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Net Zero Wind: Britain saved by coal – at huge cost

Global Warming Policy Forum

Britain’s fragile electricity system is a national embarrassment and a warning to the world

London, 7 September – Yesterday, National Grid, the Electricity System Operator, was forced to paid over £20m to “balance” the system and avoid blackouts, ten times more than normal.

The entire UK wind fleet was in effect completely absent for much of the day, only rising above a few percent of its theoretical output late in the day when the crisis was over.

As a result, conventional gas- and coal-fired generators had to be fired up. The UK’s creaking grid was therefore effectively being propped up by fossil fuels.

The cost of these actions was very high, with some units being paid as much as £4,000 per megawatt hour to switch on, an exceptional price by any standard.

The balancing cost of avoiding blackouts has been increasing rapidly and is expected to hit 1-2 billion pounds this year, burdening consumers with ever more expensive electricity bills.

For a country claiming to be “Powering Past Coal” this is a disgrace. Worse still, in the run up to COP26 it gives the lie to any UK government claim to leadership in the delivery of Net Zero and leaves the Prime Minister no plausible platform from which to urge other countries to decarbonise.

None of this should come as a surprise. Power systems engineers and other analysts have known for decades that wind and solar power would make the UK electricity grid increasingly fragile and extremely costly. However, their warnings were ignored, and the government and the British public are now reaping the whirlwind.

Notes for journalists

The GWPF has published numerous studies and comments drawing attention to the onset of system fragility and high operation costs in the UK electricity system. This is a selection:
Dr Capel Aris, A Cheaper Cleaner Electricity System (2019) 
Dr Capel Aris and Colin Gibson, The Future of GB Electricity Supply Security: Cost and Emissions in a Net-zero System (2020)
Dr John Constable, The Brink of Darkness: Britain’s Fragile Power Grid (2020)