In recent months, three companies have announced closure of 4 large coal-fired power stations in the UK representing a total loss of 6.671 GW base load capacity*. Combined with closure of 1 nuclear station and the pending closure of two CCGTs, total capacity loss in 2016 will amount to 8.726 GW. If there was a blackout risk this winter, then things will obviously be much worse next winter.
In effect traditional generators are throwing in the towel confronted with a neo-Marxist system of production quotas, targets, subsidies, levies and regulation that places their superior technology at an impossible disadvantage to inferior wind and solar power, both of which are useless in averting a blackout risk when it is highest during a calm winter evening. UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, needs to re-discover her Tory credentials and sort this situation out.
[* Note that this is a fluid situation with other announcements made since I wrote these words]
The last time I visited this topic was in October 2015 and at that time I saw little risk of UK blackouts this winter. The lights have thus far stayed on! But in the five months since, a lot has changed. The main variable is on-going closure of legacy base load power stations. But I have also learned a bit more about system operation and how the statistics should be interpreted. Mainly I have learned that power stations located in Northern Ireland should not be counted in UK generating statistics since National Grid does not include Northern Ireland in UK demand figures. And plant availability is never 100% and needs to be de-rated by approximately 15% to represent the real world of fires, boiler leaks and vibrations that are common place in the world of electricity generation and maintenance schedules.
UK Blackout Risk
An electricity grid is almost like a living organism. It is live all the time and it needs to be fed and maintained properly, all the time, in order to be live. A blackout is like the grid suffering a heart attack or a stroke. Those responsible for the grid, should therefore have as their absolute top priority to put measures in place to ensure that avoidable blackouts never occur. The sanctions for not doing so should be severe.
It is worth while explaining once again when the UK blackout risk is most acute. UK electricity demand follows three superimposed cycles. The daily cycle sees demand peak around 6 pm every day. The weekly cycle sees demand higher Monday to Friday than at the weekend. And the annual cycle sees higher demand in winter – November through February. Hence, the blackout risk is highest at around 6 pm on a weekday in winter.
Figure 1 UK blackout risk is at its highest in winter, on a weekday near 6 pm when it is cold and calm. The data shown are from 2009. Peak demand has now fallen close to 52 GW a result of embedded renewables being metered as negative demand; demand reduction due to recession, de-industrialisation and high price; and successful policy in improving energy efficiency.
Superimposed on this are annual fluctuations in weather. If it is mild in winter, electricity demand is lower and vice versa. With 13.5 GW of installed wind capacity, wind turbines provide the UK with a substantial hedge against blackouts for so long as the wind is blowing. The risk lies when an Arctic high pressure is centred on the North Sea bringing severe cold and calm conditions to NW Europe. Under these conditions, wind power falls effectively to zero and demand is high because of the cold.
These conditions have not occurred this winter (thus far) but most certainly will in the next few years. And the UK power system is no longer fit to survive these circumstances without power interruptions.
Solar does nothing to avert blackout risk during the UK winter. Winter time solar production is negligible and always zero at 18:00 since the Sun has already set.
Figure 2 The lower right panel shows how solar provides virtually no contribution to UK electricity supply November to February and a daily chart would show zero contribution at 6 pm when demand is highest and the Sun has set. Graphic from UK Grid Graphed.
In summary, during cold, calm and dark conditions in November to February wind and solar do nothing to mitigate the blackout risk in the UK. In fact, investing in and placing reliance upon these renewable technologies has created the blackout risk.
Capacities and Capacity Changes
In my post last October I compared the installed capacities for 2015 with 2004. I now add the projected capacities for 2016 to these lists. Coal is most affected by capacity reduction but there are also closures of nuclear and CCGT (gas) generators. The tables below are based on Table dukes5_10 which is a list of operational UK power stations provided by DECC.
Coal plant closures
- Eggborough 1960 MW – perhaps reprieved with capacity reserve contract
- Ferrybridge C 980 MW – 50% of Ferrybridge was destroyed by fire a few years ago
- Fiddler’s Ferry 1961 MW – 25% will maybe remain with capacity reserve contract
- Drax 3870 MW – 50% to remain as coal, 50% converted to biomass
- Longannet 2260 MW
- Lynemouth 420 MW – already closed, converting to biomass
- Wylfa 490 MW
- Killingholme A 665 MW
- Killingholme B 900 MW
Total closures = 11571 MW partially offset by capacity reserves and conversions to biomass.
Figure 3 Click all graphics to get a large readable version. The table charts the closure of UK nuclear power stations. The most recent being Wylfa at the end of last year. Wylfa was the last of UK Magnox power stations, originally rated at 980 MW, this was a large unit. It is pertinent to ask how much it would cost to build Wylfa today.
Figure 4 Kilroot in Northern Ireland is now excluded from the UK list. Closure of Eggborough was announced but may now be mitigated by giving the plant a “capacity contract” paid for by the consumer. Ferrybridge C (already de-rated by 50% owing to a fire) and Longannet (that has become a political football) are scheduled to close. Lynemouth is already closed but scheduled to re-open as a biomass plant. 50% of Drax coal is already closed and converted to biomass, accounted for in Figure 6. 75% of Fiddler’s Ferry will close with 25% maybe transferring to a capacity contract (Figure 7). The remaining coal stations have all opted in to the European Large Power Plant directive and have scrubbers in place. Since making this table, it has been announced that Rugeley will close. It appears to me that coal generators, essential for keeping the grid alive, are bidding for subsidies which seems to be the order of the day under this limp Tory regime.
Figure 5 Ballylumford and Coolkeragh in Northern Ireland are now excluded from this list. Rye House has opted for a capacity contract (Figure 7). Peterhead has kept a refurbished 430 MW in operation and has transferred 750 MW to capacity reserve. Centrica has announced that its Killingholme A and B power plants will close.
Figure 6 Biomass capacity has received an enormous boost with 50% of Drax converting from coal to N American sawdust and hedge clippings. Lynemouth is in the process of converting. I will predict that this biomass experiment falls flat on its face within a few years once N American environmental groups awaken to the risks.
Figure 7 The capacity “market” is a new invention of the “market” reform where companies get paid to maintain plant, and presumably a workforce for doing nothing most of the time until they are needed, maybe once or twice every couple of years? This is paid for by you.
These capacities and changes are summarised below. Between 2004 and 2015 the dispatchable capacity loss was just 3.1 GW. Nuclear and coal closures were being compensated by expansion of CCGTs – the dash for gas. But the projected fall of 8.7 GW in 2016 is potentially catastrophic for grid integrity as explained below.
Figure 8 The loss of 8.7 GW of dispatchable capacity in the UK in 2016 is significant and should be setting alarm bells ringing in Whitehall. Some of the lost coal capacity is transferred to biomass and capacity reserve. When you have an energy policy designed to eliminate fossil fuel based electricity production that is the lifeblood of the UK economy, one should not be surprised that this policy runs out of control.
De-rating of Capacities
Peak winter demand in the UK is of the order 52 GW. With 67.4 GW dispatchable capacity in 2015 I could not understand why there was a perceived blackout risk. I have since learned that this is because all plant is not available all of the time at nameplate capacity. For example, 1.74 GW of hydro are booked in the summary chart above while in reality UK hydro rarely produces more than 1.1 GW which presumably reflects availability of water and resource management.
I have de-rated capacities based mainly on observations made from the UK Grid Graphed resource that is based on Gridwatch. This allows one to observe the production peaks for the various sources and to compare this with the installed capacities. Brief descriptions of de-rating are given below.
Nuclear: The UK has 8 nuclear power stations comprising 16 reactors. It is rare for all 16 reactors to be operational and for example, at time of writing, 2 are off line. Check out the EDF status link in the right margin. The most I have seen offline at once was 5. In recent past availability has varied from 87.5 to 68.8%. I have de-rated nuclear to 85% of nameplate installed.
Coal: In 2015 the UK had 20.1 GW of installed coal capacity, but inspection of the UK Grid Graphed charts shows that actual production never got above 18 GW. Coal is also de-rated to 85% of nameplate installed.
CCGT: In 2015 the UK had 28.8 GW of CCGT capacity but never produced more than 22 GW. CCGT is also de-rated by 85%.
Biomass: Towards the end of 2015, there was 2.8 GW of biomass capacity that owing to the merit order runs as base load 24/7 (see December’s grid graphed charts). In October and November plateau output was as high as 2.4 GW suggesting once again plant availability of 85%.
Hydro: With 1.74 GW of installed capacity, hydro production never got above 1.1 GW this past winter despite all the storms. Hydro capacity is de-rated to 1.1 GW.
Pumped storage: With installed capacity of 2.5 GW, pumped storage did not deliver more than 2 GW in 2015 and capacity is derated to that amount.
Capacity reserve: The capacity reserve of 2 GW is derated to 85% although one needs to wonder if this plant, that will rarely be used, will function at all when needed.
Inter connectors: The UK has 4 GW inter connector links. 3 GW with Europe and 1 GW with the island of Ireland. These have allowed 3.5 GW of imports in recent months which is the de-rated capacity allocated to imports. [text added 14:40 on 11th February].
The de-rated capacities are summarised below where we see that there may be insufficient capacity to meet peak demand on a windless winter evening. There is a fair amount of uncertainty here. For one, a winter anti-cyclone over Europe may result in little to no wind power everywhere leading to blackout risk across the continent. In these circumstances it is not obvious that the UK will be able to import the 3.5 GW allocated to the interconnectors. Furthermore, small wind farms are embedded by National Grid into the demand figures. We have not had nationwide low wind this winter since October. Hence wind in the recent past has helped suppress the apparent demand and during windless conditions peak demand may rise by another one to two GW. In short, National Grid, DECC and the Government are now playing with fire and we need to declare an Amber warning for the UK.
Figure 9 The projected capacities for the UK in 2016 shown in Figure 8 are de-rated by on average 15% in this chart to reflect the likely plant availabilities. It illustrates the clear potential for a capacity shortfall next winter that may be better or worse than illustrated here.
Amber Rudd was appointed UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in May 2015. Her career before politics reads like this:
Graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in history, Amber worked in investment banking in the City of London and New York, before moving into venture capital.
I think it is safe to assume she doesn’t know the difference between a MW and KJ and will be around 100% reliant upon policy advice from DECC. We also need to assume that she is a true blue Tory, caught in a Green Marxist energy trap.
The trap was sprung by the enactment of the 2008 Climate Change Act. And I don’t really see any way forward until that act is repealed. The Tories need to understand the Act is founded on Green Marxist ideology and once that simple concept is grasped then gaining support to repeal it should be straightforward.
If this sounds a bit strong then consider this. We have wind producers getting paid for not producing power when it’s not needed. We have a system for paying consumers to not consume electricity when they want to but none is available (Demand Side Balancing Reserve) . We have a system for fining (punishing) FTSE listed companies for making business decisions in a mire of government made Green crap, and those fines will be paid by hard pressed customers and share holders that are normally pensioners. Electricity market reform is a euphemism for market abolition.
Figure 10 The benefits of UK energy policy to UK citizens are negative. The benefits to the citizens of the world are all but invisible.
I could write at great length on the scale of ineptitude bound up in the current system of “market” control but will refrain for now in favour of concluding with this simple graph that shows the UK contribution to global emissions and in dark red at the very top right emissions reduction since 2006, the year UK CO2 emissions peaked.
And so my warning to Amber is this. Blackouts, which look likely to occur, will occur on your watch. Halt this madness and endless tinkering, the cost of which is always borne by the hard-pressed consumer. But time is of the essence. Allow this most recent tranche of coal fired station closures to go ahead, and you will lose the means to stay afloat. They do not need to be rescued. They just need to be allowed to generate electricity in a free but lightly regulated market.