The UK electricity supply is under extreme stress

The UK, too, has made itself far too dependent on energy imports. I have been warning government for years that we need to do more to generate additional power and extract more primary energy at home, endowed as we are with liberal reserves of oil, gas and coal and with access to water power and biomass.

The Business Secretary could do more than pose as concerned at his meeting if he puts in train work to find longer-term solutions to our chronic dependence on unreliable overseas sources of energy.

GAS STORE CLOSED DOWN.  WHY?

He could ask why the Rough Field gas store was closed down, greatly reducing our stocks of gas which we now need. He should bring in more gas storage. He could review North Sea oil and gas policy, and see how the industry can be encouraged to tap more reserves from our own fields. He should keep the remaining coal power stations available with secure coal supplies for them, until there is sufficient greener power available to replace them on a reliable basis.

ONLY THREE COAL FIRED POWER STATIONS REMAINING

He should know that, at exactly the same time as we hit a world gas shortage, the UK electricity supply is under extreme stress. The remaining three coal power stations have been fired up, because there has been a marked shortage of wind for some weeks.

In recent years I have been wearing my keyboard out raising with Ministers and the wider public the issue of our need for more reliable electrical power to keep the lights on. The overriding preference for wind power was bound to leave us vulnerable to periods of calm weather.

WIND POWER ALONE IS UNRELIABLE

If these coincide with cold winter days, the consequences could be disastrous. A modern sophisticated economy needs electrical power for most things. How would food factories keep working, vulnerable people stay warm at home, hospitals look after patients without sufficient power? It is particularly worrying that the current shortage takes place against a background of limited demand thanks to mild weather. The cool summer in the south did not help, as heating thermostats were triggering as late as May and even in August, needing more gas-fired power even then.

IMPORTED ENERGY STRATEGICALLY WEAK

The UK’s passion for imported electricity has further weakened our position. The French interconnector in Kent was badly burned this week, taking out a potential imported supply of top up power which we rely too much on. We may discover soon that, if the shortages worsen, overseas suppliers will see exporting to us as an easy cut to make to husband their own limited supplies for domestic use.

When electricity was first privatised, we made security of supply the prime issue in the new system. There was a substantial margin of extra domestic capacity available to bring on stream if one or more of the baseload generating plants had problems. We did not need imports.  We made price the second important issue, with a system which always ensured the next cheapest power was brought on stream as demand picked up. In the early years of privatisation we both had plenty of capacity at home, and experienced falling prices. The dash for gas, with many new combined cycle gas plants going in, took feedstock from a healthy UK North Sea and replaced some older less fuel efficient and dirtier coal capacity, so the policy was also green.

Today, the Business Secretary needs to review the complex mesh of subsidies, regulations, penalty taxes and import arrangements that passes for an energy policy. It is delivering a shortage of power. It is holding up a good industrial strategy, as industrial expansion needs access to plenty of reliable competitively priced energy. It is now threatening consumers with much higher electricity and gas prices.

He should order changes that will open up more UK primary energy for us to use. He should want an electricity system that has more reliable renewable power which may take the form of hydro, pump storage and battery, but which also has enough back up capacity from biomass or gas, so we can be sure to keep the factories powered up.

Elimination of our dependence on imported electricity and a substantial reduction in our dependence on imported gas should be a minimum objective. The market would do this if it were allowed to function but, because of the comprehensive muddle of government-inspired past interventions, it now needs dramatic government action to put it right for the future.

In the meantime, we rely on the goodwill of the gas and electricity exporters and will have to pay up to secure supplies. It is the perfect storm, with both gas and electricity scarce. At home, an absence of wind leaves us short, and abroad Hurricane Ida closed down some important US gas capacity. Relying on the wind is a dangerous way of living.

www.johnredwoodsdiary.com

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4 Responses to “The UK electricity supply is under extreme stress”

  1. Gordon says:

    Here we go again!

    Received the following from green.energy today.

    In March of 2019 my former energy supplier ceased trading. Unknown to me
    at that time Ofgem’s standard procedure is that the customers of the company ceasing trading would be auctioned to the highest bidder. As I was not informed of this I immediately signed up with green energy network. A month later I received a bill from Utilita for £60 and for the next two years disputed with Utilita and Ofgem that I neither signed up to any contract with Utilita nor wanted to. Ofgem’s procedure is a total nightmare and Utilita expected me pay them 43p per unit of electricity. Fortunately, being meticulous by nature I keep a daily spreadsheet of my energy consumption and could prove my case.

    So here we go again!

    Hello ,

    When we launched Green in 2019, our goal was to modernise the UK energy market by bringing low-cost renewable energy to all of our members.

    It is with great regret that we are writing to inform you that Green is ceasing to trade, and that another supplier will be appointed by Ofgem to take over supply of our members.

    The current market conditions are unprecedented, with record wholesale energy prices pushing the cost of energy above the price cap. The fire at the National Grid interconnector site in Sellindge on 15th September led to wholesale electricity and gas prices reaching new record highs. Beyond the fire, 2021 has seen incidents at other production sites, unplanned outages, high demand for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tankers, Brexit, the Suez Canal incident, and the Beast from the East II to name but a few.

    This means that Green, like all other energy suppliers, are selling energy to customers at a loss. The price cap is calculated based upon a historic observation period, which means that it does not accurately reflect current market conditions.

    Over the past week, we have been vocal in calling out Ofgem and the Government for creating a regulatory environment which has led to five energy suppliers collapsing in the last six weeks.

    We wrote to Ofgem, the Prime Minister, the Business Secretary, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, together with 14 other suppliers asking for the energy price cap methodology to be reviewed and for an immediate support package to be assembled. Combined, the signatories account for over 1m customers and 2,000 staff. The letter accuses Ofgem of being unfit to regulate the industry, and of overseeing a return to a monopoly and a reduction in competition.

    Although Green, like many other small suppliers, have been accused by the Business Secretary of bad business practices, the reality is that the soaring energy prices are due to a global gas shortage. This global gas shortage has a significant impact on the United Kingdom due to low capacity and was predicted by the Energy & Utilities Alliance (EUA) in 2017 upon the closure of the Rough gas storage facility by Centrica.

    Additionally, there have been several other factors outside of Green’s control which have had a significant impact. Although much has been written in recent days about hedging positions, there seems to have been little discussion of the impact of government lockdowns, which changed customers usage patterns and led to greater domestic usage than anticipated. As a result, Green was forced to purchase additional energy at the prevailing market rate.

    During the pandemic, Ofgem also mandated that energy suppliers must provide payment holidays for customers and a relaxation of credit control – while still requiring that energy suppliers meet all of their payments. We have supported our members throughout these difficult times, providing payment holidays and being understanding of individual circumstances. Unfortunately, Ofgem’s ruling led to an increase in debit positions while Green still had to meet its industry obligations.

    Ofgem amended the balancing mechanism in 2015 through the P305 modification. The balancing mechanism manages imbalance prices, which is the difference faced by energy suppliers between the amount of electricity they buy and the amount of electricity they sell. The changes made to Ofgem – based upon their own analysis – led to energy suppliers facing higher average imbalance costs, and being more exposed to large spikes in electricity wholesale prices. The events of 2021 have led to many such spikes, which have further impacted upon Green.

    Finally, we would like to note that the Business Secretary was made aware of the threat to energy suppliers in March 2020 by Ofgem. We are now 18 months on from this letter, and to date no tangible action has been taken by the Business Secretary despite Ofgem stating that a ‘shock of this magnitude could mean that significant numbers of suppliers who have otherwise good business models may fail. To be clear, we are concerned that this may be significantly bigger in scale than recent failures and could involve larger, as well as small, suppliers. If the costs of any supplier failures are mutualised, this would also add to the pressure on suppliers remaining in the market’.

    We fear that smaller energy suppliers are being left behind by the Government, with rescue packages being put in place for larger suppliers and for private discussions to be held with the Business Secretary. There is a position in Government and Ofgem that smaller suppliers should be left to fail, despite the unprecedented increases in wholesale electricity and gas, the cost of failed suppliers being mutualised across the industry, and an outdated price cap methodology forcing smaller suppliers to sell at a loss.

    Our voice is not being heard – Ofgem and the Government seem intent on returning the market to the pre-deregulation state with only British Gas, EDF, E.On (including npower), OVO (SSE), and ScottishPower controlling the bulk of the customer base. With the exception of OVO who acquired SSE, the other suppliers have maintained a monopoly since the 1990s – which makes it difficult for any new entrants to thrive without having significant financial backing (e.g. Octopus Energy, Bulb).

    We would like to reassure you that your energy supply is secure and any credit balances on your account will be protected for domestic customers. Ofgem, the energy regulator, will be appointing a new supplier for all of our customers and their advice is to not switch until a new supplier has been appointed.

    I would like to personally thank each Green member for their support in realising our vision.

    I would also like to thank our staff for their efforts, and to wish them every success in their future endeavours.

    Kind regards,

    Peter McGirr
    Chief Executive Officer

  2. archer says:

    Call me paranoid, but could any (or all) of this be planned?

    Perhaps to kill off more of the weak, sick, old and poor that haven’t already been by the jab?

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