Gov’t Official: UK Will ‘Sit In The Dark’ Due To Wind And Solar Power Crisis

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Great Britain’s over-reliance on solar and wind power is causing a power crisis which could trigger blackouts, according to a government official in charge of the nation’s power grid.

An official at Ofgem, the British government’s regulator for gas and electricity markets, said at a university confrence that much of the country will soon be forced to “sit in the dark” because “not everyone will be able to use as much as electricity as they want.”

“[I]ncreasing intermittency from renewable energy is producing profound changes to this system,” Andrew Wright, a senior partner at Ofgem and former interim chief executive, said at the conference.“We now have much less flexibility with the loss of fossil fuel capacity. Coal has been important, but this is disappearing.”

Wright noted that due to to the closure of Britain’s coal mines and power plants, the country’s power grid is increasingly vunerable to blackouts and brownouts as the country is overly reliant on wind power. On unusually windless days, the power grid won’t have enough input to meet demand. Wind turbines only work when the wind continuously blows, which cannot be directly controlled for. Britain’s power grid simply isn’t designed to handle such intermittent sources.

Britain’s government announced that it wants to phase out existing coal power over the next 10 to 15 years, which will make replacing lost energy capacity even harder. Closing the country’s remaining 15 coal plants will take a whopping 24,830 MW of generational capacity offline, meaning that somewhere between 20.2 percent to 34.6 percent of Britain’s electricity will have to be replaced.

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said in October noted that country will need to invest “eye-wateringly large sums of money” just to keep the lights on. Hammond estimated that Britain will need to pour about $127 billion over the next 20 years into some form of conventional electricty to maintain reliability.

Emergency measures to keep the lights on in the U.K were taken, but official government analysis suggests there could still be insufficient electricity to meet demand when the wind isn’t blowing. Brownouts and blackouts are already impacting Britain.

Britain’s attempts to use wind or solar power are immensely costly. U.K. residents paid a whopping 54 percent more for electricity than Americans in 2014, while energy taxes cost residents roughly $6.6 billion every year. Green energy subsidies in the U.K regularly exceed spending caps and account for roughly 7 percent of British energy bills, according to a government study released July.

Polling indicates that 38 percent of British households are cutting back essential purchases, like food, to pay for high energy bills. Another 59 percent of homes are worried about how they are going to pay energy bills. Companies are getting hit by pricey British electricity as well, and some are even leaving the country because of it, threatening up to 40,000 jobs.

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