Fossil fuels to the rescue as UK reduces blackout risk

National Grid released its Winter Outlook for 2016 on Friday and it shows that reserve capacity provided by gas and coal-fired power plants will provide a 6.6 per cent margin between supply and demand, averting the chance of blackout.

£122m worth of contracts are to be provided to 10 power plants, which include Eggborough in Yorkshire and Fiddlers Ferry in Cheshire, and there is more 30 per cent more margin than was the case last year.
Fiddler's Ferry coal-fired power plant
The plants are paid to be on standby with further payments due if and when called into action.

However Britain faces an ongoing challenge in meeting the energy requirement for the winter period as coal continues to be phased out and older nuclear plants are decommissioned.

It is estimated that about 60 per cent of UK generating capacity in 2010 is forecast to have disappeared by 2030.

Solar power, despite a hugely successful year will have minimal effect in deep winter while National Grid expects wind power to be available for only 21 per cent of the time.

Without back-up reserve capacity the margin would be close to a record low of 1.1 per cent, according to the Winter Outlook.

The outlook provides insight into the challenge in meeting energy security requirements during the cold spell while continuing to pursue the country’s CO2 reduction goals.

National Grid says 2016-17 would be the last winter when temporary contracts are required to secure back-up up power. From next year, it expects to rely on capacity procured through an auction process set up by the government to incentivise investment in new generation.

Steve Holliday, former chief executive of National Grid, said there must also be a bigger role for “demand-side” measures such as increased energy efficiency and incentives for consumers to reduce usage at times of supply tightness.

“We’re moving away from a system dominated by relatively few large power plants to one with a high proportion of renewables and various flexibility mechanisms … to keep supply and demand in balance,” he said.

Proponents of renewable energy believe battery storage will in time provide the answer by ending the problem of intermittency, however that technology is not yet at a utility large scale extent.

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