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National Grid: Risk of blackouts at its highest in 6 years

Lights will stay on despite energy margin being ‘tight and more uncomfortable than we might otherwise wish it to be’

Risk of blackouts is at its highest in six years

The operator of the UK’s electricity network warned that its electricity margin during periods of peak demand and cold weather would be just 5%. This margin, which acts as a buffer should demand exceed supply, was more than three times this size during the winter of 2011- 2012.

Richard Smith, head of energy strategy and policy at the National Grid, admitted the situation was not as comfortable as he would like but added there was no need to panic. “We have managed this sort of tightness before,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said: “Our infrastructure has the capacity to deliver over twice average winter demand for gas, and has coped well with recent extreme winter conditions.”

‘We believe we are ready’

The National Grid did, however, reveal the tight margin would result in a series of warnings being issued to energy suppliers, asking  them to ensure extra supplies were available.

One of the reasons for the dip in available power is the closing down of a number of coal-fuelled energy plants across the country.  The latter were shut as a result of EU legislation which requires plants which produce high levels of pollution, such as coal and oil fuelled energy generators, to be switched off.

In addition a number of gas powered plants have also been mothballed, albeit for mainly economic reasons.

Chris Train, director of market operations at the National Grid, said he was confident that despite the closures, the UK would not suffer blackouts. “As the system operator, we’re never complacent. It’s up to us to be ready to balance the system in real time. We believe we are ready and have the tools we need to play our part,” he said.

Additional investment needed

Speaking on the issue, Angela Knight, chief executive of Energy UK, an organisation which represents energy companies, said a 5% margin was evidence that more investment is needed in the sector.

“This is not scaremongering. What we need right now is clear, pragmatic energy policy to keep energy affordable, long-term certainty to attract vital investment and the necessary back-up to ensure we have energy security when and where it’s needed,” she said.

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