Light bulb image via agentmelton/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

 Three things you shouldn’t miss this week

  1. Chart: UK winter spare capacity
  1. Article: National Grid warns of lower winter power capacity – National Grid has warned that its capacity to supply electricity this winter will be at a seven-year low due to generator closures and breakdowns.
  1. Article: Drilling Deeper: New Report Casts Doubt on Fracking Production Numbers – Post Carbon Institute has published a report and multiple related resources calling into question the production statistics touted by promoters of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).
 
Should we be worried about the threat of a cold dark winter? The prospect of gas shortages looked less likely after Russia reached agreement with Ukraine over payments. Closer to home though, a National Grid report has shown that spare electricity generating capacity this winter is at a seven year low.
 
National Grid’s warning was greeted with the time honoured ‘blackouts’ headlines despite assurances that contingency plans are in place and analysis showing that power cuts are highly unlikely. Yet there was little mention of the role renewables could play in easing supply pressures. Never mind that a major cause of the current low spare capacity is a spate of unplanned outages at coal, gas and nuclear facilities – proof it isn’t only renewables which can suffer from ‘intermittency’. Nor that energy from wind briefly outperformed nuclear last Tuesday – confirmation of its importance in the energy mix. Instead the announcement was treated as another chance to grind political axes about ‘unreliable’ renewable generation.
 
In fact it isn’t renewable energy that’s unreliable, but energy policy,particularly in the UK, which has utterly failed to cope with the recent slump in fossil fuel prices. The US shale gas glut has led to a surge in American exports of coal, making it far cheaper to burn the dirtiest fossil fuel over here, while European gas fired power stations – with higher fuel costs – are being mothballed. Soon the UK will be paying coal fired stations – which had been due to close – to stay open longer. This shakeup to the UK energy industry sends all the wrong signals and will cause UK emissions to rise.
 
All this comes as neither the EU Emissions Trading Scheme nor Britain’s Carbon Price Floor – capped by George Osborne in the last budget – is remotely close to achieving the rapid transition to low carbon energy we need. Yet another energy crunch shows that the current system is cracking and renewable technologies can provide not only a low-carbon energy source, but also a promising solution to market disruptions.