Keeping the lights on over Christmas 2014 

It appears things aren’t looking too good at the moment for the energy companies – supply is down and if we have a cold winter, for the first time in a very long time we could be facing energy blackouts.

Why are we facing the possibility of blackouts this Winter?

The first is bad luck (or lack of safety procedures); the fire at Didcot power station last night was the third serious fire at a UK power station in the last 12 months.

The first took place in February 2014, when a fire badly damaged a turbine at the Ironbridge power plant, closing the plant for over a month. Even now, only half the power plant is back on line.

Then in August 2014, there was a fire at Ferrybridge power plant damaging two units. SSE, who operate the plant, think that one of the units will come back online at the beginning of November, while the other next year sometime.

Take into account last nights fire at Didcot, and it appears that the power plants are beginning to fail (as perhaps are safety standards).

Our nuclear power plants are getting old

To make matters worse, 4 EDF nuclear power reactors were shut down in August 2014, when a fault was discovered in the boiler units.

Unfortunately all our Nuclear plants are also rapidly approaching the end of their useful lives. Most of the UK nuclear power plants will close in 2023 and we will see another step change in energy supply in the UK.

The Government have just announced a new nuclear power plant at Brinkley, but anyone who thinks that it will be producing electricity by 2023 is quite frankly dreaming.

So for the first time ever, if we had a cold winter this winter, we genuinely may suffer from rolling blackouts (or organised brownouts as the energy companies call them).

Failure to take action

How have we found ourselves in this pickle?

I think much of the blame must lie with successive Governments who have failed to take action even though all the warning signs were there. The energy companies have put energy prices up 10% year on year for the last 8 years, but this is to make sure they make healthy profits that they can then pay back to shareholders – not to make the big capital investments needed to secure our energy future.

A lack of clear energy policy from the Government hasn’t helped though – no political party wanted to make a call about nuclear energy – the decision was always put off until ‘after the next election’. Unfortunately we will all pay for this, and God help the party in power when these inevitable blackouts do occur. They will be labelled as the Government that turned off the lights – and will likely never see re-election!

Is there any hope?

Over this weekend of the 18th / 19th October 2014, Wind power provided 24% of the UK’s electricity requirements over a 24 hour period. This is obviously good news and as the naysayers continue to knock wind power it is clearly getting on quietly doing a job and helping out the UK when we have more and more supply issues. That being said, like all renewable energy sources, they are intermittent – so we need predictable supply, so there is no doubt, gas and nuclear will pay a part in securing our energy future (and I really hope to see the Severn Barrage eventually goes through instead of HS2 as the UK’s big infrastructure project of this generation – although I may be living in dreamland!).

The key now will be getting new power plants through planning quickly, continuing to roll out renewables and perhaps more importantly embracing energy efficiency. Helping homeowners and businesses to use less energy (without impacting the quality of output) is absolutely key to all of this. It means we don’t need as much installed capacity – after all the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t have to produce in the first place.

Anyway – I have elderly relatives (and I don’t much like the cold either) so I genuinely hope I am wrong about these blackouts, but a couple more of these ‘accidents’ and it might become prudent to buy some candles