Power struggle with Europe as UK grid battles to keep the lights on. System under strain as renewable supply hit by weather conditions, while growing reliance on interconnectors exposes more frailties. Britain’s power grid has repeatedly fallen below its targeted frequency level this year, raising fears that it is struggling to cope with intermittent energy supplies. It comes amid rising international energy costs and a recent drop in wind power due to particularly still weather. Earlier this week the UK was forced to bring a coal-fired power plant back online to boost the grid. The grid’s level of frequency dipped to between 49.79Hz and 49.67Hz on 11 occasions between February and June, according to data analysed by The Sunday Telegraph from the Gridwatch database which measures frequency at five-minute intervals. This is within the legal limit of 49.5Hz but outside what National Grid sets as its own operational limits of between 49.8Hz and 50.2Hz. Frequency is determined by the balance between power supply and demand, which needs to be continuously matched. The British grid is set to run at 50Hz. Renewable power generated more electricity than fossil fuels in the UK in 2020 for the first time. During the year, 43.1pc of UK power came from renewables and 37.7pc from fossil fuels, with nuclear and imports making up the bulk of the rest. Britain now goes for long stretches without using domestic coal-fired power stations, and officials want to be able to run the grid without gas-fired generation for short periods by 2025. The Nuclear Industry Association trade body, which published the analysis of National Grid’s record spending, insists that stable nuclear power is what is needed instead.
Telegraph 11th Sept 2021 read more »
It was 3AM on Monday and staff at National Grid’s central control room had a problem. Arrayed before them were dozens of computers tracking the UK’s energy supply and demand. Overhead was a huge screen displaying, second by second, Britain’s whole electricity generating and supply network. The giant bear pit of a room is the nerve centre of Britain’s complex power grid. Its precise location – somewhere near Wokingham – is kept under wraps for national security reasons. That morning, a message flashed up, telling them that a gas-powered electricity generator with a chunky 800MW capacity had to go offline because of a fault. Such outages, as they are known in the industry, are not uncommon. But last week, there was another problem to compound it. As weather forecasters had told viewers on the evening news shows a few hours earlier, an area of high pressure was coming in to sit over the UK, temporarily bringing summer back from the dead. While this would give Britons one last chance to break out their sun hats, it also meant wind turbines up and down the land had slowed to a crawl in the still air. The 20 engineers on shift in the ESO (electricity system operator) control room realised there would be a shortfall of power before the morning rush. They sprang into action. Standard procedure if an “event” occurs is to opt for the next most cost effective option. And with wholesale gas prices currently at a record high, firing up more gas-powered generators was not it. The solution was to turn to a rather unloved power source – coal. Having studied weather forecasts for weeks, ESO had already asked EDF to warm up the 55-year-old West Burton A coal plant in Nottinghamshire in readiness. “We could see a while in advance that we’d need to warm some coal units in case we lost other generators on the day,” explained Rob Rome from ESO. Now the order to fire up the station, one of only two remaining coal plants in the UK, was sent electronically from Wokingham. Just in case the message didn’t get through, operators still have a green phone on their desks to send instructions the old fashioned way. The government’s energy white paper last year set out the need for a “decisive shift away from fossil fuels to using clean energy for heat and industrial processes, as much as for electricity generation”. Expansion of wind, solar and nuclear power is key. With the latter, however, UK policy is mired in difficulty. A new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point is years behind schedule and saddled with a financing agreement that could leave consumers on the hook for higher bills for years afterward. The construction of plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex is complicated by the involvement of CGN, the Chinese state-owned nuclear power company, as relations between London and Beijing have chilled.
Times 12th Sept 2021 read more »