Winter electricity blackouts now ‘exceedingly unlikely’

The risk of power cuts this winter are now "exceedingly unlikely" thanks largely to £122m of contingency balancing reserve services helping to balance the electricity system, the National Grid has confirmed in its latest Winter Outlook report.

The Grid’s annual publication, which presents its view of gas and electricity supply and demand for the coming winter, reveals that the de-rated margin for winter 2016/17 has increased to 6.6% following an initial prediction of 5.5%. This cushion between electricity demand and supply is well ahead of last year’s “tight but manageable” 5.1% – the lowest recorded in a decade.

National Grid is “confident” that the supplemental balancing reserve services procured will to help balance the system. 

“We expect Great Britain to be well supplied with gas this winter,” the organisation’s director of SO operations Phil Sheppard said. “GB benefits from diverse and flexible supply sources, which support system security. We’ve assessed the potential impact of a range of supply and demand scenarios on the gas system and believe that the market is well placed to respond.”

Increased cushion

The Winter Outlook report states that the system will be aided by additional generation capacity at the Eggborough coal-fired power station, and an interconnector cable breakdown between the UK and Ireland, which will result in less electricity departing the country.

The network operator revealed that a gas demand-response mechanism went live at the start of October, allowing large gas consumers to bid to reduce the amount of gas they use during times of system stress in exchange for payment. The increase of demand response measures could go a long way to keeping the system balanced, especially during the winter months, by rescheduling the use of processes that are not time sensitive away from peakload hours.

Commenting on National Grid’s Winter Outlook report, Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) energy analyst Jonathan Marshall said: “The increased cushion between supply and demand in this year’s Winter Outlook shows that power cuts are exceedingly unlikely. A boost on last year – when there were no issues in the system – shows that the UK continues to have a reliable electricity system as we go through this period of transition.

“The 6.6% margin is comfortably within National Grid’s statutory requirements from the Government, up by nearly 30% on last year’s margin. It shows how the segue from old, fossil fuel powered power stations to a system based on renewables and increased flexibility is taking place without the need for large capacity surpluses, which represent wasted investment.”

Blackout fear

The report will help to alleviate the “project blackout fear” expressed by some organisations which have sought to undermine the value of demand response measures in the UK’s energy system.

In the build-up to the Winter Outlook report’s release, a seperate ECIU study concluded that an increased uptake of demand response would help to keep the system balanced and, ultimately, cut the cost of national energy security. Marshall, the author of that report, told edie that businesses can “quite easily” use the technology to reduce energy bills and improve green credentials.

National Grid has a 2020 target of achieving 30-50% of grid balancing from demand response sources rather than large power stations, as a number of power stations are taken offline and intermittent generation rises.

George Ogleby

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