Lights should stay on over winter despite ‘tight’ power supply, grid operator says

Britain faces “tight” electricity supplies this winter but the company managing the National Grid believes it should be able to keep the lights on.

The Electricity System Operator (ESO) said its studies showed there could be “some tight periods” in early December but insisted that it could safely operate by issuing notices to power generators calling for additional capacity.

If its operating cushion falls below certain levels, the ESO sends out electricity margin notices alerting generators that electricity is needed.

“We expect there to be sufficient capacity to respond to these market signals to meet consumer demand,” it said in its winter outlook report.

The report also noted that the cessation of gas flows from Russia could have knock-on effects for the UK, including “very high prices”.

Grid managers and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have been negotiating delaying the closure of five coal power stations.

ESO said four of the five stations have now confirmed they are available to provide additional back-up electricity if needed. It said it was also “exploring options” to incentivise energy users to reduce electricity use during peak times.

However, ESO said its model assumes “normal market conditions”, that there is no disruption of fuel supplies to power stations and that the UK can buy electricity from Europe when needed.

Much of the UK’s electricity comes from gas, so any impediment to gas supplies could affect the availability of electricity.

Officials say they expect to export 750 megawatts to Ireland via interconnectors and that electricity interconnectors with the rest of Europe would respond to price signals, “providing imports when we need them”.

It warns there is uncertainty on the availability of French nuclear energy this winter, which could lead to more export flows from Britain to France when UK demands are not tight.

ESO said: “There are risks and uncertainties this winter as a direct result of possible shortfalls in Europe’s gas supply. While Britain is not reliant on Russian gas to the extent that the rest of Europe is, it is clear that the cessation of flows of gas into Europe could have knock-on impacts, including very high prices.

“We are working closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Ofgem and National Grid Gas Transmission to assess the potential scenarios that may arise and taking steps to ensure we are well-prepared to maintain safe and secure operation of the electricity system.”

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Britain paid the highest price on record for electricity in London last week to narrowly avoid a power blackout, it has emerged.

National Grid’s ESO was forced to pay £9,724.54 per megawatt hour to Belgium, more than 5,000 per cent higher than the typical price, to prevent a blackout in south-east London, as first reported by the Bloomberg news agency.

Issues around the hottest UK days on record led to extreme constraints in the power system and increased demand. Further high demand for energy across Europe combined with a bottleneck in the grid forced the ESO to look to Belgium at the highest price Britain has ever paid to keep power flowing.

Other factors, including planned maintenance outages of overhead lines and a storm in Belgium affecting solar power, put the system under severe strain.

While the amount bought was minimal – reportedly enough to supply eight houses for a year – it has exposed the UK’s reliance on importing electricity from interconnectors overseas, particularly France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The ESO said power outages meant a specific circuit was needed to get electricity to the right place.

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