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Green Blob Success: ‘Blackout Britain’ Threatens Economy

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Jonathan Leake, The Sunday Times

Ed Davey, the energy secretary, has commissioned a “blackout Britain” report, to assess the growing risk of significant power cuts and how they might undermine the economy.

The study, by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), was prompted by growing concern in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) that the nation could face serious cuts from this winter because of power station closures and fears over the reliability of energy from wind turbines.

Professor John Loughhead, who oversaw the report as chairman of the RAE’s engineering policy committee, said any such blackouts could have a “catastrophic effect”, far greater than those experienced 40 years ago when the miners’ strikes led to rolling nationwide power cuts.

Speaking on Tuesday, the day before he took office as the new chief scientist at the department, Loughhead said: “Since then we have become much more dependent on reliable power supplies.

“If you look at the City of London, most of the buildings would be utterly unusable, so a two-day outage would start to be catastrophic and that is without even thinking about computers and all the rest of it. So we are treading in unknown territory.”

His comments coincide with new figures from Ofgem, the energy regulator, that show Britain is already being hit by a dramatic rise in power cuts, with 17,657 blackouts affecting 3.5m people in 2013-14. This compares with 1,600 cuts affecting 180,900 in 2010-11.

The increase is linked to last winter’s storms, which cut power to 750,000 homes, but also to the serious decline in the resilience of the UK’s electricity networks, including not just generation but also the transmission system.

The DECC’s decision to commission the report, which it has not yet published, was prompted partly by the realisation that Britain is entering the most precarious winter for power supplies in decades.

EU anti-pollution directives have forced energy producers to close several of Britain’s largest coal-fired plants, while a number of gas stations have been shut or mothballed because gas price rises made them uneconomic. However, what has really raised the risk of blackouts is the unexpected recent loss of five more power plants. Heysham in Lancashire and Hartlepool nuclear stations have had to be closed temporarily for the repair of reactor cracks, while fires have hit Didcot B (gas) in Oxfordshire, and Ironbridge in Shropshire, and Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire (both coal-fired).

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