LibLink: Ed Davey promises no blackouts this winter

Ed Davey Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul WalterInterviewed in the Sunday Telgraph, Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, said that he had asked the energy regulators for extra contingency measures to cut consumption in event of a cold winter or more power station failures.

Emergency plans will be announced tomorrow in which hotels will be paid to turn down refrigerators and factories paid to make staff work overnight to cut energy consumption and prevent blackouts this winter.

Ed Davey said:

We have demand-side contingencies. We have had them for a long time, but they wanted – quite rightly – to see if we could increase that.

And some companies would change their behaviour, voluntarily, and be recompensed for it. Turning down their refrigerators by a degree, or changing a shift pattern for a week so staff come in earlier. The idea is to move factory production away from peak energy demand periods.

There will not be blackouts.

He mentioned the report from the US Chamber of Commerce, which showed that the UK has the fourth most secure energy supplies in the world.

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34 Comments

  • Kevin White 27th Oct '14 - 4:16pm

    Sounds like famous last words.

  • Steve Comer 27th Oct '14 - 5:40pm

    Why do there appear to be suggestions of a problem this winter?
    What is different from previous years?

  • Mr Davey’s energy policy is insane. He closes down efficient low cost power stations and replaces them with hugely expensive inefficient wind turbines. These turbines barely generate any electricity when the wind is low, which was the case throughout September. So now our electricity supply is very expensive and much less secure than before.

    But Mr Davey has a plan. He is throwing taxpayers’ money at get rich quick businessmen who have filled fields and warehouses with diesel generators. These are on standby to feed into the grid when the wind is low. They will sell us very expensive electricity whilst polluting the atmosphere with carcinogenic substances.

    However, such is the state of our energy industry that still the lights will go out. Mr Davey has another plan. He will throw more of our money at industry to stop them using electricity by shutting down. This is complete insanity.

    The first priority of a minister with Mr Davey’s responsibilities is to ensure that the country has a low cost, reliable and secure supply of electricity. Mr Davey has totally failed in a spectacular manner. You could not make this stuff up.

  • Paul in Wokingham 27th Oct '14 - 5:53pm

    @Steve Comer – Hinckley B is off line due to a major fire.

  • Paul in Wokingham 27th Oct '14 - 5:58pm

    Oops I meant Didcot B, not Hinckley.

  • Tsar Nicolas 27th Oct '14 - 6:06pm

    Now that Ed Davey’s said this, I’m really worried.

  • Mr Davey is making a promise that the lights will not go out because industry will be paid to shut down instead.

    His job is to ensure low a cost, secure supply for all . Does he not see that his great plan is admission of complete failure? If any industry has to shut down in order to keep the lights on, Mr Davey should resign.

  • Why is he really saying this? Is it perhaps because the nuclear industry has failed to be a reliable source of electricity?
    Is it perhaps a bit embarrassing for someone who sold out to that industry to the tune of billions of pounds of subsidy?

    Some background —
    Half of nuclear power stations closed for repairs
    Almost half Britain’s nuclear power stations are currently shut down for repairs or maintenance, the Nuclear Industry Association said today.
    The nuclear power company British Energy yesterday revealed that units in Hartlepool and Heysham, near Morecambe, Lancashire, had been shut down after problems were detected during inspections.

    John McNamara, a spokesman for the NIA, confirmed that this brought the number of inactive stations to seven of the UK’s 16 reactors, which between them produce around 18% of the nation’s electricity.

    Energy expert Professor Ian Fells, of Newcastle University, said problems with ageing power plants could mean the lights going out if the winter was cold.

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/oct/23/nuclear.world

  • I think it is an admission that the economy has grown and so the ‘spare capacity’ or ‘breathing space’ that the financial melt down created has been used up and we are now back to where we were in circa 2003 where we were only saved from power cuts due to mild winters…

    So power cuts are back on the agenda because successive governments have failed to prudently invest in our energy infrastructure over several decades.

  • As I stated earlier, Mr Davey is closing efficient coal fired power stations and replacing them with wind turbines. Germany led the way with green energy, now it is building coal fired stations as fast as it can.
    You can read about the failure of wind power here:
    http://www.adamsmith.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Assessment7.pdf

  • Tsar Nicolas 27th Oct '14 - 9:50pm

    @Peter

    There is one fundamental problem with what you say and that is that fossil fuels are fast running out. Oil production globally has been on a plateau since 2005 and gas and coal are not far behind. Even uranium has a limited lifespan of less than a century at current rates of usage.

    So even if we lay aside the problems with climate and the environment, absent some significant technological breakthrough we will be forced to rely on such things as windpower, even if they are less reliable than current methods of energy production.

  • Tsar Nicolas – “absent some significant technological breakthrough”
    That’s being generous! I suspect any such break through will come from out of field and have a whiff of magic about it – just like the early work on electricity, nuclear fission and fusion. Which makes the lack of any substantive R&D on thorium a bit perplexing, as whilst there will need to be some technical break through necessary to make it fit for prime time, the basic technology is known.

    One thing Peter is right about is that, as we already knew, but forgot in our excitement: the wind is an unreliable source of power if you want to power something by simply throwing a switch. I’ve never seen the logic of connecting wind turbines directly to the grid.

  • One of the perverse things that will come out of the power cuts will be the discovery that wind turbines, solar voltaic panels will be of no help. Because H&S considerations mean that when the mains goes off, so do the panels. Likewise wind farms will have to shutdown when they become the only generator on any given substation…

  • Roland and Peter
    Please see my earlier comment, complete with quotes from the NIA.

    The reason for the present problem is down to the un-reliability of nuclear as a source of electricity.

    After sixty years of absolutely massive investment in nuclear it still only provides a mere 18% of electricity needs when all stations are working properly. Half of them are not working at all at the moment!

    You cannot rely on nuclear. It is too expensive, too inflexible, too dangerous.

    These are the facts – not some cooked up theory from The Adam Smith Society.

    In comparison to the dinosaurs of nuclear power all the various renewables are a secure, reliable, safe and cheap forms of electricity production.

  • Tsar Nicolas 28th Oct '14 - 10:16am

    National Grid, from their announcement this morning, are clearly not as sanguine as Ed about no power cuts this winter.

    http://www.itv.com/news/2014-10-28/embargoed-until-9-40am-so-where-is-the-real-power-failure/

  • JohnTilley

    re: unreliability of nuclear
    Yes we are experiencing a hit rate of outage of our expensive nuclear power stations. Obviously the official view is that these generators are end of life and hence we can expect them to become ‘unreliable’.

    Given their age and the fact that practically each nuclear power station was of a different (experimental?) design, I’m not convinced we can say that nuclear per say is inherently more unreliable. But I do agree it is expensive and specifically I note with respect to Hinkley Point C that all the long-term costs (specifically those to the Treasury) had not been included in the project cost calculations – what long-term costs? well specifically storage of nuclear waste and decommissioning!

    So yes the current outage of most of our nuclear power stations, isn’t helping matters. but we’ve been sitting on this particular cliff top (ie. winter power cuts due to supply shortfall) since circa 2003.

    > all the various renewables are a secure, reliable, safe and cheap forms of electricity production.
    That depends on what you mean by “secure”, “reliable”, “safe” and “cheap”. Certainly whilst we can rely on it being windy most of the time, we can’t rely on it being sufficiently windy all of the time to drive our electricity infrastructure. Additionally, I wouldn’t call wind “cheap” – if it were there would be no need for the level of government subsidy it has been receiving…

    re: technological break through
    I think the real problem is once again is a lack of joined up thinking and a willingness to change. As Bill Courtney points out, practically all of our existing power stations have been designed when fuel was abundant and cheap – hence why so much energy goes up the chimney in the form of heat. If reports are to be believed the amount of heat energy emissions from our power stations exceeds those from our homes!

    After evaluating micro generation several years back, I came to the conclusion that whilst the government was encouraging DIY schemes, the optimal solution was community based – hence one of the reasons why I’ve tended to promote the re-establishment of a power station at Battersea, as this permitted greater usage to be made of the “waste” from generation eg. heat can be used for community heating, fish ponds etc. plus potentially reducing losses due to being able to use locally supplied fuel (biomass) and transmitting over significantly shorter distances. However, switching from highly centralised out-of-town mega power stations to smaller units (potentially built out of shipping container sized units) would require a shift in thinking that I suspect is beyond the capabilities of the Westminster crowd and our domestic construction industry.

    In a similar vein, if Ed Davey really wants to: reduce carbon emissions, save energy, promote renewables, increase our energy self-sufficiency, create jobs, increase our export capability and improve our balance of payments then I have the following suggestion: Terminate the £12 billion programme to roll out smart meters and use a proportion of the monies instead to build (yes build!) solar voltaic & solar thermal panel manufacturing plants in the UK. This it can do because the monies aren’t coming directly from the government but indirectly from the energy companies and ultimately their consumers through the green levy. Given sufficient panels installed across UK roofs, these manufacturing plants will have effectively built several mega power stations…

  • I Power exceeds 90 % of available power for only 17 hours
    iiPower exceeds 80 % of available power for 163 hours
    iiiPower is below 20 % of available power for 3,448 hours (20 weeks)
    ivPower is below 10 % of available power for 1,519 hours (9 weeks)

    The data above concerns the efficiency of wind turbines, (Link provided above) so you can see why relying on wind power is not a viable strategy for keeping the lights on. However, the Climate Change act, written by a WWF activist and enshrined in law by Miliband, calls for 80% electricity from zero carbon generation, hence the massive investment in tens of thousands of windmills. It is perfectly clear that the legally binding requirements of the act are simply not achievable and it will only deliver the destruction of industry, our economy and our ability to provide heat and light.

    As other commenters have observed, Nuclear is hugely expensive, it has large decommissioning costs and waste problems. The decommissioning of Dounreay Fast Breeder Reactor will take in excess of 50 years. We need to invest in R&D on Thorium reactors and other technologies such as fission. The UK once led the industry now we buy in the technology from the French and Japanese. We should build expertise in new, safer, cleaner forms of nuclear energy.

    Small scale gas CHP (combined heat and power) is the way to go. Gas is clean and the carbon footprint is relatively small. This could be linked to fracking which is perfectly safe, but demonised by green activists.

    Solar power is a gimmick and only of interest while subsidised at enormous cost to the consumer. I dislike it because the rich with lots of spare land or roof area can milk the consumer including the poorest in society who own neither land or the roof over their heads, but must pay the subsidies through their electricity bills. Also, solar is useless at night and in cold, short, dreary winter days when sunlight is scarce and electricity is at peak demand.

    Global warming caused by carbon dioxide was massively exaggerated and today it is unclear the extent to which natural ocean oscillations and solar activity contributed to the warming last century. Certainly, there has been zero warming so far this century and many scientists are predicting cooling. All of this means that the Climate Change Act is not just impossible to satisfy, it may not have any purpose. Quite apart from anything else, our unilateral actions will make a negligible difference to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. We should scrap the CCA or at least suspend it and use the breathing space to embark on a viable energy strategy. That means one that does not depend on solar power or wind turbines.

  • Peter, it is not clear what you base your very broad brush contentious staternt —
    “…. solar is useless at night and in cold, short, dreary winter days when sunlight is scarce and electricity is at peak demand…”

    It will come as a complete surprise to those of my friends whose sole source of electricity is solar power. They live in real houses, with real electrical appliances which do not all grind to a halt on a cloudy day or during the winter months. Perhaps you are exaggerating the facts to bolster your criticism of renewables?

    Or maybe you live in the far north of Orkney where winter days are a bit short? Bit windy up there is it not?

  • @ John Tilley
    You say that in comparison with nuclear, renewables are secure, reliable, safe and cheap. That may be the case, but compared with conventional sources such as coal or gas, renewables are not secure, reliable safe or cheap. That is why the current policy of basing our electricity mainly on renewables will drive many into fuel poverty and degrade the reliability of our supply.

  • Jenny Barnes 28th Oct '14 - 4:43pm

    Bill Courtney”With the help of public funding from Innovate UK we are building a proof of concept Latent Power Turbine that could harness this waste heat and convert it into electricity. ”
    CCGT gas stations do something like this – the back end of the gas stage being used to raise steam to drive another turbine. However, the heat is not “wasted”. Heat is conserved, in fact – it’s just that its temperature is reduced, ideally to just above ambient, so as to extract the maximum mechanical / electrical energy from it. It’s a heat engine, and therefore subject to the second law of thermodynamics and Carnot efficiencies. However, I do have a plan for a perpetual motion machine you might like to fund…
    Typical efficiency of coal fired is around 40%, CCGT is about 50%.

    Peter ” Nuclear is hugely expensive, it has large decommissioning costs and waste problems.”
    The really nasty waste is in the fuel rods. If those are reprocessed, it leaves a small amount of very radioactive material, together with plutonium/ uranium that can be used to make more fuel rods.
    Very radioactive material necessarily has a short half life, and so becomes safe quite quickly, although it does need to be very carefuly looked after for 10-20 years.
    Everything else – containment vessels and so on – can just be left for 50 years or so until it’s no longer dangerous. Or build another nuclear power station next to the old one.
    The fly ash from coal fired power stations contains radioactive material – and it’s used to make breeze blocks and plasterboard…

  • Roland
    You make a lot of very good points.
    I especially agree with you about the potential for micro generation. This was a cover story feature in the Economist (hardly the magazine of the hippy counter-cuture) decades ago on this very subject — but ministers listen too much to the vested interests Thoseon corporate lobbyist of mega electricity generation ( and private profit) rather than go for what is best for the public.
    I also agree with you on the wisdom of re-directing billions to build solar voltaic & solar thermal panel manufacturing plants in the UK.

  • @ John Tilley

    It is a simple fact that photovoltaic cells require incident light of reasonable intensity to produce electricity. They do not produce electricity at all at night or when the light is poor. It is conversion of light energy to electrical energy, so how could it possibly work in the dark?

    Electricity cannot be stored at that sort of scale, so they must get it from the grid otherwise they would have no electricity at night.

    I suspect that the extremely generous and false price they get for solar electricity exported to the grid greatly outweighs the cost of electricity imported from the grid at night and when sunlight is poor. So I’m guessing that the “sole use of solar power” is based on their electricity bill rather than on defying the laws of physics.

  • JohnTilley “It will come as a complete surprise to those of my friends whose sole source of electricity is solar power. They live in real houses, with real electrical appliances which do not all grind to a halt on a cloudy day or during the winter months.”

    I’d be interested in knowing more. If they really are not connected to mains electricity, and rely totally on solar voltaic, I would presume they have a cellar/garage/shed containing a rather large array of batteries; something that the powers that be don’t really endorse….

  • The extremely generous “feed in tariff” or price paid for solar electricity exported to the grid was to encourage people to adopt solar. Now the government realises that this was not a great idea and the subsidies are being reduced and eventually will be withdrawn. This happened in Spain recently causing the solar industry there to collapse.

  • Has anyone evaluated the impact of the de-nationalisation/marketization of Electricity supply in terms of economy, reliability and capacity to deliver environmental requirements? I spent 35 years proud to be committed to the security of the National grid so I wonder if I wasted a career.

  • You are very brave, if factories force workers onto nights so you can deliver this promise don’t expect them to thank you fail to see how if workforce sits at home that will not increase electricity and gas demand plus as many car share the cost of getting into work will take money out of their pockets as well

    Least they will have some nice wind turbines to look at that should be reassuring

    If you get this wrong practice your youtube sorry song !

  • Ed Shepherd 28th Oct '14 - 5:56pm

    What will happen to factory workers who don’t want to work nights?

  • Roland

    Yes indeed the powers that be do not like people going “off grid”. If too many people did it the big corporate interests would lose their ability to exploit people who use their own capital and their own land/roof to supply themselves and their neighbours with electricity. The scandal of the national grid might become a talking point.

    For example here in suburban Kingston on the River Thames people live on houseboats happily producing their own electricity, recharging a bank of batteries during daylight hours and live “off grid”. In those cases where the solar is supplemented with a highly efficient modern wood-burning stove their homes usually have excess heating even in the depths of winter. No power cuts for them.

    I first visited the Centre of Alternative Technology in the early 1980s. Attitutudes have come a long way since then and as this recent article illustrates a lot of what were once considered outlandish ideas are now mainstream.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/01/turning-a-slate-quarry-green-40-years-of-centre-for-alternative-technology

  • >I first visited the Centre of Alternative Technology in the early 1980s.
    I remember it well visiting it several times in 75~86 and would agree that times have changed. However, it also serves to remind us of just how much we have failed to do. I remember they had a house in 1975 that due to the level of insulation installed had rooms that only needed a single 150 watt incandescent lightbulb serving as both a source of light and heat!

    In respect of how things have changed, I do recommend visiting Dinorwig Power Station and the Ecotricity Green Centre, but then I am more of a technologist than a hippy 🙂

  • John Tilley – “For example here in suburban Kingston on the River Thames people live on houseboats”

    Forgot all about the river, even though some of my relatives live on canal barges. 🙂

  • Tsar Nicolas 28th Oct '14 - 8:53pm

    How cheesed off would posters on here b if as well as confronting present day energy supply problems, we had to cough up for a 4,000 year old nuclear reactor that had been built at the site of Stonehenge by a previous advanced civilisation?

    That problem is going to confront our descendants in 4,000 years.

  • @Tsar Nicolas – You are assuming that the archaeologists in 4000 years will understand what exactly it is they dig up; given the level of debate about the function served by the pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx, I suspect they wouldn’t know what they were looking at and simply put it down as serving some primitive religious purpose…

  • Tsar Nicolas 28th Oct '14 - 11:35pm

    @Roland

    You make a fascinating point. They may well regard it as a religious artefact and therefore, in that future Liberal society, beyond criticism under their equality laws, even though people everywhere are developing sores and blisters, and dropping dead.

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