through the UK-Netherlands BritNed interconnector for the same reason. As shown in Table 4 this leaves France, and to a lesser extent the UK, still deep in the red:


It’s impossible to say. The first requirement would be an unusually cold winter, and the way the polar jet stream is beginning to gyrate it’s possible Europe will have one. On the other hand it’s possible Europe will have an unusually mild one depending on where the jet stream finally decides to park itself. The second requirement is a coincidence of unusually cold weather with light winds, which sometimes happens and sometimes does not. Third, a significant fraction of the French nuclear fleet would have to be out of service, which it may or may not be when the cold weather hits – if it does. And fourth, if cold weather does hit then French families and businesses must adjust their electric heater thermostats upwards with the same gay abandon as they exhibited in February 2012.

Another wild card is demand side response, which at the moment consists of governments paying industries and businesses to shut down during potential power shortfalls. I haven’t figured DSR into the equation here, but it could make a difference. Getting paid to shut down when the alternative is to be shut down by a blackout without getting paid anything is an attractive business proposition.

Another question is whether surrounding countries could ride to the rescue. A quantitative assessment is not possible without detailed information on winter interconnector flows, but annual interconnector flows suggest that a cessation of exports from France and Germany could spell disaster for much of the rest of Europe. Figure 7, reproduced from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E)
shows how Germany and France, with combined net exports of 116TWh in 2015 – about equal to the annual electricity consumption of the Netherlands – dominate the European power export market, and how most neighboring countries depend on power imports to meet domestic demand. (Italy, with 46.4 TWh of imports, is particularly import-dependent, as to a lesser extent are Belgium and the UK. As I noted in this comment on the recent “France’s nuclear crisis“ post 3MW of French exports to Italy has become 2MW of Italian exports to France since France’s nuclear plants began to go off line in June):

Figure 7: Net electricity import-export balances by country, Europe, 2015

Yet another factor not considered is that Germany is effectively two countries from the energy security standpoint – Northern Germany, which has a power surplus, and Southern Germany, which according to the German Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post, and Railways “can expect a potential negative balance of up to 5,717 MW by 2018”. This negative balance is a result of post-Fukushima nuclear plant shutdowns, further planned plant shutdowns and inadequate transmission links with Northern Germany.

So will the lights go out somewhere this winter? The chances are against it. But if France does black out during severe weather/low wind conditions there could be a ripple effect that causes power outages over a larger area. And if worse comes to worst, which is a possibility that can’t be totally discounted, the question of how long it it would take to black-start much of Western Europe will rear its ugly head.

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66 Responses to The European Blackout Risk

  1. Peter Lang says:

    The best thing that could happen for the world would be for a massive blackout across EU. Second best would be a massive blackout in Germany, triggering a wake up call to the world. Then, together with Donald Trump, the world could become enlightened to the risks of renewable energy and PC correctness. We might even enter Enlightenment Period II – replace the PC Priests, with evidence based decision making. Wouldn’t that be a re-enlightenment!

    • So we move from the Holocene to the Anthropocene to the Trumpocene to the Blackoutocene and back to the Holocene again. Sounds good to me 😉

    • Greg Kaan says:

      Sadly, I have to agree. The South Australian experience seems not to have been disruptive enough to shake the general public’s faith in the projections provided by the armchair analysts who average out demand and non-dispatchable, renewable generation figures and tell us everything is fine.

      The grid engineers in South Australia, Germany, California and the UK have been too competent in managing the issues caused by non-dispatchable, renewable generation. The irony is that the more effectively they manage the intermittency, the more renewable generation gets deployed, exacerbating the situations.

      Australia is lucky in that our peak demands tend to occur in the summer. Europe will experience many more casualties in the event of an extended blackout during the bitter cold period that is likely to trigger the event.

    • GeoffM says:

      Peter, I fear that a big blackout will make no difference as the “green” propaganda machine will demonize further the traditional power stations which (no doubt) would precipitate such a black out due to unplanned shutdowns of decrepit plant which have had little investment.
      The 19th govt survey published around 27/10/2016 states that support for renewables was 79%, and just 1% strongly opposed them. The 1% probably consists of most of us readers of these blogs which tell the inconvenient truth about renewables, people who gain employment from the coal industry and some Telegraph/Mail/Express readers. A blackout may change those figures to 78% and 2% respectively, or the 79% could change to 89% if the propaganda is effective enough.
      The public should be being educated about the truth, but my wife who works in a primary school says that there is no shortage of pictures of wind turbines on the walls drawn by the kids.

  2. Alex says:

    Looking at France – they could make a huge positive environmental impact with a program to replace resistance heaters with heat pumps and perhaps more gas. That would lead to a significant reduction in French demand, meaning more clean electricity for dirtier neighbouring countries.

    “Capacity markets are a good indicator of how vulnerable a country’s grid is.”

    In the old days, when a grid bought electricity from a coal or gas plant, it came with the capacity free of charge. “(Firm) Capacity” and “Energy” were bundled together. With renewables, that is no longer the case. They are unbundled – and once renewables reach about 10%, this unbundling is forced upon the entire market. The grid – and soon perhaps consumers – will have to buy the two separately.

    (No bad thing – most mobile phones are unbundled: Phone and SIM card bought separately, unlike a decade or two ago when it was bundled into one contract).

    • steve says:

      My French neighbours tell me that their heat pump/ reverse air con units just do not work during cold spell, particularly during January. Then they turn on the gas and leccy. I use bottled gas and parafin.

      • Roger Boyd says:

        The whole of Quebec, Canada use electric heat pumps (very cheap hydro-electricity) and their winters are quite a bit worse than the French ones.

    • Greg Kaan says:

      And how quickly can the heat pumps be rolled about to supplement the resistance heaters (and who pays for them)?

    • robertok06 says:

      ‘Looking at France – they could make a huge positive environmental impact with a program to replace resistance heaters with heat pumps and perhaps more gas. ‘

      I can’t see how émissions could bé reduced by substitution 100% CO2-free résistance heaters with gas furnaces or HPs which need noCO2-free backup when thé external température drops.
      Please explain thé logic and physics rationale behind such à bizarre statement.

  3. depriv says:

    I hope it’ll be South-Germany, not France.
    France is not shameless in this, but this situation is mostly comes from Germany.
    In case it’ll be France then the root cause will be covered up fast and nothing will change.

  4. Serphin says:

    Note that the Swiss import-export ‘balance’ is a slightly special case. Mostly buying up ‘cheap’ excess French & German production, stocking it in pumped storage then selling to Italy.

    Interesting stats here:

    Of course they could HEAVILY screw this all up on Sunday if they vote to hara-kiri like the Germans….

    • singletonengineer says:

      Hara-kiri = shutdown of perfectly useful emissions free nuclear.

      Germany’s reliance on 42GW of coal+lignite capacity (see Table 3 above) is a clear indication of how far their current energy change program actually means “more of the same”.

      • Serphin says:

        @singletonengineer, thanks for explaining. In the end it got voted down. Very fortunate that Switzerland has regular referenda and doesn’t have the protest vote problem.
        The next step will be continuing to educate the public and maybe, just maybe, managing to get new capacity built.

        • singletonengineer says:

          Hi, Serphin.

          It seems that the Swiss, who have used participatory democracy for decades, are much better disciplined than many other voters. It is a cause of personal frustration that many voters in Australia (and elsewhere?) seem to think that single issue and protest votes are more valuable than simply voting for the best available package/option.

          In like manner, and I am no NRA advocate, but Switzerland isn’t recognised globally as a country with extreme gun-crime statistics, although I seem to have heard somewhere that the majority have received military training and keep their weapons at home. I might be wrong on that – hearsay does wonderful things to the truth.

  5. climanrecon says:

    A critical factor is the timing of cold spells, there are many weekends (now including Fridays to a certain extent), public and school holidays in a European winter, and many cold spells fall on those reduced demand days. We should give thanks to the pagans, whose winter festival became Christmas.

    Another critical factor is the extent to which wind zealots have control of academia and the transmission operators (both of which make a lot of money out of wind), they tend to produce very favourable estimates for “capacity credit” of wind power, a concept that is only now being tested.

    • Javier says:

      Christmas origin is not in pagan festivals. According to the ancient Jewish belief in the perfect life of the prophets, they were born and died on the same day of the year (Moses was born and died the 6th of Adar according to Talmud). In the third century Christians wrongly believed that Jesus had died on March the 25th, which made sense to them as it was the vernal equinox at the time, the date when the Universe was created by God. Since Jesus came to the world at his conception, not at his birth, He was thought to have been conceived the day of his death, and therefore the 25 of March was chosen as the Annunciation festivity. It follows that Jesus must have been born 9 months later, on the 25th of September, which was the solstice, so it all made perfect sense to them. Regretfully they had the date of Jesus death wrong, but that is a detail.

      This theory is supported by the writings of Hippolytus of Rome in the year 224 AD, while emperor Aurelian didn’t designate the 25 of December as the Sol Invictus festival until 274 AD, perhaps trying to take the wind out of the sails of that little bothersome heretic sect.

  6. Euan

    I have just checked the dates and we did have demand side management on that date. During a triad call, we aim to export electricity by shutting down facilities (particularly rolling mill) and increasing power generation beyond what we require.

    We had triad calls (normally 30 minutes) at
    06/2 15:30 till 20:00
    07/2 14:30 till 21:00
    08/2 15:30 till 20:00 with a requested drop in power impost of 20 MW (halved) for the entire day
    09/2 03:00 till 06:00

    Our friends at Timet Swansea had similar. Large scale demand management was already occurring. It may not save us this time.

  7. Lars says:

    Roger, french gas power seems a bit too low at 6121 MW installed capacity? Looking at Gridwatch France right now they produce more than 8 GW which also aligns well with RTE`s Ecomix web site.

    On Ecomix I also checked French generation at 7 pm (which seems to be the French peak not 8 pm) for the 8th of February 2012.

    Nuclear 59519
    Hydro 14113
    Gas 7994
    Coal 5201
    Oil 5477
    Bio 642
    Wind 1754
    Solar 0
    Pumping -2

    = 94698 own generation
    + imports 7399

    = 102097 MW total supply

    Where did the imports come from?

    Germany-Belgium 4352
    UK 2000
    Spain 1000
    Italy 840
    Switzerland 68

    A few observations.

    1) Almost half of French coal power has closed since 2012, gas and oil remained stable.

    2) Wind power looked fairly good with a much lower installed capacity then.

    3) Around 14-15 GW seems to be the limit for French hydro. The remaining capacity (10 GW appr.) is probably run of river with none to very little production in winter.

    4) Imports from Switzerland were very low during peak hours, but possibly Swiss hydro was the last reserve resort in case of a big generator failure.

    • gweberbv says:


      the additional interconnector between Spain and France should allow now for a total capacity of 3 GW (if Spain can supply it). This might turn out to be a crucial improvement compared to the situation in 2012.

      • Lars says:

        Gweberbv, yes but this extra interconnector capacity only replaces the lost coal since 2012, and as you say; “if Spain can supply it”.

        I checked Spanish consumption/production for the same date. All you “southerners” seem to favour preparing a hot meal around 7-8 pm, Spain is no exception. At that hour they produced very close to 8 GW wind, so it was easy for them I presume to top up the French grid with 1 GW with hydro/pumped hydro between 7 and 8 pm. They also sent a few hundred MWs to Portugal at the same time. The question is how big their margins are without that amount of wind power.

    • Lars: 6,121MW of gas capacity does seem low and probably is. But it’s what the RTE website says is there:


      Note also the ridiculously low wind and solar capacities. Why are they so low? Because RTE excludes facilities that receive feed-in tariffs (!).

      The hardest thing about writing posts like this isn’t figuring out what the data mean, it’s finding reliable data to begin with.

      • gweberbv says:


        look at the document I linked below. There you should find (hopefully) reliable data on the capacities in several European countries.

      • robertok06 says:

        ‘Note also the ridiculously low wind and solar capacities. Why are they so low? Because RTE excludes facilities that receive feed-in tariffs (!).’

        No. RTE doesn’t exclude them, maybe in the table you’ve copied, but on their instantaneous production data, eco2mix, they clearly show the full PV production:

        right now, 15:00, they show a bit less of the max production of 2023 MW earlier at 13:00. What shamefull is wind production, at less than 1 GW… and they are exporting almost 7 GW right now.
        They are exporting to Spain, Italy, Switzerland and UK, 8.8 GW, while importing 3 GW from Belgium/Germany.
        The German page shows a virtually NIL production from both wind AND PV… less than 5 GW combined… this means that they are probably still running their coal/lignite power stations high… nice from the environment and health, right?


  8. confused mike says:

    is the data available to do the same probability analysis as the derating of wind on France, UK and German daily power demand over, say, the last five years during the winter quarter (1 Dec to 28/29 Feb)?
    This could allow us to see the [probability] risk of the power short fall – the 231 GW is the extreme peak and by this analysis would cause extreme problems. How many time have the sum of the nations demand hit the 213 GW ( 2016 capacity) or 210 GW (2016 capacity less interconnector flows) since this will cause hiccups at least somewhere.

  9. Leo Smith says:

    A couple of points.

    ‘Derating factors’ is usually known as I recall as ‘availability’ – that is the time the plant is actually available for generation, and represents the maximum capacity factor it could achieve. Of course if its throttled back or not online because its not needed, the value is less..

    Don’t trust DUKES. Not on wind capacity factors. No way. The government and renewable energy sources have consistently claimed capacity factors is in mid to high 30% area. BM reports actual data when analysed shows a capacity factor across a broad mix of onshore and offshore of 21%-27%, depending on the windiness of the year.

    How DUKES arrives at the figures it does, is something that bears investigation. I THINK it is the output of a ‘model’ of turbines and wind speeds. And doesn’t take into account the fact that in any given windfarm its usual to see 20% of te turbines out of action pending maintenance, and that the turbine efficiencies in close packed parks are way less than the theoretical of one turbine in an completely open space…

    • Alex says:

      Capacity factors are not the same as availability. UK wind seems to average about 30% CF, compared with Germany onshore of about 18%.

      What percent of the wind capacity can you absolutely rely on when you need it?

      Incidentally, forced outage rates for US PWRs are 1-4%:

      Perhaps modern PWRs can have a derating of 95%.

      • Leo Smith says:

        Capacity factors are a mixture of availability and how hard the generator is running when available.

        For nuclear, the two are practically synonomous.

        But anyway, that’s a side issue: the issue is that wind farms connected to meters do not produce anything like the electricity that DUKES claims they do.

        This has been known since Stuart Young’s report* some years back, and the gridwatch data from BM reports confirms it.


  10. brianrlcatt says:

    The round number answer is 30% onshore and 40% offshore, per UK DUKES statistics. See section 6.5 page 193. You can say 1/3 for wind and renewables overall in the UK, pulled up by the MAXIMUM CARBON wood burning 24/7 at DRAX. That’l take care of getting our CO2 emissions up to muster, emitting more “renewable” CO2 than coal per KWh at twice the price with ROCs, by law. Government at work. Did you ever see a more blatant legalised extortion racket enacted by the state – in peacetime? The sky is falling! Burn more wood………..

    The answer is clear, at the macro level, every watt of renewable capacity must be matched by fossil host on the grid. Per EoN. Peak offsets are all that interconnects and storeage are for when enrgy must be used as generated. Also, w/o it’s fossil host on the grid the whole subsidy parasite population is pointless w/o its “expensive offset” excuse to exist …….. unless overgeneration and storage is viable. Where else does the energy come from during a protracted High? A wire under the sea that costs as much per GW capacity for a cable as a whole CCGT power station on our grid? etc. And the choice is ? (Ans. In this wholly corrupt environment what gets built is what harvests the most subsidy payments and CAPEX spending for elelctrical engineering businesses, generators and operators per unit enrgy).

    I know what makes more sense to me as physicist, electrical engineer and businessman. Sadly that is the last thing that is cosidered, if it is at all. POINT: I thought security of supply was supposed to be a key measure. Like zero carbon? The generation science denying delusionals and PC priests soon forget that when the best solution to energy policy goals on the physics becomes apparent. Gas then nuclear. Nothing else in the UK. Maybe CCS coal out of respect to DMcK

    nb: In fact, in the spirit of David MacKay’s enlightened envelope back, I have done another sum.

    One week’s UK supply of 6.4TWH (330TWh pa) would require 11 Billion car batteries of 50AH/600wh at £60 each retail. The maths tells the story. You can build a lot of low carbon clean CCGT and zero carbon nuclear for £660Billion, which you also have to replace every 3 years or so, BTW.

    PS: Oh, and 6.4TWh is about half the price in Tesla Firewalls at $4,500 for 85 KWh, about £330 Billion per battery change. Save that for the next speaker of Bad Science (BS) you meet.

    While I’m here – also the idea that Mobile phones could assist the grid as backup storage, per David’ last interview on You Tube, or being switched off to “save energy”. Say @ 5Wh per, even though the biggest are currently c.3.6Wh. Say 50 Million, so 250MWh if fully charge charged. I make that 24secs of average grid load. You? Do the maths. Adding in their shiny fondle slabs won’t help much. Electronics are not about high power or energy, they use electricity and elctromagnetism as an information transfer medium, not a way to deliver serious mechanical work or heat. But that’s only the physics, and environmentalsts prefer to deny the inconvenient truths of the science essential to generating the erngy that maintains our developed economic status.

    I could go on….

    • Leo Smith says:

      Prezactly. These are all what I call ‘cosmetic’ solutions. Understanding that Greens and those of a Left persuasion are of that persuasion largely because they Don’t Do Sums, and they posses the superior quality of ’emotional intelligence’ which gives their opinions the weight of infallibility, the political class simply make up stuff that superficially looks like a solution.

      If they can get someone else to pay, what’s not to like? They get to stay in power supported by Green votes, and it doesn’t cost them a dime. That was Blair’s Genius. How to turn legislation into taxation without representation, by mandating that someone else (electricity companies) should be required to do it, rather than the government, and then blaming them for price hikes!

      • singletonengineer says:

        They are not solutions, cosmetic or otherwise.

        At best, they are window dressing.

        At worst, they are lies, spin and BS.

    • robertok06 says:

      ‘DRAX. That’l take care of getting our CO2 emissions up to muster, emitting more “renewable” CO2 than coal per KWh at twice the price with ROCs, by law. Government at work. ‘

      And that’s not all!… look at this:

      Isn’t it great? Pristine forests felled to please the “green” anti-nuclear intelligentsia.
      Demential to say the least.

  11. Pingback: The European Blackout Risk | NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT

  12. It’s always a good idea to compare one’s estimates with an independent source, and probably the most authoritative source in this case is ENTSO-E, which publishes detailed winter and summer outlooks that give weekly assessments of the power supply and demand situation in European countries (link below). ENTSO doesn’t seem to have published its 2016/17 winter outlook yet, but here are its worst-case “severe weather” estimates for the winter weeks of 2015/16 in the UK, France and Germany:

    UK: Peak load 54.1MW, available capacity 53.2MW, deficit 0.9MW
    France: Peak load 96.7MW, available capacity 90.7MW, deficit 6.0MW
    Germany: Peak load 77.7MW, available capacity 85.1MW, surplus 7.4MW

    ENTSO’s numbers for the UK and France are comparable to mine when we allow for the retirement during 2016 of ~4MW of fossil capacity in UK and ~2GW of coal capacity and ~18GW of nuclear (down for inspection) in France. However, ENTSO shows a much smaller surplus in Germany than I do because it identifies only 85.1MW of available capacity while I identify 93.6MW. Does anyone have any insights as to where the missing 8.5MW might have gone?

    • gweberbv says:


      there is only 22 GW of natural gas plants in operation at the moment in Germany. 2 GW are on ‘preliminary’ shutdown. 3 GW are not operating in the market but are required to stay online for emergency situations by the federal grid agency. The same is true for 1.5 GW of hard coal and oil plants. Assuming that ENTSO takes into account only the capacity ‘in the market’, this explains most of the difference.


      • Thanks Guenther. That could explain it.

        • OpenSourceElectricity says:

          There are grid capacities between France and Germany via Luxembourg, Netherlands/belgium and swizerland (and a few 100MW via Austria/Italy.
          As far as I have read Italy added some capacity so it can produce more than maximum demand, since this is mostly gas powerd plants they dont run when power prices in europe are low, and are just switched on at high prices, allowing Italy to power itself and export a tiny bit.
          In germany several bigger Industrial power plants do not show up in the statistic, but come online when prices are good (combined generation etc).
          Be aware that capacities of grids nearly double if you allow n-1 violations sometimes – causing the grid stability to diminish, but it avoids blackouts when neccesary and no other fault happens.

  13. ristvan says:

    in my opinion excellent analysis. The EU country most at risk is likely the UK, for three reasons. 1. Most islanded (pun intended) with French interconnectors downgraded by their nuclear safety shutdown inspections. 2. Least true spinning reserve providing grid inertia (the SA problem) thanks to many recent ~ end of life coal shutdowns. 3. An inane ‘reserve capacity’ National Grid scheme cobbled together from remnants of the Emporer’s New Clothes.

    • Greg Kaan says:

      Can Scotland be islanded off from the rest of the UK (sorry Euan) to limit the disruption, just as South Australia was islanded when the Heytwood nterconnector to Victoria overloaded? Given the total size of the UK deficit, this would seem the best scheme for demand shedding to prevent a kingdomwide blackout.

      France would then seem the most likely candidate for blackout – I keep wondering if the ASN will allow restarting of some of the currently shutdown reactors to cover the winter period.

      • ristvan says:

        Dunno, from a detailed grid engineering perspective. But for sure we will soon find out.

      • robertok06 says:

        “I keep wondering if the ASN will allow restarting of some of the currently shutdown reactors to cover the winter period”

        No way. The ASN will act only on safety grounds, unless they are shown proof of compliance of the reactors with safety they won’t allow a single reactor’s restart.
        Network stability is not an issue for them, that’s RTE’s.

    • tom0mason says:

      Also of note is during an extended cold period, high pressure over Britain is usually to blame. Consequently as UK demand ratchets up the wind ceases to blow. That may be the circumstances that darken the shores of the UK.

  14. Greg Kaan says:

    Germany seems to be anticipating excess generation in the north with this new plan to limit wind generation.

    I’m guessing the phase shifting transformers that the Poles and Czechs have recently installed will greatly reduce the external flows to Austria and southern Germany, reducing the amount of over generation possible in the north (without crashing the grid). This may further increase the likelyhood of a southern Germany blackout from previous winters.

  15. robertok06 says:

    ” I haven’t figured DSR into the equation here, but it could make a difference. ”

    Hi Roger, i don’t think that at 20:00 hours there’s going to bé much savings from shutting industrial production down.

    • Roberto

      We went from importing 40 MW to halving that amount to then exporting a similar amount at the peak period. The Titanium mill in Swansea simply shut down taking several MW off the demand. There is a drastic swing.

      • Greg Kaan says:

        Did you note that roberto was referring to offpeak demand reduction?

        Industries can easily be contracted to demand reduction payments; it would be much harder to arrange this with households.

        • Dave Ward says:

          “Hi Roger, i don’t think that at 20:00 hours there’s going to bé much savings from shutting industrial production down”

          I suspect there are many more industries still running at that time of an evening than we realise. The days of 8-5 factories are long gone, and multi-shift working covering much longer working days are commonplace. Distribution warehouses are one example.

          Probably one of the greatest demand reduction opportunities in winter evenings would be supermarket freezer cabinets. How long they would be prepared to shut them down is another matter, as food invariably has a “sell-by-date”, and this is influenced by the storage temperature.

          To be frank, most could easily switch off a third, or even half of their lights without causing problems, but this would depend on how they are wired, and whether it was made financially viable for them to do so! If customers noticed lights switched off and started asking why, it might finally dawn on them just how bad things were getting…

          • Greg Kaan says:

            Commercial refrigeration demand is going to be at its minimum in cold weather when heating demand peaks.

            As for lighting, my gut feel is that the total load from lighting is only a small percentage of the heating load , especially in France -.but I’d be glad to see evidence to the contrary.

          • robertok06 says:

            @Greg Kaan
            “As for lighting, my gut feel is that the total load from lighting is only a small percentage of the heating load , especially in France -.but I’d be glad to see evidence to the contrary.”

            This is some data for 2013:


            56 TWh, 12% of total production,

            – 9,5 TWh dans les commerces
            – 6,6 TWh dans les bureaux
            – 4 TWh dans les établissements de santé
            – 4 TWh dans l’enseignement
            Source : Opuslight – 2013


        • Lars says:

          Greg, RTE has published a “winter adequacy outlook”. Below is the overview. With 8500 MW of possible curtailments + an automatic alert to the population to reduce demand in a strained situation I suspect France must experience a really really harsh winter to have a blackout even with a lot of nukes out.

          “A 30% capacity expansion of cross-border trading, in the space of one year, makes it possible to import up to 12,200 MW of electricity produced abroad (provided the availability of generation capacity).”

          “Capacity for consumption curtailment – whereby industrial customers offer to reduce or postpone their energy consumption – remains stable at 3000 MW.”

          “In the event of significant and sustained cold spells, below seasonal norms, RTE may need to deploy exceptional measures to secure power supplies to the French population during weekday mornings (8am-1pm) and/or evenings (6pm-8pm).
          These exceptional measures would be phased in gradually. First, the interruptibility contracts allow RTE to cut off 21 volunteer large power-consumers and potentially decrease electricity demand by 1500 MW instantly. RTE can then lower voltage by 5%, thus reducing consumption by 4000 MW (equivalent to the combined electricity consumption of inner Paris and of Marseilles) without interrupting the power supply to the French population. In the event of extreme imbalance between supply and demand, and as an ultimate solution, RTE can resort to programmed, temporary and rotating load-shedding, thereby maintaining an electricity supply to as many customers as possible.”

          “To enable every consumer to contribute to security of supply, on 5 December RTE will launch a new ‘citizens’ warning system designed to reduce the risk of power cuts at peak demand times (8am-1pm and 6pm-8pm). In the event of higher pressure on the power system due to unavailabilities in the power generation fleet and low temperatures, the ECO2-mix website – tracking the country’s real-time energy mix – will issue warnings encouraging consumers to cut their energy use by taking simple measures: running appliances (washing machines, dishwashers, etc.) during off-peak periods, lowering room temperature settings by 1° to 2°C before leaving their homes, switching lights off in unoccupied rooms, and so on. These warnings will be available on smartphone and tablet, and on the website”

          • depriv says:

            Those emergency measurements indeed seems to be OK and adequate, but I think they actually represents the good old ‘nothing else can happen than what we are already prepared for’ thinking.

            As the example of the SE blackout presents it, the collapse of a strained grid is actually too fast to be mitigated. So instead of just making a simple balance about expected capacity/demand, the close inspection of compliance with the ‘N-1’ criteria for individual grid sections in case of strained situations would be more informative.

          • Useful numbers, Lars. Thank you. But France won’t be importing 12,200MW or anything like it from its power-hungry neighbors during a severe cold snap, and what’s left wouldn’t be enough to keep the lights on at +100GW peak demand.

          • It is in fact amusing to note how France imports power from UK at the same time as the UK imports power from France when the weather gets cold.

        • Yes I did. The demands as I highlighted early became more intense during the off peak periods after 6pm.

  16. jim brough says:

    Consider why there is desire to stop using fossil fuels to produce electricity. It is to lower CO2 emissions which is purported to cause global warming , otherwise known as climate change.

    Civilisation would not be possible without the burning of fossil fuels and producing CO2 and that applies to the manufacture and installation of solar, wind or any other electricity generation technology.

    It is ridiculous that the proponents of wind and solar can claim that by such and such a date we will have carbon-neutral electricity.

    I live at Stanwell Park about 70 km south of Sydney and I wonder how solar and wind could provide the electricity needed to drive our train service. Never mind the energy needed for its construction. Certainly not CO2 neutral.
    An ad in a glossy mag advertised Australia’s first carbon neutral brick. When I asked the company to explain, no answer was forthcoming but the advertising exists.

    While you guys are debating, in good faith, the intricacy and difficulty of integrating wind and solar with the grid, politicians blow in the wind of opinion, not reality.

  17. tom0mason says:


    Fine post!
    You may wish to look at
    Here he points out the reserve is teetering on the brink if the winter is cold. Note his very real point that very cold weather and thus high demand occurs when the wind is usually not blowing!

    • jim brough says:


      How will you communicate your info to the public when the media push “clean and green ” to replace fossil and nuclear electricity to save us from global warbling and “climate change”.

      Australia is a major supplier of high quality coking coal for the world economy and lots of other mineral and agricultural exports needed by other countries. Its contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is about 1.3% therefore shutting down our coal-mines will have little effect on world temperature.

      Germany closes it low CO2 emission and reliable nuclear plants and installs more power stations fuelled by lignite, a move that will not save the planet from “CO2 pollution” and global warming.

  18. Dave Ward says:

    How will you communicate your info to the public when the media push “clean and green ” to replace fossil and nuclear electricity to save us from global warbling and “climate change”

    Maybe the public will now begin to realise they have been “sold a pup”. We’ve recently had the VW emissions scandal, leading to many media reports now using the term “dirty diesel”. And this morning I read about another “Inconvenient Truth”:

    I’m not old enough to remember the great smog problem in the UK during 1952, but maybe we could see a repeat? The really tragic thing is that anyone with a grain of common sense could have predicted all this happening…

  19. jim brough says:

    Dave Ward, thanks for your comment. I experienced the fogs in Glasgow and Liverpool from the 1940s to 1964 when I moved to Australia.
    China’s cities have the same smog problem caused by fossil fuels but they are building nuclear reactors and wind and solar.
    Elon Musk’s electric cars are very sleek and persuasive and will lower smog in cities by lowering the emissions from petrol and diesel transport. What we do not know is how we are to provide the infrastructure and the electricity to “power” his dream.

  20. Olav says:

    Tony Sheba is talking about disruptions and one is the move to electric car where all small cars and many large are sold as battery driven by 2030.
    In UK will such a process double the electricity usage from households and small businesses.
    Add to that a lot of High Speed charging at peak times plus a transition from gas heating to heat pumps. An “impossible” tripling of UK generating capasity is required. Big challenges ahead…

    In Norway it will only require 10% more electricity and here will heat pumps replace “old” electric ovens

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