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Energy Lawyer| Blackouts in the UK

Rolling black outs in the UK may well become common place. The economic cost of such events has not been properly researched, but the effects can be dramatic. Despite calls to slow the development of renewable energy supplies, the real answer is to build a susbstantial capacity for energy storage. Fortunately, the UK leads the world in energy storage research and development.

The Daily Mail today reported that Tube travellers were stuck underground after a power cut hit London. London Underground said that the power failure was having a ‘serious impact’ on the whole of the network. Rail services from major stations including Victoria, London Bridge and Waterloo were also affected.√جª¬ø

The travel chaos comes only days after the Labour adviser, Sir John Armitt claimed that Blackouts are the ‘best thing’ for the UK, as only power cuts will force UK politicians to confront the lack of energy infrastructure investment.√جª¬ø

In an article in the Guardian (Friday 10 January), Sir John, who masterminded the London Olympics, said that ‘the Central Electricity Generating Board used to say that a resilient network operated on a 25% surplus. We’re down to 4%’.√جª¬ø

Although critics say that this approach is irresponsible, there is support from Professor Dieter Helm, a leading economist from Oxford University, who pointed to research that shows that in fact the surplus energy capacity for 2015-6 could be close to Zero.

A spokesman for EEF, the manufacturers organisation, said that Armitt’s comments were unhelpful and that the government should concentrate on reliable and flexible generation rather than intermittent power such as offshore wind.√جª¬ø

This approach conveniently dismisses the need to transition to renewable energy so that the UK can uphold it’s commitment under the Climate Change Act 2008 to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.  √جª¬ø

But Armitt is not a lone voice in predicting rolling Blackouts in the UK. In October 2013, The National Grid itself warned that demand for electricity could reach 95% of available supply if the country is hit by a prolonged cold snap. This would force the Grid to issue emergency warnings or NISMs [Notice of Insufficient System Margin].  Only two such notices have been issued so far in the past four years.√جª¬ø

There has been little research into the economic and other effects of Blackouts, despite the devastating consequences that can follow from a sudden and unexpected loss of energy.

In a paper presented to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2011, the author who is a leading energy lawyer, identified three forms of power outage being transient faults ( such as to a power line), a ‘Brownout’ which is a drop in voltage such as when lightning strikes and a ‘Blackout’ which is a total loss of power.√جª¬ø

Examples have already been seen around the world of the potential for vast financial claims resulting from blackouts.

Examples include;

  • Silicon Valley rolling blackout
  • 2000 1 hour outage in Chicago – delay of $20 trillion tra
  • Sun MicroSystems estimates cost to the company of $1m per minute
  • 2003 blackout in north east USA cost $6 billion economy
  • US  $4.5 billion of 2009 Recovery package for power grids
  • November 2006  extensive European Blackout following a planned routine disconnection of a German power line

 It is because of the intermittent nature of renewable energy, that academics have identified that a critical new industry of energy storage needs to be encouraged by government. In a ground-breaking study ‘Pathways for Energy Storage in the UK’, the Centre for Low Carbon Futures, shows that electricity and heat could be the hidden gem for our future management of energy as we increase renewable power and manage peak demand.√جª¬ø

Stimulated by a series of joint British Sino workshops on Energy Storage Technologies and Policy, led by Professor Richard Williams from the Royal Academy of Engineering and Professor Li Jinghai, VP of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, CLCF commissioned this research with the aim of addressing some of the issues surrounding energy storage technology. The report was led by Peter Taylor at The University of Leeds with contributions from the University of Sheffield and the University of Birmingham.

The authors call for a more joined up plan for energy storage which is consistent with developments in the wider energy system:

Many different technologies can provide electricity and heat storage but their future prospects are clouded by a range of technical, economic, regulatory and social uncertainties. There is an urgent need to clarify the long-term vision for the role of energy storage and this might best be achieved through a UK roadmap that brings together inputs from relevant stakeholders, including government, researchers, business, regulators and representatives from civil society” said lead author, Peter Taylor from the University of Leeds√جª¬ø√جª¬ø√جª¬ø.

Centre for Low Carbon Futures director Jon Price said: “The UK needs to take a whole systems approach to the future design of an upgraded electricity network considering our planned energy mix, interconnects with European neighbours and the deployment of energy technologies for appropriate demand response times and locations.√جª¬ø

One of the leading examples of  UK lead innovation is the development of the Cryogenic Energy Storage by Highview Power, who have developed a novel utility scale storage and power system based on research out of Leeds University In a statement to the Royal Society in October 2012, George Osborne said that√جª¬ø

‘Greater capacity to store electricity is crucial for these [renewable] power sources to be viable. It promises savings on UK energy spend of up to £10 billion a year by 2050 as extra capacity for peak load is less necessary. The Research Council’s energy programme is investing over £500 million over this Spending Review in energy research including energy storage.’√جª¬ø

Let us hope that the capability for all forms of energy storage is developed as a national priority, otherwise, dealing with rolling blackouts and the consequential litigation that is bound to break out as the financial consequences begin to mount will become the only new game in town.

Jeremy Barnett 18.1.2014






Originally posted 2014-01-18 00:00:00.

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