Wednesday, October 31, 2007

UK Winter Electricity Shortages?

We have heard before that there may be an energy crisis in coming winters, and last year the warning referred to gas-supplies; this year it is electricity. We came through last winter without incident and I hope the same will prove true again. The National Grid has given an alert to the effect that there may well be a shortfall in its generating capacity, which mirrors a hike-up of gas-prices, and we British pay about 40% more for that commodity than our other European neighbours. Part of the problem is that a huge gas-terminal at Milford Haven (South Wales) will not be completed as soon as originally thought, in consequence of industrial action by contract staff and other problems.

The Minister for Energy, Malcolm Wicks, last week conferred with providers of electricity over fears that the UK is once again headed for ramping prices (now this did happen last winter although the lights stayed on), and power cuts in some regions, as indeed happened two years ago. The National Grid has, however, reassured ministers that no actual power blackouts are expected. Nonetheless, on the Grid website was a "transmission system warning" calling for another 300 MW of power to cope with the high-demand period between four in the afternoon and half past seven in the evening when, of course, people are cooking their dinners, watching tv, and putting the kettle-on during the interval in their favourite soap-opera.

Indeed, the situation for electricity supply to the Grid is a little precarious because of troubles at the now aging nuclear reactors in this country. I think 40% of the nation's electricity is made using gas, and so the Milford Haven depot not being completed might impact on the availability of it for this purpose. Indeed, no firm date has been set for when it will open, but it is clear that there will be no imports of liquefied natural gas there from Qatar to meet the winter's predicted demand.

There is also some doubt as to exactly how much gas will be brought in from Norway's Ormen Lange gas-field in the North Sea, via the Langeled pipeline, to the Easington depot in North Yorkshire, which opened last year and has provided some gas, but it is uncertain when it will be operating at its full capacity. When it is, 20% of the UK's gas requirement will be met via it, and the Milford haven depot is expected to carry another 20% in the form of liquefied gas. Our joyous plenty from the North Sea has been had and Britain is increasingly dependent on imports of gas from elsewhere. Hopefully there will be enough to keep the Christmas tree lights on in the coming festive season.


Related Reading.
"Rising fear of energy crisis this winter," By Terry Macalister, Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,331116810-103690,00.html

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