Renewable energy in Cumbria appeared unaffected by blackouts that affected England and parts of Wales, but it is still unclear what caused them.
The Government has launched its own inquiry into the blackouts that occurred on Friday 9 August that affected large parts of London, Newcastle and other parts of the country, and expects the outcome of this to be reported in coming weeks.
Traffic light outages, electricity cuts to trains and loss of lighting caused traffic chaos across the country when the blackouts occurred on Friday at rush hour.
So far we know that National Grid claims the power failure was due to a huge drop in the frequency which caused it to go below the grid’s safety limit. It occurred after two near-simultaneous power plant outages – the first at Little Barford gas-fired power plant and the second at Hornsea offshore wind. The former was blamed on a ‘technical issue’, while the Danish wind power company Orsted has not commented on the reason and is under investigation from the energy regulator Ofgem.
As is the case in these scenarios, the National Grid used its ‘frequency response tools’ to call on individuals and organisations with generator contracts to start generating almost immediately, but this additional generation was not enough to stop the blackouts.
There were reports of blackouts affecting some areas for several hours after the initial cuts as train and transport operators struggled to get services back online.
Could it happen again?
The National Grid must operate at a frequency of at least 50 Hz in order for it to be able to reliably fulfil demand. It dropped below this last Friday, but not for the first time. In fact in the past 12 weeks the National Grid’s frequency has fallen below this on three separate occasions. It had not fallen this far for over four years. This represents a marked increase in recent months, and is a figure that stands alongside increased claims from industry insiders that near misses are on the rise, and that the risk of wide-scale blackouts are increasing.
Are renewables to blame?
The National Grid did the renewables industry no favours by deciding to put out a tweet boasting that the proportion of UK electricity generated by wind power, had just reached a record high of 47.6 per cent just 16 minutes before the blackouts occurred on Friday. As people will remember there had been a storm and it was very windy! However, this has led people to assume the cause of the blackout was the increase in renewable energy over the past couple of years. This is not the case.
Instead, industry experts are blaming the focus on energy generation in recent years rather in investment in the National Grid. Infrastructure needs to be much stronger in order to cope with the increased variables of renewable energy generation, and this simply hasn’t happened, argued The Spectator last week.
The Government inquiry that has been called will hopefully see some lessons learned, and greater investment in all aspects of the energy sector, and not purely on generation.