Sunday, December 18, 2016

Keeping the lights on.

Really missing my place on the recently abolished Energy and Climate Change Committee. But am trying to retain an interest in the rapid changes taking place in the energy sector. There's quite a bit of coverage on one interesting aspect in today's papers - the Government's commitment to stop burning coal and how we are going to keep the lights on!!

We know that the 'safety net' is far smaller than it used to be - that's the spare capacity available to electricity distributors from energy generators when demand is high. We are told that National Grid is better able to manage and meet demand today than previously, and that there is no need for a large back-up reserve, and that there is not a problem. I've never been convinced by this. I think there is a problem we're not being told about. And that's why I'm not convinced by the commitment that we'll be off coal by 2025. No chance. Anyway, one of the big generators, Scottish Power is not at all happy that Govt has decided to put available subsidy to ensure supply, agreed on in its annual 'capacity market' into supporting old coal plants, rather than new gas CCGTs (Combined Cycle Gas Turbines). The current price of oil means they cannot be built without long term subsidy arrangements. Of course keeping old coal plants open is a cheaper option, but it looks like short term thinking to me. We need new gas plants, and we need to get on with building them. Gas plants are cleaner, more efficient and more responsive in meeting sudden demand than coal. We cannot rely on shale gas because we don't know if it's a viable source, and surely we're not going to rely on Russian gas, imported shale etc. And nuclear is still a very long way off delivering power to the market. It's also uncertain. I'm meeting Scottish Power in the New Year. No doubt the subject will be the Govt's failure to support new gas powered generation. Promises to be an interesting discussion.

Not many others are voicing the same warnings about the possibility of the lights going out - at the moment. They would certainly be dismissed distainfully by Ministers - at the moment. But let's see what the position is in a year's time.

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