Preventing a repeat of the worst blackout in a decade by running more backup power plants could cost consumers £1 billion a year, the boss of National Grid has warned. John Pettigrew called for a public debate over how much households are willing to pay to avoid such power cuts and said that trains, hospitals and other critical infrastructure should be upgraded to withstand abnormalities in electricity supplies. This could be “a more economic solution” to prevent the worst of the disruption last month, he told The Times in an interview. More than a million homes were left without electricity and rail networks were paralysed after a lightning strike triggered a series of power plant failures on August 9. Mr Pettigrew insisted that National Grid, the FTSE 100 company responsible for keeping the lights on and which is under Ofgem investigation over the incident, had done nothing wrong. “The system operated as we expected,” he said. National Grid did not have enough rapid response back-up plants to cope with the unexpected failures because it was not required to under security standards approved by the regulator, he said. Power was automatically cut to some households to restore the supply-demand balance. Mr Pettigrew said that holding 2,000 megawatts of back-up power instead of the 1,000MW it had on the day could have prevented the power cuts but the company’s calculation was that “today, it could cost up to an additional £1 billion a year to achieve that”.
Times 2nd Sept 2019 read more »
In John Pettigrew’s fifth-floor office in the Strand in central London is a copy of Pivot to The Future, a book about “discovering value and creating growth in a disrupted world”. The head of the National Grid recently endorsed the book, declaring: “We’d better be ready for disruption.” He wasn’t wrong. Since the worst power cuts in a decade struck Britain on August 9, the question of National Grid’s preparedness for disruption is top of the agenda, and the subject of a formal Ofgem investigation. National Grid’s initial report blamed the blackouts on the simultaneous and unexpected failure of the Little Barford gas plant in Bedfordshire and Hornsea wind farm off the coast of Yorkshire, after a lightning strike to the grid near Little Barford. As he sits down with The Times three weeks later Mr Pettigrew, 50, says it’s still not clear why the two plants failed: “There were about 100 units in the UK connected to the network that day, only two units fell off.” What is known is that the lightning strike also led to the failure of a series of smaller plants connected to local power networks, which National Grid insists was “normal and expected”, and that the combined loss of power was greater than the available backup.
Times 2nd Sept 2019 read more »
This month’s shock grid blackout, which appears to have been caused by an “extremely rare and unexpected” lightning strike, was by today’s standards an unusual event for an advanced economy like the UK. But with massive changes underway right across the electricity system, the incident inevitably sparked a major debate over how best to ensure grid reliability is maintained as the UK transitions to a cleaner and more flexible energy system over the coming years. The lightning strike preceded a loss of power from the Little Barford gas plant and the Hornsea One offshore wind farm, which resulted in 1,300MW of capacity being pulled off the system, more than the 1,000MW of backup capacity National Grid was holding in reserve at the time. Ofgem, which is now investigating the incident, said it was “important that the industry takes all possible steps to prevent this happening again”. The blackout may, therefore, provide a valuable and steep learning curve for the UK, as it seeks to build a smarter, decentralised, and decarbonised electricity system in line with achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. After all, pressure on the grid is only set to keep growing in the coming years, as increasing demand for products and services that require electricity – including cars, heating systems, and digital technologies, to name but a few broad areas – dovetails with greater amounts of intermittent, renewable sources of power coming online. Quite clearly, if the UK is to avoid freak blackouts becoming a more frequent occurrence in future, far more grid flexibility and back-up power storage capacity will be needed to ensure a smooth, resilient, zero carbon energy system. Which is where the still fledgling community energy sector may have a critical role to play. That was the topic up for discussion at the latest BusinessGreen Roundtable Lunch, hosted in association with the Energy Networks Association (ENA) last week, which brought together 15 key stakeholders from across the community energy sector to discuss its potential role in the emergence of grids that are not just cleaner, but also more flexible and resilient.
Business Green 2nd Sept 2019 read more »