In the aftermath of last Friday's blackout the usual suspects are blaming wind turbines', but that's not what the electricity market nerds are saying. They are pointing to the fact that big power outages have happened before the age of large-scale renewable energy penetration and that stories of crisis at the National Grid are well overblown.
I certainly remember the blackout of 2008 which was caused by the near simultaneous disconnection of Sizewell B (nuclear) and Longannet (coal), but then of course we did not see anything in the media about how it was all the fault of nuclear or coal-fired power plant. This time a large gas fired power plant tripped, followed a little later by a big offshore windfarm. Now there is talk of how the grid has become more unstable because of increasing renewable energy penetration (now around 35% of electricity on an anuual basis) and how, depending on people's interest a) we ought to stop this nonsense and get back to having real large power plant or b) we need more batteries and/or other stuff.
In fact such an approach is decried by top electricity system management experts such as Nigel Cornwall. He tweeted in response to stories that the National Grid was beset with a splurge of 'near misses' and last-gasp efforts:
“Near misses” and “last minute contracts” is the way the system - and all electricity systems - is designed to operate. (National Grid) has done a huge amount to modernise it’s balancing services, and I am struggling to understand whose agenda this is.
Two large power stations failed at the evening peak, when the system was already calling for more output/demand turndown. This was almost an occurrence of Titanic probabilities. You can of course contract for a huge amount of extra reserve but at immense cost to consumers'
Of course two big blackouts in eleven or so years is two big blackouts too many, so, reasonably, the public will expect action to improve the situation. People are looking at how to do this. Jeremy Nicolson, another electricity market nerd commented:
'We'll have to wait and see what emerges from Nat Grid's report to Ofgem and other enquiries. But I suspect the cost of ensuring adequate frequency control so a double generator trip doesn't result in outages of the sort that occurred last Friday would not be especially high'. -
In recent times batteries have emerged as a much quicker and increasingly cheaper means of ensuring fast response to drops in system frequency (that can be caused by unexpected power plant breakdowns). But despite the fact that batteries are seen as a friend to renewable energy, some battery interests seem to be jumping on an alleged increase in system vulnerability to demand a big increase in battery provision. Now we could do with more batteires simply to replace the need for large gas fired power plant, but it is sad if battery interests are also peddling myths of greater system vulnerability due to renewable energy.
If we want to stop the occasional grand blackouts from happening, or at least make them less likely, then increasing battery provision is one among several options. One analyst, Thamas Edwards, who works for the consultant company that Nigel Cornwall runs commented that besides batteries 'there could be other things such as changing the frequency settings on relays, which could be cheaper'.
The 2008 blackout:
See a detailed analysis by Aurora https://www.auroraer.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Initial-Thoughts-and-Analysis-on-the-Power-Outages-on-9th-August.pdf