A fire late last weekend at Didcot B Power Station required the attendance of 25 fire engines and a hundred firefighters; one of the two units at the plant has subsequently been placed out of action “indefinitely”. This has sent the media into Corporal Jones mode, telling readers and viewers that the light are going to go out, and then telling them not to panic, while panicking themselves.
Yes, it's a mess. But don't worry about it ((c) BBC)
There was, as Captain Blackadder might have observed, only one thing wrong with the idea that half of Didcot B being down will bring power blackouts – it was bollocks. The plant operator stressed “We have a very resilient network in the UK and the way the National Grid can operate, they are able to call upon other power stations across the country to fill the gap that this power station has left as it's come off”.
That has not stopped the usual hyperbole, with the Mail telling “The devastating blaze at the Didcot B site in Oxfordshire comes days before National Grid sets out its winter outlook, amid worries over how it will keep the lights on if there is an 'energy crunch'. It is expected to put further pressure on the UK's squeezed electricity network and could result in supply failing to keep up with demand”.
Yeah, right. But even the usually sober Guardian caught blackout fever: “The government has attempted to quell blackout fears this winter after a fire shut down half the capacity at a power station in Oxfordshire ... But National Grid said the longer-term effect on supply was difficult to judge and that its annual winter outlook report, published next week, would take account of Didcot’s reduced capacity”.
So what’s the reality? Didcot B has a total generating capacity of 1.36GW, with 680MW of that off-line for the immediate future. To put that in perspective, right now (I’m typing this at 1640 hours) wind power – yes, those allegedly useless windmills – is generating 5.65GW, and with it just under 15% of the UK’s power needs. And wind has been posting those kinds of numbers since late last Friday.
Moreover, Coal and Gas output can reach a total of 40GW with ease, but at that same time, were generating 13.44GW and 11.3GW respectively – so there is lots of spare capacity. The only potential problem is with nuclear, where the usual 7GW or so is down at less than 4.5GW, although it’s not needed right now. Yes, colder weather and longer nights will raise demand – but the system has plenty in hand.
On top of that, the Grid can switch in as much as 2GW from pump storage at peak times, as well as draw around 2GW through the French interconnector. It will not have escaped attention that all of these numbers are significantly larger than the loss of less than 1GW from the closure of one unit at Didcot B.
The lights are not going out any time soon. It’s another example of not believing the scare stories in the papers, and sticking to the facts. Boring but true.