A modern economy – indeed, a civilised society – depends on adequate supplies of energy and especially electricity when they are needed. It cannot function without them.
And for the last 70 years or so Britain has had the good fortune to have
had 99% reliability in its power supplies. It can no longer count on electricity being there at the flick of a switch. That in essence is the power crisis in the making.
Nobody can say when – or, since a certain amount of luck is involved, even whether – serious failure will occur. But there is no doubt that security of supply is being dangerously imperilled.
There are several reasons for this:
- Since electricity privatisation planning for the future has effectively been abandoned and existing ageing plant has been “sweated” rather than steadily replaced. Age is now catching up with it.
- The response to the phenomenon known as global warming has been – and remains – irrational. In pursuit of both “challenging” EU and self-inflicted UK carbon reduction targets, the UK is shutting down “dirty” coal fired power stations while, at the same time, having to close “clean” nuclear power stations on grounds of age before they are replaced.
- The Government is also bent on developing renewable sources of energy – predominantly wind power – which are dilute and intermittent or unpredictable. It envisages securing more than half (35,000MW) of the current maximum UK demand (60,000MW) from onshore and offshore wind turbines. Yet since it is not possible to store electricity in bulk, no one really knows how much renewables power the National Grid can cope with at any one time. The best engineering guesses vary from 8-20% – or, say, 5,000-12,000MW, a long way short of 35,000MW.
- On top of this, Government policy only permits coal-fired power stations if they are fitted with CCS (carbon capture and storage) equipment. Yet again no one knows whether, or at what price, CCS systems can be scaled up to capture up to 200m tonnes of CO2 and bury it for all time in strata under the North Sea. Current estimates suggest it could double the price of electricity if it can be made to work on an industrial scale.