The National Grid is set to quadruple the amount of electricity available in order to balance the network this winter. Earlier this year, the grid operator had predicted a 10-year low of spare energy capacity levels of just 1.2% this winter, meaning the risk of black-outs across the UK would have been a real possibility. Three years ago the margin of spare electricity capacity was 17%.
In light of the warnings, short-term measures have been taken to safeguard the UK’s supply. The nation’s buffer of spare capacity will be boosted to 5.1% in the six months until March by paying for a reserve of plants. This winter’s reserve will cost the National Grid £36.5 million pounds for 2.56GW supplied by companies including Centrica Plc, SSE Plc and Engie. That compares with £31.3 million spent on 1.6GW last winter.
But short-term (and costly) fixes are not going to sustain the energy needs of UK business in the long-term. Will the bailout be available next year and thereafter? If just one major utility supplier went down or a sudden surge in requirement arose, Britain’s business would come to a grinding halt. It is imperative to implement measures now to ensure the future security and sustainability of our energy supplies.
Ensuring that UK homes remain lit and warm requires 330TWh of energy a year and, with old generators being switched off and gas plants mothballed due to the abundance of cheap coal, data suggests that the UK’s energy supply margin will continue to be challenged winter-on-winter. Since 2012, 15 power plants have been closed or partially closed, taking out a large chunk of the UK’s energy-generating capacity. According to forecasts by Ofgem, the UK’s supply margin was predicted to fall from a tight 6% at the peak of winter demand in 2014/15 to a possible low of 2% this year. Although a small risk, the combination of a stronger than expected economic growth coupled with a particularly cold winter could have pushed the country over the edge had it not been for the purchase of additional capacity.