Saturday, August 08, 2009

Power to the People

By 2015, Britain will run out of electrical power.

This is a statement of fact, based on our expected power consumption and the way power stations will gradually be shut down. We take it for granted today that when we turn on a light switch or plug in an electrical device it will work. Over the next few years that will start changing.

On May 27th, 2008, hundreds of thousands of houses in England lost power when two power stations failed by coincidence within minutes of each other. This was a shock, mainly because Britain's power grid has been so reliable in the past. However, it will become more common, not by accident but by inaction unless we act fast (and even then it may be too late.)

The problem is that ... well the problem comes from a number of causes.

  • Power requirements keep increasing as we get wealthier and as use of technology increases. Newspapers and books cost very little electrical power to produce; the Internet is a lot more power-hungry.
  • Britain is running out of natural gas. Production peaked in the last decade and is rapidly decreasing. The biggest alternative source of gas, Russia, has shown itself to be unreliable.
  • Nuclear power plants have a limited life. Although the radiation is kept within the plant, it slowly causes the plant to decay which is why after a few decades, plants have to be retired. Four of Britain's ten nuclear power plants will close in the next decade, with no current plan to replace them.
  • EU regulations on carbon emissions mean that Britain's coal-fired plants will not meet standards, without expensive and uneconomic modifications.
  • Planning regulations, local opposition and the inefficiency of wind-power have limited its adoption.

So take a moment to think about this.

How would you manage without your early morning cuppa? No street lights? No lifts or escalators? No power for your computer? (Yes, you may have a battery in your laptop, but I bet your broadband connection is plugged into a power socket). No lights. Or hot water - even if you have a gas boiler, chances are it's controlled by an electrical timer. And that's before we get to the important stuff, like hospitals, factories, banks (want to draw cash from a powered-down autobank?), shops, schools and many, many more.

The next election will see Brown out. Unless we act fast, brown-outs will become common in the economy too.


Slim said...

Labour messed up by not keeping up with the nuclear power programme. Another legacy of Tony BLiar.

Craig said...

If Tony Blair (TB) had his way back in 2004, there'd be no need to worry about power, since we'd have a set of nuclear power plants coming online just in time. (

Unfortunately for nuclear power supporters, the Tories described nukes as a "last resort" whilst the Lib Dems and Greenpeace fought hard to prevent nuclear power (

Having finally approved plans in November 2009, 10 new nuclear power stations should come online in "2018", which probably means 2020.

How late is that? About 5 years. How long ago did TB urge us all to embrace nuclear power? About 5 years.

Disclaimer: I've never voted Labour. But if you want to attack someone, at least get a grip on the facts.