How close has the UK been to power cuts this week? Pretty close seems to be the answer, or at least of it not power cuts then reducing the voltage so the lights dim. First national grid told everyone to crank out the power, then later it issued a statuary demand-side balancing reserve (DSBR) notice after issuing a notification of inadequate system margin (NISM). The DSBR means large industrial users voluntarily reduce their demand (in return they normally pay a discount for the electricity they use). This apparently was the first time its ever been issued. In the end peak demand at 17:00 was met partly by buying power from one supplier at 250p/unit!
There are number of things to say. First everyone blames renewables. Its true Wednesday was very dull, often foggy and still. There is so much wind capacity on the grid its often meeting 12-15% of demand now according to one analyst. Of course most of the time this demand is less than peak demand so the wind output can be quite low yet still do quite well % wise. As it happens on Wednesday when the notices were issued I was in the central belt in Scotland and many of the wind turbines were working quite well. (I remember being surprised since I could not see any movement in the trees). At 17:00 there will not be any solar since its dark. However, the real reason could be seen on the NETA electricity pages. On Tuesday a number of coal and gas fired power stations went of line due to break downs. This tightened margins making power cuts more likely. Ultimately though whilst managing the grid in the age of renewables is more challenging its not impossible and the countries where there are outages generally don’t have much renewable power.
Are there going to be power cuts? Probably not, but I would not bet on it. One thing working in national grids favour is demand is falling. A mixture of more energy efficient devices and higher electricity prices are meaning we are all using less. Our book offers suggestions on how to do even more. There is one final lesson we have seen a bit of yesterday which happened in California when they had outages, that is electricity prices surge.