National Grid puts coal plants on standby for UK cold snap

National Grid to incentivize customers to cut energy use.
National Grid is to incentivize customers to cut energy use.

National Grid has put three coal plants on standby to boost electricity as Britain braces for increased demand because of a cold snap.

And the electricity system operator has also given more than a million homes the chance to cut their energy use in return for a discount on their bills.

It is the first time National Grid ESO has initiated its Demand Flexibility Service and comes as plunging temperatures in Britain are predicted to bite on electricity demand.

For an hour this evening, customers with a smart meter will be asked to use less power in return for a cut in their bills.

National Grid ESO said: “Our forecasts show electricity supply margins are expected to be tighter than normal on Monday evening.

“We have instructed coal-fired power units to be available to increase electricity supplies should it be needed tomorrow evening.

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“These are precautionary measures to maintain the buffer of spare capacity we need.”

However, Kelly Becker, President of Schneider Electric in the UK and Ireland, believes the Demand Flexibility Service is an insufficient quick-fix. 

Kelly Becker

“Short-term incentives to reduce consumer demand for energy may be useful as a precaution against power outages, however, they are a sticking plaster on an even bigger issue.

“Over 60% of all the energy that is produced globally is lost or wasted before it is consumed.

“If we were to approach the crisis differently and tackle just a fraction of this shocking level of waste, then we could easily reduce consumption, and keep the lights on and thermostats up. 

She said that according to figures from the Office of National Statistics, homes across England and Wales have a median EPC energy efficiency rating in band D.

“Meanwhile only around a third of owner-occupied and privately rented properties are rated C or above, which is the minimum level for new build homes.

“Most of our housing stock needs retrofitting to meet the target, bring down costs, reduce waste and go a long way to easing the energy crisis.” 

Becker said that “the digital tools and technologies already exist to give consumers unprecedented visibility over their energy habits at home and adjust their energy usage without sacrificing health and comfort”. 

“These can make a difference in a matter of days or weeks, not months and years. If we adopt them now, we can boost the resilience and stop paying the heavy price of an inherently inefficient energy system.” 

Meanwhile, Jon Hiscock, chief executive of British engineering company Fundamentals, said: “We need to remind ourselves that modern energy grids are some of the most complex man-made systems on the planet.

“And the UK’s grid is one of the most reliable. Load and demand are balanced continuously on our grid, every second of every day.”  

Hiscock said that while “action may be required on the deepest, darkest evenings when excessive demand can spike quickly, the grid is advanced enough to apply granular command and control”.

“Understanding the nuances in demand from different areas means we can predict when overloads are a danger and take steps to balance the load long before they happen.

“We may not need to turn the lights off, just to dim them. For example, we can lower the voltage being supplied to each household to help manage supply and demand.  

He added that the focus needs to be on “how we reconfigure the grid for a low-carbon future”.

“Decarbonisation will spark unprecedented changes in the way that electricity is consumed. Handling the peaks and troughs that come with a more dynamic system means that power from intermittent renewable sources, such as wind or solar, need to be carefully balanced.

“Capacity will need to be increased to ensure resilience. Technologies that increase network flexibility will be key alongside targeted reinforcement of the UK grid.

“Ultimately, we need to take practical steps to ensure our resilient grid can continue to evolve and remain a well-oiled and well-controlled machine.” 

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