Will Britain really have blackouts and power rationing? Or not?

  • 28 Jun 2013, 16:15
  • Robin Webster

The risk of power blackouts could increase from one every 47 years now, to one every four years by the middle of this decade if government policies fail to bring down electricity demand, energy regulator Ofgem has warned.

The Times says "  Britain faces blackout" in a front page story. And according to the  front page of today's Daily Mail the National Grid has plans to "ration" electricity. But Ofgem says disruption to supplies is not "  imminent or likely", and National Grid argues its proposals for coping with the problem have been misinterpreted by the media.

Tightening electricity supply 

It's not the first time Ofgem has issued a  warning about tightening electricity supply margins. Old coal power stations are shutting down because of  European Union regulationsdesigned to limit pollution harmful to health. 

With renewables and nuclear power yet to ramp up, the country is facing a short term supply squeeze. Yesterday's  report highlights what Ofgem calls a "faster than anticipated" tightening of electricity supply towards the middle of this decade. 

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Newslinks - 28th June • Energy policy news, shale gas figures & power shortage warnings

  • 28 Jun 2013, 10:00
  • Carbon Brief staff

Green infrastructure announcements
A run down of all the big announcements yesterday on energy policy, including new levels of financial support for renewables, new estimates of Britain's shale gas resources, warnings of power supply shortages, newly announced funds for flood defences and figures on the uptake of the government's Green Deal scheme.


UK green electricity generation leaps 10 per cent
New government statistics show the amount of energy produced from renewable sources increased 10 per cent in 2012, and continued to rise in the first quarter of 2013 as more wind turbines were connected up to the National Grid.

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British Geological Survey warns on the dangers of confusing shale gas resources with reserves

  • 27 Jun 2013, 16:30
  • Robin Webster

The north of England has a shale gas resource of 1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf), according to a long-awaited analysis by the British Geological Survey (BGS). But BGS says it may not be possible to get any more shale gas out of the ground than it assumed in an estimate two years ago.  

The assessment was released today in a Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) report, on the day energy minister Michael Fallon hailed as "the day that Britain gets serious about shale". Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said the estimate "confirms the huge potential that shale gas has for the UK".

But where is all this gas, how does it compare to other countries, and how much will it be possible to use? 

Where is it? 

The BGS estimate covers the Bowland shale found in the north of England, in Lancashire and east of the Pennines: 



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Newslinks - 27th June • Spending cuts, renewables growth & CCS research

  • 27 Jun 2013, 11:00
  • Carbon Brief staff

Winners and losers - but mostly losers - as Osborne deals again
Following the latest spending review, the Chancellor yesterday announced the government department for environment (DEFRA) will see its budget cut 9.6 per cent, while the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) loses eight per cent. BusinessGreen have more detail.


Emerging economies lead switch to renewable energy
The International Energy Agency forecasts that 24 per cent of the world's electricity will come from renewables by 2016, overtaking the role of gas in power production.
Financial Times

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Carbon Briefing: Britain's shale gas

  • 27 Jun 2013, 09:35
  • Robin Webster


  • New data from the British Geological Society (BGS) showing that  the UK has more shale gas than previously expected
  • Bowland shale in Lancashire is now estimated to have has 1300 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas. Last month the US Energy Information Administration estimated that the country has 623tcf
  • The new estimate refers to the total amount of shale gas in the ground, rather than the amount that it will be possible to extract
  • For numerous reasons - including a different regulatory system and geology - it may be more difficult to get shale gas out of the ground in the UK than in the USA
  • There is still substantial uncertainty about whether UK shale gas has the potential to bring down gas prices and by when, and concerns that it could lead to greenhouse gas emissions going up.
A new estimate for onshore shale gas 

The North of England has 1300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, according to a new estimate. The figure is about twice as high as a recent estimate from the US's Energy Information Administration (EIA) for the whole country. The number doesn't include the country's offshore shale gas resource, which BGS has  suggested may be larger.

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Newslinks - 26th June • Climate action plans, 2020 emissions targets & carbon trading

  • 26 Jun 2013, 10:30
  • Carbon Brief staff

Highlights of Obama's plan to cut carbon pollution
The US yesterday released its plan to tackle climate change in three broad ways - cutting emissions, preparing for impacts and encouraging a global deal. This 'kitchen-sink approach' was well received by many parts of the press and met with some positive responses from experts, but the reaction from US businesses was mixed. We took a look at the climate plan  here.


UK given carbon emissions warning
A new report from the government's climate advisers warns the UK is not cutting carbon fast enough to meet its 2020 emissions targets. The advisers told the Guardian energy policy needs to go further, criticising the government's Green Deal for failing to improve home energy efficiency. BusinessGreenhas a run down of the key issues in the report.
BBC News

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The Committee on Climate Change's fifth progress report, in more detail

  • 26 Jun 2013, 10:25
  • Robin Webster

Will the UK stick to legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 per cent by the middle of the century? The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is warning that without effective government policies, the UK will start exceeding its planned carbon budgets before the end of the decade.

Under the terms of the 2008 Climate Change Act the government agreed to meet interim carbon budgets that set the amount of carbon dioxide the economy can produce over five year time periods. To meet them, emissions need to fall by about three per cent every year.

In its annual progress report to government, the CCC says the country is on course to achieve its carbon budgets up to 2017 - largely due to emissions reductions from the economic downturn. 

But from 2018 onwards, "a significant increase in the pace of emissions reduction" will be needed, the CCC warns - otherwise the UK will exceed the carbon budgets that show the country is on track to decarbonise.

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Obama’s 'all of the above' climate action plan sidesteps Congress to force US action

  • 25 Jun 2013, 13:30
  • Mat Hope

Credit: US Army

President Obama's much anticipated Climate Action Plan, launched this morning, introduces a spate of new regulations to help the US cut greenhouse gas emissions. Congress failed to pass climate legislation in Obama's first term, forcing the President to find other ways to get the US to act on climate change.

The  new plan outlines how Obama's administration intends to increase support for clean energy, improve energy efficiency, lead the international community, and make the US more resilient to climate threats. But while it starts with a strong statement of intent - urging the US to take up its "moral obligation to act on behalf of future generations" - the measures it outlines are pretty limited.

So what's in Obama's plan? And does this really signal the start of the US taking climate change seriously?

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Is more solar power a problem for the grid? No, says the Grid

  • 24 Jun 2013, 17:00
  • Robin Webster

Does it make you happy or sad? 

Will the countryside soon be covered by solar panels producing more electricity than consumers really need, at "astronomical" cost to the consumer, as the Sunday Telegraph claims? Carbon Brief gathers some expert perspectives. 

According to the  story, the government is planning a ten-fold expansion of solar farms across Britain, despite warnings from the National Grid that the system will struggle to cope as a result. In an  editorial, the paper concludes solar power is "unsightly and pricey" - just like wind power, the paper says. 

The estimated expansion of solar comes from a  speech last week by energy and climate change minister Greg Barker. Barker cited government estimates which suggest that the UK has the potential to deploy what he called a "staggering total" of 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar by 2020, compared to  2.5GW now.

But it's important to recognise that this is an upper end prediction - labelled an "ambition" by Barker. The government's  UK Renewables Roadmap estimates that seven to 20GW of solar power could be put in place by 2020. 

National Grid tells Carbon Brief that it's "highly unlikely" that the 20GW mark will be achieved by 2020, whole a spokesperson for solar energy company Solarcentury puts it slightly more bluntly: "The only person who thinks that's possible is Greg Barker".

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Is there electric light at the end of the Channel tunnel?

  • 24 Jun 2013, 16:00
  • Mat Hope


Could piping electricity through the channel tunnel help protect the UK from blackouts?

When outgoing head of energy regulator Ofgem  Alistair Buchanan warned the country could face a squeeze on its electricity generating capacity, it prompted media predictions of ' life threatening blackouts'.

Over the weekend, the Telegraph suggested that the regulator will issue more warnings on the subject, and that the government's energy plans could cause  problems for ensuring security of electricity supply by the middle of the decade.

But a new report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) argues that the situation might not be so bad because Ofgem have underestimated the benefits of connecting the UK to Europe's electricity grid.

Keeping the lights on

Gas has become an increasingly uncompetitive source of electricity - because  coal is currently cheap. This has led energy providers such as Centrica and SSE to temporarily shut down some of their gas plants - known as mothballing.

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