Sunday, January 28, 2007

Living on the edge

If global warming – man-made or otherwise – is responsible for this year's mild winter, then the Scots have reason to be thankful for it.

According to the Scotsman on Sunday, Scotland is on the brink of a power crisis after an accident at one of the country's biggest electricity plants massively reduced supplies to the national grid.

This is Longannet in Fife (pictured). It is, in fact, the second largest coal-fired power station in the whole of the UK and has been shut down after a conveyor belt carrying coal collapsed. The worst of it is that the Hunterston B nuclear power station is already off-line, leaving Scotland perilously short of power. Outages have been avoided only because of the unseasonably warm weather.

The two stations normally account for almost half of Scotland's electricity generation and, crucially, provide constant back-up electricity at times when other stations (and the wind factories) are not operating.

Since Scotland normally exports power to England, but because of the way the grid is structured, it is difficult to reverse flow and send power from England up to Scotland.

This highlights the fundamental fragility and inflexibility of the National Grid, something we looked at in December. Few people realise that, in terms of electricity supplies, we are living on the edge and, even now, we are one power station away from disaster. As we increase our dependency on wind-generated electricity and fail to invest in more stable power providers, the situation can only get worse. No one in the business, it seems, is prepared to guarantee the stability of the grid after 2010.

The time is getting close when buying that generator is becoming essential.

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