Power generation in the UK is reaching a crisis point.
Climate change based legislation and power stations reaching retirement age are leading to at least 15 GW of coal, oil and nuclear plant closing by 2016 and 20 GW closing by the end of the decade. In addition a further 20 GW of gas fired capacity which has reached over 20 years of age could retire by 2020. Furthermore, economic pressures mean that new generation to take its place is not being built.
So while the UK can currently generate up to 85 GW of electricity for a peak demand of around 57 GW, the headroom between electricity supply and demand from users will start to get very tight from this year. If there is an unplanned power station outage or sudden large surge in demand, blackouts might occur.
On top of this, by 2020, the UK is legally bound to source 15% of its energy supplies from renewable sources which are notoriously variable as for example, wind turbines only generate electricity when the wind is blowing – only around 25 to 30% of the time.
To guarantee a secure supply of energy, there is a growing need for back up capacity to counter-balance the fluctuations and intermittent supply of these renewable sources. To keep the lights on, our electricity system needs to be flexible so the amount of power being generated and delivered to us always matches the amount we are using.