In the wake of John Ridgway’s clinical dissection of a piece of BBC propaganda this week, and Jit’s inspired rant against the BBC’s latest piece of climate disinformation, it’s my turn. Not that I can hope to match their levels of analysis and vituperation, but irritation at yet more biased reporting and propaganda from our national broadcaster has to be shared.

The cause of my irritation is an article on the front page of the BBC website, headed “London narrowly avoided post-heatwave blackout”. From the very outset, then, the article creates a misleading impression. Yes, it’s true that the near-blackout event was after the recent heatwave, but the two events are not linked. So why mention the heatwave in the heading, unless to confuse and mislead the casual reader?

The reality is that the story should be a wake-up call to those in charge of UK energy security. As the BBC tells us:

Britain paid the highest price on record for electricity in London last week as the capital narrowly avoided a power blackout, it has emerged.

National Grid paid £9,724 per megawatt hour, more than 5,000% than the typical price, to Belgium on Wednesday to prevent south-east London losing power.

And that is truly, truly shocking. In the middle of summer, the capital of the UK came close to an electricity blackout, and the situation was saved only by shockingly high prices paid by the National Grid to buy electricity via the interconnectors, from Belgium.

Then the BBC says:

The hottest UK days on record led to power system constraints amid high demand, as first reported by Bloomberg.

If the heat caused power system constraints amid high demand, isn’t it strange that the really hot days were 18th & 19th July, but the problems occurred on 20th July, a day when the heatwave had broken, temperatures were falling, and many areas of the UK were experiencing rainfall?

Indeed, although the BBC makes its claim and links it to the Bloomberg report the simple fact is that the Bloomberg report does not make those claims. Yes, it talks of London recovering from its hottest day when the problems occurred, but it makes no more of the heat issue than that. Rather, this is what appears on the Bloomberg website:

The crisis, which quietly played out within the control room of the British electricity system, shows the growing vulnerability of energy transportation networks — power grids and gas and oil pipelines — across much of the industrialized world after years of low investment and not-in-my-backyard opposition.

On most days, the bottlenecks mean distorted costs. Sometimes, it results in sky-high prices where energy is in short supply when it is needed. At other occasions, prices can tumble to zero, or go negative, when producers cannot sell their power into a congested transmission system. Increasingly, it puts the whole system at risk. Talk to most industry executives and you quickly get the sense that we are sleepwalking into more blackouts. Discuss the problems with the engineers who manage the system day-in, day-out, and that danger appears even closer…

…In a normal situation, without the traffic jams on the grid, the UK should have been able to send power to the southeast of England from elsewhere in the country — even from all the way in Scotland, where offshore wind farms are producing more than ever. The problem is that the UK, and the rest of industrialized nations, aren’t investing enough in their grids, leaving the system exposed.

The world is investing about $300 billion per year in power grids, an amount that has barely changed since 2015, according to the International Energy Agency. It isn’t enough, as the global economy electrifies and deals with a shifting generation map, with intermittent renewable energy like solar and wind replacing polluting — but dependable — coal- and gas-fired stations.

Furthermore:

High metal prices are making building new grids even more costly. Cables are made of copper or aluminum which, at today’s prices, account for nearly a third of what will be spent on a new grid, up 10 percentage points from investments made between 2010 and 2020.

Across the US and Europe, utilities and grid managers need to invest billions of dollars into digitalization of the network to allow demand-side load management that would reduce consumption at peak times, often via hourly prices. Managing peak demand is going to be even more important when millions of households shift to electric vehicles, creating a new source of electricity consumption.

Finally:

Last year, the UK paid just under £1,600 per megawatt hour on one day to import electricity and avert a short squeeze. On July 18, it paid just over £2,000, which became the record. Two days later, the price went to nearly £10,000. The pattern is clear. At some point, even sky-high prices won’t be enough. Then, a blackout would belatedly lay bare the consequences of our under-investing ways.

None of which features in the BBC version of events. Instead we are told by the BBC (as it’s relevant to this story, which it isn’t):

London Fire Brigade reported its busiest day since World War Two.

Hundreds of fires across the city put strain on the city’s emergency services with just three fire engines left at one stage.

If the UK had a resilient and independent electricity supply, then the next paragraphs (at least those parts of them talking about increased demand for energy in Europe and a storm in Belgium) would be utterly irrelevant:

Increased demand for energy across Europe, combined with a bottleneck in the grid, forced National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) to buy electricity from Belgium at the highest price Britain has ever paid to keep power flowing.

Other factors, including planned maintenance outages of overhead lines and a storm in Belgium impacting solar power, put the system under severe strain.

Remember, all this is happening in summer, when demand is low (even if perhaps a bit higher than normal due to the heat perhaps bringing more air conditioning units into play) compared to winter.

As I write, less than a week after the event in question, the National Grid live status website tells me that average current demand (29.4GW) is higher than the average demand over the past week (26.7GW) and the past month (26.3GW). And at the moment, supply actually exceeds demand, so 6.6% is disappearing to energy-strapped Europe via the interconnectors (I wonder if we’re charging our European friends anything like £9,724 per MWH?). Coal is providing 3.4% of electricity generation currently, by the way.

Ironically, on 19th July 2022, the day before the near-blackout, perhaps as a reaction to the media frenzy about the heat, National Grid PLC put a post on its website with the heading “How we protect the electricity network in extreme heat”. There are five headed paragraphs, but none of them mention paying more than 5,000% more than usual to Belgians to keep the lights on.

22 Comments

  1. Great research, Mark

    I took some screen captures last year. There may have been other occasions in 2021 when similar then-record prices were offered/accepted:

    8th Jan 2021 20:00-20:30 £4,000/MWh
    1st Feb 2021 17:53 £4,000/MWh accepted by Langage Power Stn
    15th Mar 2021 19:22 £4,000/MWh accepted by Drax5
    9th Sept 2021 16:30 £3,999/MWh accepted by West Burton Unit 02
    24th Nov 2021 14:30 £4,000/MWh accepted by Drax5
    24th Nov 2021 14:00 £3,750/MWh accepted by Shoreham Power Station
    24th Nov 2021 11:30 £3,250/MWh accepted by Connahs Quay 3

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark, did you notice that whilst Telly-Tax payers still finance a BBC “Energy Analyst”, that report wasn’t attributed to him?

    Harrabin doesn’t leave the comfort of Aunty’s place until Friday, but perhaps he’s winding down early? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Indeed Joe, the story isn’t attributed to anybody. Perhaps it’s just too embarrassingly wrong for anyone to own up to it?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Has someone looked at Gridwatch data to see what is happening ?

    The first 10 hours of Wednesday were still hotter than normal
    Also the heatwave was possibly affecting other areas of Europe
    Apparently sometimes the UK was exporting into France
    Someone claimed the French nuclear reactors couldn’t cope with heat ..is that true ?

    Like

  5. Mark,

    The greater the penetration of unreliable renewables, the greater will be the volatility of supply and the greater the destabilisation of the pricing structure. Until someone makes the great scientific breakthrough necessary to solve the problem of electrical energy storage, the system will continue to place ever greater demands upon a poorly maintained distribution network.

    Emissions are supposed to reduce over time as a result of reduction in demand. If only. Anyway, the last people to reveal the reality of failed renewable policies will be the BBC.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. John, absolutely. The key point from the Bloomberg article (cited, but largely ignored by the BBC as it pursues its own agenda) is:

    “…as the global economy electrifies and deals with a shifting generation map, with intermittent renewable energy like solar and wind replacing polluting — but dependable — coal- and gas-fired stations.”

    There’s your problem, not hot days.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mark,

    I’ve noticed in BBC articles of late an aversion to using words such as ‘because’, ‘consequently’ and ‘due to’. It’s called forming an argument. Instead, random assertions are strewn on the floor for the reader to pick up and digest. It’ all nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. July 22 @BBCR4Feedback tweet like activists masses of hashtag etc
    Yet got only 4 Likes
    The BBC’s Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin in a frank and revealing interview
    says he is scared by what is happening to the climate
    and discusses how the BBC is covering it.

    #ImpartialMyAss

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Stew – a tad old but –
    “BBC ‘brain drain’ of top stars and executives to save £3.4 million in salaries
    Adam Sherwin – 11 Jul” –
    https://www.msn.com/en-gb/money/other/bbc-e2-80-98brain-drain-e2-80-99-of-top-stars-and-executives-to-save-c2-a334-million-in-salaries/ar-AAZsNzF?fromMaestro=true

    will only quote names & salary to keep it short.
    Emily Maitlis (who earned up to £330,000),
    Jon Sopel (£235,000),
    Andrew Marr (£340,000)
    Graham Norton (£160,000 earned from presenting his Saturday Radio 2 show)
    Fran Unsworth (£340,000),
    drama chief Piers Wenger (£290,000),
    diversity tsar June Sarpong (£267,000).
    the post adds – “The BBC, which has to find £1.5bn in savings over the next five years following a licence fee freeze, is also losing news specialists including science editor David Shukman and environment analyst Roger Harrabin.”

    but give no detail on salary for them.

    Like

  10. ps – Harrabin did his last (if I heard right) report on BBC tonight, about all the cardboard/paper we throw away.

    tried to find a link, but no joy. anyway he piled up a 12ft ish pile of empty boxes & said something like “this is what a average family buy goods & throw out the packaging in (6mths/yr not sure which) & then kicked the pile down saying “we have to kick this habit”

    Like

  11. @dfhunter That post is kinda fakenews
    cos it relies on BBC PR, that omits the huge huge earnings make through BBC studios
    eg Graham Norton’s TV show gives him a a BBC income of £3m +

    Like

  12. @Stew – Kinda knew that, but funny why David Shukman and Roger Harrabin salaries are not mentioned ?

    Like

  13. “NG ESO expects to rely on interconnectors this winter: this looks like wishful thinking”

    https://watt-logic.com/2022/07/28/winter-outlook-2022/

    “Today National Grid ESO has published its early view of the Winter Outlook for 2022/23. Unbelievably, it believes the capacity margin will be slightly higher than last year at 4.0 GW compared with 3.9 GW. This strikes me as extreme wishful thinking which does no-one any favours.

    “Our current assessment indicates that we expect system margins to be broadly in line with recent winters. It shows that we expect there to be sufficient available capacity to meet demand, with a de-rated margin of 4.0 GW, equivalent to 6.7%,”
    – National Grid ESO

    Looking at the detail (and unfortunately the data book has not been made available so far), it is clear that NG ESO expects to rely in interconnectors to meet peak winter demand which remains unchanged at 59.5 GW. I have no particular objection to demand being broadly flat, but I have a significant objection to the capacity margin improving when the past year has seen the loss of 2 GW of nuclear (Hunterston B and Hinkley Point B) and 2.1 GW of coal (1.6 GW of West Burton A and 500 MW at Ratcliffe).”

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Mikehig, thanks for mentioning that. I was going to do so. So, are near blackouts due to hot weather or to a grid that is struggling to come with a mad dash to electrification?

    Like

  15. “National Grid asks UK coal power plants to be on standby this winter
    Users may also be paid to use less electricity, as country prepares for gas shortfalls across Europe”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/jul/28/national-grid-asks-uk-coal-power-plants-to-be-on-standby-this-winter

    “Coal power plants could be paid to generate more electricity, with consumers and businesses paid to use less, as the UK hunkers down for a winter of gas shortfalls across Europe caused by the standoff with Russia over the war in Ukraine.

    In its early outlook forecasting Britain’s ability to keep the lights on over winter, the National Grid admitted there could be “tight periods” in early December, which would trigger a call for power plants to ramp up generation.

    While the grid expects to be able to maintain the buffer that prevents blackouts, it issued a warning about the potential impact of a shortfall in Russian gas supply into Europe….

    …In preparation for turmoil in the energy markets, it has asked five coal power units to be available to supply power to the grid but not to the wider electricity market. It said EDF and Drax, which own four of the five, have already agreed to do so, but did not disclose the fifth.

    The agreement follows government negotiations with French state-owned energy firm EDF, over its West Burton A plant in Nottinghamshire, as well as with Drax over its plant in Yorkshire.

    National Grid is also looking at how to reduce demand, which could involve industrial users being paid to reduce their power usage….

    …In addition, the electricity system operator will work with the owners of transmission networks to reduce maintenance outages, or time them to cause less disruption….”.

    Gosh, isn’t it going well?

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Mikehig – Thanks for the link – partial quote –
    “But the problem is likely to become more widespread, according to O’Leary, because of new rules which mean that new homes must support low-carbon technologies such as heat pumps and electric vehicles, which will place additional strain on the grid.”

    It almost seems to be a well thought thru way to get us chopping down all the old tree’s, since they are planting so many new tree’s !!!

    only snag – I bet the new builds don’t have a fireplace & chimney 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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