Remedying UK Power Cuts and Re-nationalising the Grid

POWER CUT, 9/8/19. UK National Grid Frequency (HZ) versus Time.

This is a chart I produced using Google Sheets using data sourced from –
BM Reports. Rolling system frequency – historic
Screenshot of BM Reports Rolling System Frequency for 9/8/19

The National Grid’s Interim and Final Report

NG links: TweetWebpageInfographicInterim ReportFinal ReportAppendices

The National Grid’s interim report includes a higher-resolution frequency vs time graph, part of which I have extracted and annotated.

The National Grid was in breach of its licence obligations (to keep grid frequency above 49.5 Hz) within 5 seconds of the first events which precipitated this power cut crisis.

This proves that the National Grid has totally inadequate automated frequency response services.

 

 

The Times did their own version of this graph.
Grid Frequency Vs Time
Nice. 🙂

Remedial Action

Operationally, the National Grid should contract for generators (while not actually generating at full load or at all) to run in spinning reserve for frequency response service and to add “inertia” or rotational kinetic energy to the synchronous generators system which is drained by any supply-demand power deficit, moderating the rate of frequency slowing.

The National Grid should contract for a margin of excess demand-side response capacity too.

Those cheap and cheerful measures could be done very quickly and would keep the lights on securely while considering the best investment decisions to suit the transition to renewable energy, most likely supplementing the UK’s 2.9GW of pumped storage hydroelectricity short term operating and fast reserve with fast-response electrical energy storage, be that from super-capacitors / ultra-capacitors and / or batteries to supply a short burst of fast-reserve power of no more than about 2.9GW – to sustain the supply power and maintain frequency while the UK’s pumped storage hydroelectric schemes are reaching full power output from their highest state of readiness, ideally spinning reserve.

Battery vs Ultracapacitor

The National Grid reports it has 472MW of batteries already so investing in another 2.4GW of super-capacitors should complement the UK’s 2.9GW of pumped storage hydroelectricity nicely to create a high specification renewable energy reserve power supply that could power up instantly and last for hours if necessary, even in the event of a power shortage crisis that was twice as bad as the one just suffered.

Re-nationalising the National Grid?

In May 2019, the BBC reported that the Labour Party unveiled plans to take the National Grid into public ownership.
After this power cut, the Guardian asked “Does this strengthen the case for nationalising the National Grid?“.

Maybe it does because the suspicion must be that the privatised National Grid has hived off its grid management to a separate “Electricity System Operator” company limiting its liability with respect to OFGEM fines, with a shoddy frequency response service, risking power cuts in order to profiteer with predictable consequences for grid reliability.

My view – re-nationalise the National Grid with extreme prejudice. 😀

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8 thoughts on “Remedying UK Power Cuts and Re-nationalising the Grid”

    1. Reportedly, the maximum fine which OFGEM can impose is limited to 10% of UK company turnover.
      https://news.sky.com/story/ofgem-investigates-electricity-companies-over-power-cut-11789553

      Mere “coincidence” then that the Tory Government whose election campaigns are financed by donations from big business happens to have “forced” the privatised National Grid to minimise its exposure to fines by forming a separate company with a smaller turnover and liable for a smaller maximum fine?

      A mere “coincidence” too that OFGEM “forced” the National Grid to cut its power reserves to the bone of only 1,000MW, risking power cuts?

      It seems to me that the privatised National Grid has in OFGEM and the Tory government precisely the sugar-daddy regulators that the National Grid always wanted, who would “force” the National Grid to do exactly what maximises their profits, while maintaining a pretence of independent regulation, of course.

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  1. The generators who can provide a “spinning reserve” are the large coal fired generators and nuclear generators who run large turbines with large inertial masses. These are in any case the generators who provide the core generating capacity as these generators cannot be switched on and off quickly. (It takes a long time to spin up large turbines.) As it is, the large coal fired power stations are being phased out, so it is this essential spinning reserve which is being lost. Other generators do not have this capacity of inertial energy and the idea of paying them to be on standby on that account, falls.

    As it is, wind and solar generators are being constrained off if there is too much generating capacity and the mains frequency threatens to go too high – as happened to Hornsea One the very next day after the power outage, with a cost to the electricity consumer of £100,000 in that instance alone!

    As you show , the National Grid is not being run to the benefit of the electricity consumer, despite it being a natural monopoly. Ofgem should, of course, keep a might tighter rein on National Grid to ensure that is value for money for the consumer, but Ofgem is stuffed with accountants who know little about power generation and so Ofgem is not able to properly analyse National Grid’s business model and decisions.

    One example is the fact that National Grid claims we need yet more inter-connectors to bring in power from Europe (and as far away as Iceland!) and National Grid is the organisation that is building the inter-connectors – at vast profit to National Grid! This is a conflict of interest that should have been jumped on long ago by Ofgem.

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    1. Welcome to my blog Geoffrey – I am assuming this is your first comment here?

      Your first paragraph is at serious risk of conflating and confusing the two quite distinct concepts of –

      (1) spinning reserve power, the capacity of a spinning generator held in reserve to increase its power generation massively on command which does not require any change in the rate at which the generator spins,
      Wikipedia – Operating Reserve
      Energy Storage Association – Spinning Reserve

      (2) the inertial response of synchronous generators, a property of rotational kinetic energy changes which is associated with grid power imbalances that is intrinsic to the changes in the rotation rate of those generators with grid frequency
      Wikipedia – Inertial Response
      Inertia in Electricity Systems

      Many generator types can offer either or both of those useful functions to protect against power stations trips which threaten frequency drops and power cuts – but those functions are not in the least restricted to coal and nuclear power stations only.

      Whilst both coal and nuclear power stations excel at providing inertia (when they are generating at constant load) they are not the quickest and best at increasing their power output on command from spinning reserve.

      So in terms of spinning reserve, we can expect excellent performance from certain hydroelectric turbines such as those at Dinorwig, which when synchronised and spinning-in-air offer an emergency load pick-up rate from standby of 0MW to 1,320 MW in 12 seconds – impressive!

      However it seems on the day of this power cut, the National Grid shamefully neglected to contract and to deploy Dinorwig instantly in an automated frequency response role.

      The National Grid has not admitted to that crime of omission explicitly but only in so many terms, admitted to having only 1,000MW of automated reserve power back up, 472MW of which was batteries.

      We can also deduce the same from the Gridwatch data

      Date stamps – GMT – frequency – pumped
      8/9/2019 15:55:37 – 48.889 Hz — 293 MW
      8/9/2019 16:05:35 – 50.1819 Hz — 958 MW 

      – which shows that the UK’s pumped storage hydroelectricity generation was 293MW at the time of the power cut and did not ramp up to 958MW until about 10 minutes after the power cut – 10 minutes too late to avert the power cut!

      The UK’s about 20GW total of Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) both contribute a lot of inertia to the grid – in proportion to those CCGTs which are actually online and in synchronous rotation – and the UK’s CCGTs also are capable of outstanding performance as spinning reserve, due to their ability to ramp up power quickly from partial load to full load. This is always true for the CCGT’s gas turbines but is not always the case for the CCGT’s steam turbines especially not when the CCGT is operating in stand-by at zero or very low load when there would not typically be enough heat nor steam pressure to quickly ramp up the steam turbine’s power output.

      One more word on the decommissioning of coal-fired power stations. It would be possible in theory to re-purpose the turbine units of those decommissioned coal-fired power stations so as to keep their useful inertia for the grid without burning any coal or boiling up any steam. This could be done by starting the turbines and spinning them up to synchronous rotation using electrical power.

      Regrettably, the UK’s reckless rush to demolish coal-fired power stations has never considered the potential advantages to maintaining grid resilience which could be had by suitable re-purposing of these power station plants. The “accountants who know little about power generation” have simply rushed in to strip assets so as to sell off the land and placed our electricity power supply in great danger. Unforgivable!

      The fact is Geoffrey that there is a lot of renewable energy out Iceland’s way – geothermal but a whole lot of untapped wind energy too, that Europe could consider exploiting with the necessary inter-connector infrastructure.

      I’ve had this at the back of my mind since I started this blog. I’ve not really posted much about it, beyond this image illustrating the distance from Scotland to Iceland.


      Iceland to Scotland shortest distance for sub-sea inter-connector cables – discussion page

      The grid has a great potential to bring renewable energy from remote locations all the way to the customers in their homes and business and not a power cut to worry about – if we do it right!

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      1. On inter-connectors from Iceland, nobody has built an underwater inter-connector that long before. It is a serious technical challenge and it should not be assumed that it is just shorter ones, only a bit longer. As it is, underwater inter-connectors off the East coast seem to suffer damage and outages with alarming regularity. This project needs proper scrutiny with regard to its likely final cost and it benefit. I do not think Ofgem have the necessary technical know-how to do that scrutiny adequately.

        Doing renewable energy ‘right’ needs sufficient battery/capacitor back up to ensure that we do not have to go to the expense of building two infrastructures – one for the core energy supplier who will have to be able to supply 100% of our electricity needs on dark windless nights in the middle of winter, and another for the wind and solar generators who will be supplying the power on windy, clear, days. Too, the cost of constraining off means renewable energy is expensive because we are paying for electricity we do not use – and so renewable generators are not being utilised efficiently .

        There should be a condition applied to renewable intermittent energy sources that there must also be sufficient storage capacity to supply the generator’s theoretical maximum power output for a period of – say – twelve hours. Until that happens, these problems of power outages will continue. This will make the up-front cost of building renewable power generation more expensive, but the electricity will be generated more efficiently (as defined above), which will offset the increased expense of the initial development, and what we gain is reliability because it will be far easier to match supply with demand.

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        1. Regarding the serious technical challenges of damage to long underwater inter-connectors, see Basslink Island Hop Routes


          where I proposed segmenting long undersea inter-connectors by routing them via convenient islands on route to make for quicker repair of the shorter damaged segment of the inter-connector.

          In the case of a Scotland to Iceland inter-connector, the obvious route would be via the Faroe Islands.

          In the case of North Sea inter-connectors, decommissioned oil and gas rigs could serve as junction stations.

          To serve “our electricity needs on dark windless nights in the middle of winter” at least expense, we ought to convert coal-fired power stations to burn bio-mass fuel as has been wisely done at Drax in England, but was recklessly not done at Longannet in Scotland which is now being demolished, which will require in future new-build biomass power stations in Scotland.

          It would be just to seek compensation for the public purse from those who ordered and allowed Longannet levelled to the ground – an unforgivable and gratuitous act of industrial vandalism. 😡

          Industrial Vandalism. From beyond the grave, Thatcherite market forces delay the transition to 100% Renewable Energy
          Industrial Vandalism. From beyond the grave, Thatcherite market forces delay the transition to 100% Renewable Energy

          I wish to preface my next remarks by noting –

          • that the power-cut which the UK suffered recently was not because of the intermittent nature of wind power, nor because of the transition to renewable energy, so “these problems of power outages” should not be conflated and confused with the issue of storage requirements for transition to 100% renewable energy, which is a different issue and a different requirement to the energy storage requirements of coping with such power station trips
          • that the energy storage capacity requirement for managing the grid’s future intermittent renewable generation will be larger than batteries can provide for at an affordable cost,
          • that pumped storage hydroelectricity is a better, most cost-effective technology for  large capacity energy storage for most national grids, albeit supplemented with batteries and / or super-capacitors / ultra-capacitors for the best frequency-response performance and
          • that there can be no better website than this blog for discussing the pumped storage hydroelectricity prospects for the UK.

          The above duly noted, the sufficiency of energy storage capacity to match a given intermittent renewable generator is better calculated in proportion to the average intermittent energy generation while it is the re-charging power capacity of the energy store which should ideally be sufficient to use the generator’s maximum power output.

          For farm-scale energy storage deployed in close proximity to its matched wind or solar farm, the recharging power capacity is always appropriately matched to the maximum farm generating power but for grid-scale energy storage capacity – such as pumped storage hydro schemes – the maximum appropriate recharging or pumping power will in general be limited by the grid connection’s power transmission capacity.

          In my computer modelling research, I found that an energy storage capacity of about 90% of an average day’s intermittent (wind) generation was the optimal low-cost solution. See –

          Modelling of wind and pumped-storage power

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          1. Yes, well your model presumably assumes an independent Scotland with a grid isolated from that of England.

            It assumes a generating capacity from all sources about 30 times the average demand, which is a huge investment in generating capacity vs demand.

            While the potential for hydro pumped storage is large in Scotland, I do not think that the same can be said for England. Certainly not 30 times demand. There is a political element here and it the potential for an independent Scotland and what that would mean for a harmonised grid between the two countries. The same is true – though to a far lesser extent – for Wales.

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            1. Geoffrey, your comments are becoming conversational and off-topic, so I must correct you, sorry.

              When replying to a comment under my posts please restrict yourself to replying to the topic of that particular post – in this post, “Remedying UK power cuts and Re-nationalising the Grid”.

              When I post a link to another of my posts, that is meant and you should take it, as an invite to visit that other post and if you are interested in that other topic by all means make a comment about what you read in that other post but only in a comment under that other post.

              You are not welcome to visit another post about another topic and then return to “UK power cuts” post and continue with your off-topic rambling comments.

              In this “UK power cuts” post, I have said nothing about the politics of “an independent Scotland” here.

              Sorry but as moderator of my forum, I rule that the politics of re-nationalising the UK grid is on-topic in this post but the politics of “Scottish independence versus the Union” is off-topic in this post, for now anyway.

              Please do not go off-topic in that way again otherwise I will not approve your comment for publication and instead write you an email reply.

              The grid in Scotland is connected to the UK-wide grid. At the time of the power-cut which we are discussing in this post, apparently the local power sufficiency in Scotland meant that Scotland did not suffer any power cuts this time, thankfully.

              However with this mismanaged privatised National Grid no doubt Scotland’s turn to suffer wide-spread power cuts will come, sadly.

              Also you are straying off-topic by attempting to discuss the numbers of my modelling post in the “UK power cuts” post.

              I will briefly indulge you here but further comments from you about my modelling numbers must be replied to on the modelling post page, not here on the UK power cut page, OK?

              In my computer modelling research, I modelled systems of sizes 6GW and 52.5 GW peak demand, representing roughly the peak demand in Scotland and the UK respectively, illustrating how much wind power, energy storage capacity and back-up power would be required to serve the respective demands from customers.

              I have never assumed an “isolated” grid, for either demand size but have explicitly modelled import and export power to and from the size of system modelled too.

              I refute your claim that my modelling “assumes a generating capacity from all sources about 30 times the average demand”.

              I suspect that once again you are conflating and confusing matters – this time energy storage with power.

              Please do not drag in numbers, real or imagined, from my modelling post or from any other of my posts into this “UK power cuts” post.

              I invite you again to visit my modelling post and comment under that modelling post only when quoting my modelling numbers, show your working as to how on Earth you managed to arrive at your absurd claims and I may reply to you there in due course.

              I stand by my claim that “there can be no better website than this blog for discussing the pumped storage hydroelectricity prospects for the UK”.

              However, this “UK power-cuts” post is not the appropriate post of this blog wherein to discuss pumped storage prospects in the UK.

              Instead, please visit these other “pumped-storage” posts and comment under those posts about matters pumped-storage hydro.

              World’s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?
              Search for sites to build new pumped-storage hydroelectricity schemes

              The reality has long been of a harmonised UK grid, an increasingly inter-connected European grid and now this blog is looking to the prospects of an inter-connected trans-Atlantic grid, as I did in my post that proposed long distance inter-connectors from South America to Europe!

              The total distance between Lake Titicaca and Azores is 7,506.32 km (4,664.21 mi)

              I estimate that now and in future, Scotland will generate about one third of all the renewable energy consumed in the UK.

              With the transition to 100% renewable energy, generators in Scotland will be keeping the lights on for about 22 million customers of the rest of the UK.

              It is now and it will remain good business for electricity producers and consumers and I trust and will insist that it remains the duty of the National Grid to facilitate good electricity business and power security, regardless of political machinations.

              Again, please resist the temptation to sound off here in “UK power cuts” about the posts I have linked to. Please visit the link and if you have something to comment about that other topic then by all means do so – but only in that other post, not here.

              If I sound a bit like your mother telling you to keep your room tidy, OK! 🙂

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