Scottish minister writes to Rudd

Ewing demands assurances that lights will stay on

Fergus Ewing TwitterEnergy Minister Fergus Ewing wants UK Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, to give clear reassurance that Britain is not close to switching off the lights due to weak energy supplies.

His concern follows revelations that National Grid asked industry to reduce its power consumption last week in order to the lights on.

For the first time a new tool to balance the energy system – Demand Side Balancing Reserve – was used to help manage peak demand between 5pm and 6pm. A small number of large businesses were asked to cut their electricity use by, for example, switching to back-up generators or turning off their air-conditioning for an hour.

The power shortage was caused by a number of factors including unexpected maintenance issues at ageing coal-power stations, which led to temporary shut downs at several power plants; low wind speeds, meaning wind farms were only able to produce 1% of the UK’s required electricity, and no solar input, because the requirement happened when it was dark.

Stephen Breslin, chief executive of the Glasgow Science Centre said the public was unaware of what had happened and what it implies for energy policy.

“Although this is the first time that this has occurred in the last three years it must act as a wake-up call to the public to help them understand the importance of planning ahead to ensure that we are able to meet the issue of our growing future power needs, in a reliable way and at an acceptable economic and environmental cost,” he said.

“In order to find solutions to meeting our future power needs, there has to be a greater understanding of the issues of energy generation. This requires a new wave of young people to be inspired to consider their role in ensuring future generations have sustainable power sources. If nothing is done, matching supply and demand will only become more challenging as old coal power stations close and gas generators are mothballed.”

Mr Ewing’s office said the recent Winter Outlook report by National Grid showed that capacity margins could be as low as 1.2% this winter without the use of largely untried contingency services.

He has raised his concerns in a letter to Ms Rudd that UK electricity capacity margins are worryingly low and the UK Government’s energy policies are exacerbating the situation.

He urged the UK Government to change its policy direction to ensure faster build of new power capacity including renewable energy in combination with increased storage capacity as well as carbon capture technology for thermal generation.

Mr Ewing said: “National Grid issuing an urgent request for more electricity shows it is becoming even harder pressed to keep the lights on this winter and highlights the complacency of the UK Government’s energy policy.

“The Scottish Government have warned the UK Government – repeatedly and at the highest levels – of the consequences of declining capacity margins, both face to face and in letters from the First Minister to the Prime Minister. These warnings have been ignored and advice rebuffed, despite mounting evidence of a problem.

“The fact that National Grid were forced to pay £2,500 per megawatt hour earlier this week compared with the typical price at that time of about £60 shows how worrying this situation has become. Ultimately it is the bill payer who has to pay for those huge spikes in electricity costs, so if the situation is repeated there is a real danger of increasing energy bills for consumers.

“The situation of narrowing GB capacity margins will only be exacerbated when Longannet closes prematurely next year due to unfair transmission charges. Longannet could have played an important role for several years to come as we continue our transition towards cleaner forms of generation.

“Scotland is an energy rich country and is the ideal base for the development of a range of technologies which could alleviate the situation, including wind energy, carbon capture and storage and pumped storage hydro. But this will require movement on policy from the UK Government to encourage increasing energy system flexibility, security, and sustainability.”

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