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15 October 2014
Talking point: Blacking out

Talking point: Blacking out

There are many hackneyed phrases so over-used that any original dramatic impetus they had is lost.
One such phrase when looking at the energy debate is making sure we “keep the lights on”. 
We live in the 21st century, our scientific discoveries seem boundless, so how on earth could we ever be in a position where there wasn’t enough power to keep an electric light bulb working?
The only real power cut I’ve endured was in 1987 when the hurricane that Michael Fish insisted wasn’t coming hit places like the south of England. We got out our candles and camping stove, went to a friends for showers – and went up the road to the local panto, because the school hall still had heating.
In areas like Argyll,  where residents had a major outage caused by snowstorms in 2013, this sort of thing is more commonplace –and far more serious.
It seems a ridiculous situation but it could be closer than we think.
In the space of a few weeks two of Scotland’s major power plants have been the focus of scare stories casting a shadow over their futures.
Scottish Power, the owners of coal-powered Longannet in Fife, the country’s largest power plant, warned it would not enter into the auction for supplying electricity for 2018/19 after blaming “disproportionate” costly transmission charges.
Then at Hunterston B in Ayrshire, one of only two remaining Scottish nuclear power stations, cracks were discovered in one of the reactor cores.
Operators EDF said this was predicted to occur at the station, which has had its lifespan extended until 2023 by the Scottish Government, but assurances are now being sought that there is no danger to the public.
Alongside this Ofgem warned last year that unless energy demand was not cut then the probability of supply disruption could dramatically reduce – from a 1/47 chance  to a 1/12 chance in just two years’ time.
The constant brickbat against wind energy is that it is intermittent, but these warnings serve as a wake-up call that the whole energy system is in a state of flux.
Demand is still the key issue and National Grid will this year pilot its “demand side balancing reserve” paying energy intensive businesses during peak times not to produce energy.
It is a radical solution but maybe could see a move towards a society where power is not without limit.  

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