Essay by Eric Worrall
h/t Alba; Imagine receiving a quarterly household electricity bill of £10,000 – because this is the kind of money Britain’s Electricity System Operator paid last Wednesday, to prevent blackouts during the heatwave.
London narrowly avoided blackout as electricity prices surged last week
The UK was forced to pay 5,000% higher than the typical price for electricity to prevent a power blackout in south-east London.
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’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) was forced to pay £9,724.54 per megawatt hour to Belgium, more than 5,000% higher than the typical price, last Wednesday to prevent a blackout in south-east London, as first reported by Bloomberg.
A sequence of issues around the hottest UK days on record led to extreme constraints in the power system and hiked up demand.
While the amount bought at the record amount was minimal – reportedly enough to supply eight houses for a year – it has exposed the UK’s reliance on importing electricity from interconnectors overseas, particularly France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
But Wednesday’s sky-high transaction could be felt by households in their upcoming energy bills as energy suppliers pass on the costs.
Part of the reason for the electricity shortfall might have been the British solar panel fleet’s failure to perform during hot weather.
Weather ‘too hot’ for solar panels
Power output during heatwave drops below levels typically reached in spring
By Helen Cahill
19 July 2022 • 7:07pm
The weather was too hot for solar panels on Tuesday as soaring temperatures reduced their efficiency.
As the heatwave pushed the mercury above 40C for the first time ever in Britain, solar output remained well below the levels usually reached at peak times in spring.
Solar panels become less efficient when temperatures rise above 25C, meaning energy generation drops off, with efficiency decreasing by around 0.35 percentage points for every degree above this level.
Professor Alastair Buckley, of the University of Sheffield, said: “We never see peak output in mid summer.
“The temperature of the actual solar cell depends on a combination of the ambient temperature and the radiative heating from the sun and also cooling from wind. We saw cell temperatures of 70 degrees yesterday on our test system. Normally it would be between 40 degrees and 50 degrees.”
This struggle to supply adequate energy during adverse conditions makes me wonder what Britain’s next winter will be like. Solar is close to useless during winter at high latitudes, and widespread prolonged European wind droughts like last September are not exactly uncommon. If Russia continues to play geopolitical games with gas supplies, and France continues to experience problems with their nuclear fleet, there may be no spare capacity available at any price, next time Britain run short of electricity.
Only British voters can fix this crisis, by demanding politicians prioritise energy security and affordability over hitting net zero targets.