The growing risk of power blackouts

Scott Petersen explains the risks involved from our increasing reliance on offshore wind generation

On Sunday 6th December, while many of us were relaxing after our Sunday lunch, UK energy prices went into orbit, peaking at a four-year record of £720.41/MWh.

Low wind generation combined with falling temperatures were the root cause, and this sort of occurrence is becoming increasingly common because of our growing reliance on electricity generation from renewable sources.

During these short winter days, demand will typically peak around teatime, as darkness falls and generation from solar fades. When this coincides with a drop-off in wind-powered generation, as happened on Sunday 6th December, an energy shortfall is almost unavoidable. National Grid Electricity System Operator (NGESO) the organisation responsible for balancing supply and demand, is constantly monitoring the position and it had anticipated this situation the previous day when it issued an Electricity Margin Notice (EMN) for Sunday evening, predicting a shortfall of 400MW. The net result was the surge in energy market prices.

When situations like this happen, the shortfall is often satisfied by a combination of technologies coming together to create more supply – pumped hydro storage, battery storage, gas, and generation from local biomass and diesel generators. A quick fix to prevent a blackout, but not a sustainable long-term solution. And although there is a massive, planned programme to quadruple our offshore wind capacity by 2030, this isn’t going to solve the problem when weather conditions are similar to Sunday 6th December. It doesn’t matter how many wind turbines you build, the output will still be inadequate on a calm day.

So, what’s the answer? In addition to solving the supply question, we believe the UK needs to be looking simultaneously at the other side of the equation – managing the balance through Demand Side Response (DSR)!

Reducing electricity demand can be achieved through the simple, common-sense, energy-saving measures that many organisations pursue, but DSR is a slightly different concept. Demand Side Response, (DSR), accesses the flexible load of a building or group of buildings, to effectively turn down plant and equipment at these critical times. It’s a proven and effective technique used already by large-scale energy consumers such as manufacturers, steel and paper mills, chemical plants and frozen storage warehouses, but increasingly it’s an option for medium size businesses and the raison d’être for OakTree Power. For the first time buildings such as offices, universities, hotels and distribution centres can now also benefit from DSR.

We believe DSR has a massive role to play in helping the UK through the challenges the energy market is now facing. Let’s be realistic, these challenges aren’t just National Grid’s problem, they’re everybody’s! Inevitably, the risk of power blackouts will increase, affecting your organisation’s ability to operate and function. And it’s not just because the supply mix is changing as a result of our increasing reliance on renewables, because the demand-side is changing too. To achieve our national Net Zero targets, heating systems will need to be switched from gas to electric and the decarbonisation of private transport will cause a massive demand for powering EV vehicles. These are all areas which you have influence over decision making and control.

British businesses need to have an energy component as part of their Net Zero strategy. DSR can be central to that, lessening the risk of backout disruption, allowing your business to create financial gain from the balancing markets and reducing CO2 emission from your buildings.