Market failures could see Britain suffering five-day power cuts
11th March 2019 | Commercial Energy
Today’s electricity infrastructure, driven by commercial forces, will find it hard to cope when things go seriously wrong. Even in industrialised nation in the 21st century, the sort of electricity-grid system failure that’s been seen in parts of Australia in recent years is not uncommon. In the UK, the risk of total blackout or significant partial shutdown of the transmissions network is increasing.
The rise in renewables is making failure more probable. Wind farm growth creates frequency-management issues arising from reduced system inertia, while declining network strength can cause longer, stability-risking, fault clearance times. Then there are the challenges to match supply to demand following sudden variations in wind generation and the reduced one-house notice of input variations from European interconnectors. Other risk factors include grid substation failure, lightning or overhead line faults and cyber attack.
For grid recover following widespread collapse, a process known as “black starting” is deployed where the UK is split into different areas. Being able to rapidly black-start the country is a public health priority and, rightly, a public expectation, but in Scotland, and probably London, it is unrealisable: it would take several days to re-establish networks. So serious has the issue become that I understand it has attracted the attention of the government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee.
Professional expectation for Scotland to black-start has now, I’ve been told, risen to five days, largely as a result of large-scale, dispatchable, on-demand generation being replaced with intermittent distributed renewables. London has experienced as similar progressive local reduction and will also take longer to recharge since much of its high-voltage grid uses cable and not overhead line transmission.
The Scottish Black Start Restoration Working Group reviewed its procedures in September 2018. These are based on local joint restoration plans that would see transmission operators powering up and stabilising local transmission islands, which would then have to be synchronised and progressively interconnected.
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