Will the lights go out this winter? A letter from the energy regulator Ofgem shows it is taking the prospect seriously. Ross Clark in the Spectator takes a closer look.
Ofgem declared that “there is a possibility of GB entering into a gas supply emergency” this winter and lays out what would happen in the event of this happening i.e., when insufficient gas is available to supply the gas network at any wholesale price. It turns out that Ofgem would seek to reduce demand by telling the largest gas users to switch off their plant. These, it adds, “will likely be large gas-fired power stations”. In other words, electricity generation will be sacrificed in order to maintain gas supply to households. The owners of the gas-fired stations will be paid compensation if they are unable to fulfil supply contracts, but that won’t help to keep the lights on.
There are, of course, ways to generate electricity other than gas, yet the U.K. power system is painfully dependent on gas to fill in the gaps when wind and solar are unable to deliver.
Ross notes that in 2021, gas accounted for 39.9% of overall electricity generation, while the contribution from renewable energy actually dropped by 9.3%, in spite of extra wind and solar capacity, “largely on account of low wind speeds”. Two of our remaining seven nuclear power stations have also been shut down this year.
With the European Centre for Medium Weather-Range Forecasts warning of high pressure dominating western Europe in November and December, this bodes ill for wind and solar energy. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that to prevent blackouts Europe will have to reduce demand for gas by up to 13%, depending on the level of liquified natural gas (LNG) imports, meaning rationing is very much on the cards. The agency said:
Europe’s security of gas supply is facing unprecedented risk as Russia intensifies its use of natural gas supplies as a political weapon. Solidarity, unity and responsible household behaviour will be crucial to ensure supply security.
Worth reading in full.