Blimey ! It’s as bad as it was in 2007 (only it wasn’t…)


The papers are full of the reshuffle and the ‘brave’ appointment of conspiracy theorist Norman Baker to a new post in the Home Office. An interesting development; a  Government now with a conspiracy theorist in charge of conspiracies and a climate change denier in charge of climate change policy.  Ho hum.

One possible conspiracy Norman might investigate early in his new role which I increasingly believe must be based on some sort of conspiracy (well I don’t really but this fits in quite well with the drift of this piece so stay with me on it) is the ‘blackout Britain’ riff beloved of our national newspapers and other media outlets in response to well… pretty much any report on grid capacity, energy supply, price control or whatever.  We know, of course that the proposal by Ed Miliband last month to freeze energy prices was greeted immediately with a chorus of ‘blackout Britain’, and here we are again today with the response to National Grid’s ‘Winter Outlook 2013 report. The report, which is produced ahead of every winter, sets out in sober form the prospects for gas and electricity supply over the coming winter months.  It’s a reasonable read – gas storage a little up from last year; electricity demand continues to decrease; no major planned generation outages; 3.8gw of interconnector capacity available this winter: some concern about the long term effect of tightening margins if proposed plant investment does not take place.  National Grid, therefore is according to Chris Train (Director of Markets at National Grid), ‘confident …that consumers will continue to receive the energy they need reliably efficiently and safely’.

No that can’t be right, surely, what Mr Train must be saying (in code, of course) is that ‘UK faces winter power rationing’ or that there are ‘fears over winter energy supplies in biggest threat to lights going out in six years’ – just a sample of some of the headlines today.  Of course there is not a shred of evidence that the headlines are true or accurate but, wait a minute, here it is – all the evidence the hacks need. It’s on page 62 of the detailed National Grid report.  The killer chart is as follows:

Doc - 8 Oct 2013 14-36

What this represents is a helpful attempt at context by National Grid, aiming to present the workings related to the 2013 winter outlook backwards in time by applying similar methodology to capacity assumptions to 2005/2006. If you do that, you’ll see, as National Grid itself states, ‘increasing forecast margins driven by increasing generator capacity and decreasing demand forecasts. ‘ And then you might conclude (as National Grid states) that ‘the last two years see forecast margins decreasing due to a decrease in generation capacity’. In other words, the margin, using current methodology, lies at about the same as it did in 2007/2008. In 2007/2008, this margin had increased to a significantly higher level than in previous years and even then stood above the level regarded as fully acceptable by a number of other European grids.

Ah so it IS true that ‘the threat of blackouts is the highest for seven years’. Except that there wasn’t a threat of blackouts seven years ago. A minor point, though in the bigger scheme of things; someone somewhere must be briefing the press that when Mr Train says ‘it’s all OK for next winter’, what he really means is ‘we’re all doomed’. And why might that be, I wonder? Nothing to do with the supposedly pressing need to build lots of new gas fired (and maybe even coal fired) power stations surely?

Oh, and by the way, I know you’re dying to find out what National Grid actually said about supply in that terrible winter of 2007/2008 against which this winter is being compared.  It was this:

Provided the electricity market continues to make plant available in response to the appropriate price signals, demand should be able to be met in full even under severe conditions’.

And they were right, of course.


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