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Blackout Chaos – The Energy Trilemma

The government has now announced a full inquiry into the power cut on Friday (9th August), that left people stuck in trains for up to nine hours and almost a million people in England and Wales without electricity.

The very rare and unusual event appears to have happened when two power stations disconnected “simultaneously” from the network, said a senior official at National Grid, which owns the electricity transmission system in England and Wales.

A gas-generated plant Little Barford, Bedfordshire, is thought to have disconnected first at 4:58pm, followed by Hornsea, a wind farm in the North Sea, just two minutes later. The loss of these two generators led the system to automatically cut off power to some parts of the country in order to “keep the rest of the system safe”.

The outage, the biggest in a decade, caused chaos during the evening rush hour, plunging Newcastle airport into darkness and causing gridlock in some areas as traffic lights stopped working.

Shortly after the event, rumours circulated of a cyber attack and/or problems with wind power supply, however – these causes have now been ruled out by National Grid.

In terms of the UK Energy Trilemma, this is a perfect example of a failure in security of supply. The grid simply couldn’t respond fast enough to two large generation disconnections and was seemingly unable to call on “Demand Side Response” which is supposed to balance the frequency/demand at times of real emergency.

Describing the disruption as “enormous”, the business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, said: “National Grid must urgently review and report to Ofgem. I will also be commissioning the government’s energy emergencies executive committee to consider the incident.”

The energy watchdog, Ofgem, had already demanded an “urgent detailed report” from the National Grid to better understand what went wrong, and threatened enforcement action.

In a statement, National Grid said it was very pleased the government inquiry had been ordered as it would help understanding of the causes of Friday’s power cut and why it had such a significant impact. It said the Electricity System Operator (ESO), a legally separate business within the National Grid Group, responsible for balancing supply and demand, was carrying out its own inquiry.

Resilience in our security of supply becomes more critical as we attempt to decarbonise the grid, with additional storage and flexibility needed on the network as renewable sources take over from traditional fossil fuel methods of generation.

This is further compounded by the need for large scale investment in renewable energy sources, without such investments energy prices will inevitably rise as power becomes a less readily available utility, and the projects needed to decarbonise our infrastructure will not become a reality.

The opinion on exactly how we solve the energy trilemma and go about “keeping the lights on” whilst simultaneously charting a path to “Net Zero” by 2050, remains the same political football it has been since privatisation.

Categories: All, Electricity, Energy (General)
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