Autumn is a nervy time for any Government, as people search for signs of whether the winter might bring a crisis of some sort. Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn demanded the Prime Minister’s assurances that there wouldn’t be an NHS winter crisis, and the rumblings about junior doctors going on strike have further added to the speculation.
You can never be entirely sure – that’s the thing about crises, they do tend to take you by surprise – but I wonder if everyone is looking in the right direction at the moment. There’s a distinct possibility that energy might be the source of a winter crisis instead.
Consider the following news in today’s Mail:
‘National Grid was yesterday forced to use new ‘last resort’ measures to keep the lights on in homes across the country. Major industries were for the first time asked to down their tools to protect energy supplies.
The problem was blamed on a combination of unexpectedly high demand, power plant breakdowns and very low wind power output. At one point yesterday, wind farms were meeting only 0.5 per cent of the nation’s electricity demand against the average 10 per cent.
Under the emergency measure, announced by National Grid last year, businesses are paid to cut their power usage between 4pm and 8pm. A secondary measure – firing up mothballed power plants – was not required.
National Grid said last month that both schemes would be used only ‘as a last resort’ where demand outstripped supply. Short-term electricity prices spiked to £2,500 a megawatt-hour – 50 times the average.’
The winter is the peak time for energy consumption, for the obvious reason that people need more lighting and heating, but also the low point for renewables generation, as there is less daylight for solar and the high pressure involved in cold snaps often means that wind farms produce next to no energy either.
Given that this ‘last resort’ measure has been used in the first few days of November, that doesn’t bode well for what happens when winter truly arrives. There is a genuine possibility of blackouts – or larger shutdowns of industry in order to avoid powercuts for domestic consumers.
British voters’ expectations of government vary, but they all tend to share the minimum standard that light switches, kettles and radiators should work. A government which fails to live up to that reasonable demand would swiftly find itself in big trouble.
Concerned energy experts have been warning about the risk of an energy gap for some years. Tony Lodge of the CPS, for example, warned on this site two years ago that a flawed energy strategy could lead to a ‘national economic crisis’ involving ‘blackouts and price spikes’.
If such warnings weren’t heeded then, they absolutely must be now, before it is too late. After all, many of the same experts warned that deliberately increasing energy costs for green reasons would destroy jobs in energy intensive sectors like steel – and look what has happened there.