National Grid has cautioned that electricity will be in short supply over the next few days following a series of unplanned power station outages and unusually low wind speeds.
The electricity systems operator has projected tight margins on the grid between today, 15 October and Sunday, 18 October. According to weather forecasts, wind levels will remain low until Monday.
The proportion of wind contributing to the grid is expected to reach 33% today, before falling to 16% tomorrow and 9% Saturday. By Monday and the return of gustier weather, it will rebound to 51%.
The lull in wind has followed unplanned outages from several coal- and gas-fired plants as well as planned outages at the Dungeness and Hunterston B nuclear power stations.
“Unusually low wind output coinciding with a number of generator outages means the cushion of spare capacity we operate the system with has been reduced,” the company tweeted.
Additionally, “a series of issues” in France’s nuclear fleet mean less electricity is available to send to the UK via undersea interconnections.
However, National Grid assured the public that blackouts aren’t imminent, tweeting: “We’re exploring measures and actions to make sure there is enough generation available to increase our buffer of capacity.”
These measures could include calling on capacity from distributed generators and incentivising large electricity consumers to curb their consumption.
A spokesperson said this electricity squeeze is not expected to be as severe as the one recorded in September when National Grid issued an official warning to the electricity market that its 500MW buffer of power reserves had been breached. No outages occurred due to the shortage.
It’s not often the ESO runs close to the margins when balancing the UK’s power grid. Before this autumn the most recent time was in November 2015, when a series of breakdowns at coal plants in forced the company, as a “last resort,” to ask businesses to reduce their electricity demand.
A widespread blackout in August 2019 was caused by a lightning strike taking out two generators.
In recent months, as coronavirus restrictions froze manufacturing and mothballed offices, the National Grid’s challenge has been managing a grid where supply often outpaces demand. It has paid millions of pounds of constraint payments to owners of generators to disconnect, including between £55 and £73 million to EDF to halve the output of the Sizewell B nuclear plant over the summer.
The bill for balancing the grid during these periods of low demand is close to £1 billion so far this year.
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