UK energy supply forecasts ‘into the red’ for first time next winter
Britain will be forced to rely on imports and costly emergency measures to prevent blackouts, official data suggests
Britain’s energy supply forecasts have plunged “into the red” next winter for the first time on record, suggesting the country will be forced to rely on imports and costly emergency interventions to prevent blackouts.
Figures from National Grid show that on current plans there will not be enough power plants operating in the UK market to keep the lights on for most of December, January and February.
The supply gap has emerged because a series of old, polluting power stations have been shut down, while hardly any replacement plants are being built.
A separate, “last resort” reserve of back-up power plants is highly likely to be called upon to bolster supplies through much of the winter, adding tens of millions of pounds to consumer energy bills, experts have warned.
National Grid confirmed that next winter is the first time since the published data system began in 2001 that it has not forecast a surplus margin of spare power plants in the UK market, and has instead forecast “negative margins”.
In mid-December and early January the figures show a shortfall of more than two gigawatts (GW) – roughly equivalent to the electricity needs of two million homes.
The forecasts exclude power imported on undersea cables, which can bolster supplies if the UK is willing to pay a higher price than the continent.
However, they also assume only average weather conditions, while a cold spell could further increase demand.
The forecasts also assume that UK wind farms will be generating more than 3GW of power, despite the fact they could produce almost nothing on a still day.
Jon Ferris, of energy consultants Utilitywise, warned it was a “leap of faith” to assume that level of wind power would be available when needed.
He said he believed National Grid would be forced to call upon its emergency measures “for much of December and January” in what would be its “most challenging winter for decades”.
Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow energy secretary, said the forecast figures showed “Britain’s power supply going into the red”.
“These shocking figures show Britain could be reliant upon emergency measures and using power from abroad to prevent blackouts this winter – and all because of the government’s failure to get new power stations built,” she said.
Ms Nandy, who is pushing for policy changes to get more gas plants built, warned that Britain “could be left paying a very high price” for its energy.
National Grid has already agreed to pay £122 million to keep a total of 3.6GW of power plants in the emergency reserve for next winter.
It will be forced to make further payments whenever it calls on the back-up plants to generate.
The National Grid projections have worsened significantly in recent weeks following announcements that two more coal-fired power plants will shut in coming months.
It is understood to be considering whether it may need to secure even more power plants for the emergency reserve in light of the closures.
A spokesman for National Grid said its forecasts were “not an indication that there will be supply problems next year” and stressed that they did not include the 3.6GW of reserve plants or imports.
She said the data was published so that “suppliers and generators can make decisions and respond accordingly”, adding: “This is a moving picture with figures for nearly a year from now and a lot can happen between now and then.”
A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said the data “does not reflect the situation for next winter as it fails to include extra capacity secured by National Grid or the contribution of interconnectors”.
“We’re clear that our families and businesses having access to secure, affordable energy supplies they can rely on now and in the future is non-negotiable and we are working closely with National Grid and Ofgem to ensure that,” she added.
“As part of our plan for long-term energy security, we are committed to tackling a legacy of under-investment and building a system of energy infrastructure fit for the 21st century.”