Britain was forced to rely on new “last resort” measures to keep the lights on for the first time on Wednesday after coal power plants broke down and wind farms produced less than one per cent of required electricity.
National Grid used a new emergency scheme to pay large businesses to cut their electricity usage, resulting in dozens of large office buildings powering down their air conditioning and ventilation systems between 5pm and 6pm.
The scheme, which is paid for through levies on consumer energy bills, was introduced last year but had never been called upon before.
National Grid blamed the power crunch on “multiple plant break downs”. Several ageing coal-fired power plants had unexpected maintenance issues and temporarily shut down, experts said, reducing available supplies.
The problem was further compounded by low wind speeds meaning most of Britain’s 6,500 onshore and offshore wind turbines were barely generating any power just as demand hit its highest. UK wind farms have a maximum capacity of more than 13GW but produced less than 0.4GW for much of the peak demand period – meeting less than one per cent of the UK’s electricity needs.
National Grid first intervened in the market yesterday lunchtime, issuing an alert to power plants that more generation would needed between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.