So it wasn’t the weather. It was the power stations. S1zewe11 tripped out and then so did various others. Good old Blair – he didn’t want to risk his early popularity by making decisions about building power stations to replace old ones, so he didn’t decide at all, until he was left without a choice. I’m not sure if anything has actually been built yet, though announcements have been made; and replacements take about a decade to complete and in the meantime our old stations are gradually becoming less able to cope. Still within capacity, but there’s not much spare and a breakdown can have wide-ranging consequences – that is, a knock-on effect.
Wind turbines? – well, we’re not exactly cracking on with building them either, and few people want them anywhere near. Besides, the amount of electricity they generate in practice is always less than is forecast, the weather has to be just right – no wind and they don’t turn, too much and they have to be switched off – and they are quite high-maintenance. Building them offshore seems to be a good idea, but they are more expensive to build and maintain – oh, did I mention that wind-generated electricity is more expensive than that generated by power stations? You wouldn’t think it, would you? And, of course, you can’t store the energy. It’s for immediate use; which takes pressure off the power stations at the time, but they have to be on standby for when they’re needed.
We may say that we are careful about the electricity we use as individuals, but that’s only in comparison with what we used a few years ago. Do you remember the days of round-pin plugs? Your house was probably rewired sometime in the 1960s to replace them. Before that, we could only have a few appliances on at a time – you might be able to listen to the radio while doing the ironing, but if someone turned on a hairdrier upstairs, the fuse would go and you’d have to go and mend it. And most houses weren’t heated upstairs. And rooms had one light dangling from the middle of the ceiling. None of this ambient lighting, with or without low energy bulbs. We all used to cluster together in one room in the evenings, but now we wander off to our various rooms, watching television, playing on games consoles, using computers; often all at the same time. Everyone has fridges and freezers; so we should, but forty years ago most people had a small frozen-food compartment at the top of the fridge, and twenty years before that, few houses even had a refrigerator. Energy efficient appliances still use more than none at all.
Not that I’m knocking the individual. What about shops and offices? All lit up, they are. You’re met by a wall of heat in winter and air-con in summer. Everyone can wear light sleeveless clothes all year round and be comfortable. Supermarkets have whole rows of open fridges and freezers. Computers may be turned off now in offices at night, but every one is going all day.
I suspect we’ll muddle through, most of the time, and have no real idea what a close call it will have been, and the power stations will be renewed in time. And in the meantime, those of us who carefully boil just enough water at a time and don’t leave appliances on standby at night and turn down the heating by a degree or two might make an iota of difference – who knows, that might be the final straw that won’t break the camel’s back? Or we can buy in electricity from the Continent. Mm, that’ll be expensive. They’ve not been quite so squeamish about how to generate power in the past though, so at least they’ll have it to sell.