Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Has the UK run out of power?

Reports in the media point to a statement by the UK National Grid that the margin between on-line electricity generating capacity and demand in the winter of 2015 will be 1.2%. The National Grid are paying power generation companies to keep mothballed plants available and also some large power consumers to "switch off" at times of high demand. The additional measures will give a 5.1% capacity margin. If all goes well it should be sufficient, but there are many risk factors that could cause an overload of that margin. It could be a power station failure, or a grid failure, an interruption to the Natural Gas supply. If this happened on a calm day we might lose the input from wind turbine power. An exceptionally cold winter may cause demand in excess of Government expectations.  There's more information on the National Grid's reserves here.

If you constantly run a complex mechanical system, maintained at the lowest possible cost, within 2% of its maximum capacity you cannot expect 100% availability. UK businesses should be blowing the dust off their contingency plans to see what they intend to do in the event of regional power outages this winter. These outages may be pre-announced or occur without warning.


  • You should run standby power system tests now to give your organisation time to fix any problems found. 
  • The tests should assume extended regional power outages. 
  • You might need to plan for load shifting to other regions/countries in the event of an outage. 
  • You should review arrangements for the supply of alternative fuels such as standby generator diesel. 
  • What will happen to fuel deliveries if a regional outage causes sudden demand on resupply logistics;
  • Who will receive priority in fuel delivery?
  • How will you make media announcements concerning your organisation's plan to your workers, customers, suppliers in the event of a regional power outage?

If your organisation uses home/remote working as part of its contingency planning, are there arrangements to provide standby power in those remote locations? Do your Key Home Workers have safe access to inverter power generators (and fuel) to run their home computers and network?  Will fuel be available for transport of workers? Are your workers aware of what they should do in the event of a local/regional power outage?

You may need to check the preparedness of your major suppliers for regional power outages.. 

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