Following the UK’s power cut that affected almost one million electricity users on Friday the government has promised a full investigation into the causes, but what can the grid do to protect consumers from further power failures?
The chronology of events so far is as follows. At 16:58 the gas fired power station at Little Barton in Bedford tripped off the grid. This was followed almost instantaneously by the Hornsea offshore wind farm. The gas plant represented a significant 740MWe of capacity, while the wind farm has a maximum capacity of 6GW (6000MWe). Considering that the National Grids maximum demand in 2018 was a little under 55GWe, you can see that these two stations represented a very significant proportion of generation. The stress that this power loss put on the grid caused safety mechanisms to activate and these tripped out sections of the grid to reduce demand.
While it appears this was a rare event, the last caused by storm Frank in 2015, where around 40,000 people were left without power, consumers around the world are becoming more reliant on energy than ever before. Generally in the UK, backup power has not entered the residential market compared with other countries, this is in no small part to the excellent job the national grid and the network operators do of maintaining the network and limited the power cuts, but if the grid becomes less reliable, either due to a repeat of last weeks disruption, or because of worsening weather patterns, consumers may begin to invest in alternatives.
Charlie Farrow of Welland Power commented “Consumers and businesses needing to invest in backup power solutions isn’t really good news for the UK economy. A good power network is the backbone of UK business and while larger businesses have an excellent business case for planning for outages – even a short interruption can outweigh the cost – residential customers don’t have the same incentive. Any pickup in residential backup power should be considered a failure by the National Grid.”
In this instance the power was restored about an hour later, but the disruption it caused at peak travel times was stark; the UK like most developed economies is reliant on electricity and the government taking further steps to make the system more reliable is critical to the long term future of the grid. Consumers however, already burdened by large green taxes are unlikely to want to pick up the tab.