Energy crisis, updated

16 March 2014
Around the best part of three years ago I wrote about an impending UK energy crisis, and fairly predictably not lot has happened in the time. In fact there have been several instances of companies pulling out of power plan plans, which partly explainers the somewhat generous deal EDF now have for the nukes they are going to build. It is all too late, and the crunch is well on the way. This was best illustrated when, last winter, the UK was 6 hours away from shutdown due to running out of gas.

Closure update

Although Oldbury closed early 2012 and Wylfa expected to soldier on a bit longer, all the AGR reactors got life extended, albeit with Hinkley B and Hunterston B being down-rated. This has meant a nett loss of 950MW of capacity. When Wylfa goes this will become 1,440MW. Dungeoness B at 1,040MW is scheduled for 2018 closure. As for coal-fired powerstations, many were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and as a result of grandfathering under large combustion plant directive can only run for a total of 20,000 hours between 2008 and final closure in 2015. Predictably due to cheap coal, they are burning through these hours very quickly, and some have already used them up. At the end of last year Grain and Kingsworth powerstations closed taking 3.2GW offline, and this year Didcot A, Cockenzie, Fawley, and Tilbury were a further 5.1GW. Ferrybridle, Ironbridge, and Littlebrook will be a further 3.1GW.

New capacity

Clean coal seems to be off the agenda, and nuclear powerstations take 10 years to bring online, so however it is cut like-for-like replacement of the above closures is not going to kick in anytime soon. It is far too late for that. As for gas, that made sense in the 1990s with the north sea fields, but these days the gas comes from the likes of Qatar and Russia, and even leaving strategic issues aside gas is no longer that cheap. Fracking, while booming in the states is far from a sure bet in Europe, let alone the UK.

Of interest here is Figure 16 on Page 30 of OFGEN's 2013 capacity report, which is not a pretty picture. There is some new CCGT coming on-line around now-ish, but otherwise it is renewables all the way. This is mostly wind power, but most of that is coming on-line 2017 onwards, and I am not even sure if this takes account of cancellation of the Bristol Bay project. Before then the new “renewables” capacity is mostly biomass, which is basically burning wood shipped in from overseas. That seems little different from burning coal to me.

Just a matter of time

The UK is currently down to 4% spare capacity, which means that if more than one plant the size of Drax or Sizewell goes offline during a cold snap, we will have power outages. The decisions have still to be taken, and you know it is bad when contingency plans are being drawn up to ask industrial users to go offline.