National Grid demands warming up of coal unit as UK braces itself for a further icy blast
National Grid has called for one of the UK’s remaining coal units to be warmed up to ease potential pressures on operating margins – as cold weather persists into February, fuelling fears of a supply crunch.
The grid’s electricity system operator (NGESO) has issued a notification to warm one winter contingency coal unit for availability today.
The UK has kept five coal units on standby this winter, expanding the lifespan of the ageing, carbon-intensive plants amid a challenging winter – following negotiations with National Grid.
NGESO insisted the latest moves did not mean there was a possibility of blackouts, with the network also opting against bringing in its demand flexibility service where millions of households cut energy for discounts on bills at peak times.
This is widely seen as its first stage of emergency action in case of a blackout threat.
An NGESO spokesperson: “This notification is not confirmation that the unit will be used on Tuesday, but that it will be available to NGESO, if required. NGESO as a prudent system operator has developed these tools for additional contingency to operate the network as normal. This does not mean electricity supplies are at risk.“
The latest moves follow two days of the demand flexibility service being used for the first time ever, and three separate aborted calls to bring coal units online last month.
This followed operating margins being squeezed to the point it jeopardised 500MW of spare capacity the grid targets.
So far, National Grid has avoided its worst case scenario of rolling blackouts this winter, but it is now facing challenges from a sudden drop-off in wind generation.
Colder winter weather and a lack of wind has reduced the role of renewables for sustained spells over December and January, making the UK more reliant on overseas supplies and fossil fuels to meet its needs.