Or possibly a precursor to regular power cuts

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.

6 comments on “Or possibly a precursor to regular power cuts

  1. The Boy

    Too true, and we’ll pay the price of the poor planning over the next years. This outage won’t be the last by a long shot. I’d place a bet we’ll start to see brown outs becoming regular.

    Its interesting, I’ve been investigating “green” electricity supplies. Most of the big suppliers have a “green” package that is green in name only. One had the tenacity to say that its “green” package would donate £15 per year per customer to a green charity, and that was it.

    Some interesting suppliers out there though. One that will ensure your supply is fully green, but at a 10% premium to other suppliers. It will be the one we’ll go for I think.

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  2. Z

    We’ve not investigated ‘green’ electricity supplies as yet, largely because we opted in to a deal that kept our prices the same for several years (it was offered at no extra charge and with no strings except to stay with them by British Gas just before the prices went up). I am sceptical about companies that climb on the green bandwagon and, it seems from what you say, with good reason. I’d want to know whence they get the green fuel though, and what are the repercussions – for example, biocrops look to be coming a cropper, environmentally speaking.

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  3. The Boy

    I’ll send you the link seperately, but I’ve found a company that reputably (its audited) supplies 100% of power bought by customers into the grid from certified “green” electric suppliers (wind, solar and tidal). The slight cheat is that the power may not go into the grid at the same time as consumption, so it does have a reliance on the overall non green supply grid. You do, however, pay a slight premium.

    Reply
  4. The Boy

    Too true, and we’ll pay the price of the poor planning over the next years. This outage won’t be the last by a long shot. I’d place a bet we’ll start to see brown outs becoming regular.

    Its interesting, I’ve been investigating “green” electricity supplies. Most of the big suppliers have a “green” package that is green in name only. One had the tenacity to say that its “green” package would donate £15 per year per customer to a green charity, and that was it.

    Some interesting suppliers out there though. One that will ensure your supply is fully green, but at a 10% premium to other suppliers. It will be the one we’ll go for I think.

    Reply
  5. Dandelion

    Or, or, we can make our own electricity.

    I’ve done my own “green energy” research too, and what I find is that ecotricity is the second best for being truly green, and I can’t remember who is the first best. But it is not any of the “green” tarrifs of anyone who sells brown energy.

    Reply

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