National Grid fires up coal power stations three times in one week

Alison Hammond discusses potential blackouts

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National Grid ESO ordered three coal-fired power stations to be warmed up for the third time this week. It comes as a brutal cold snap continues to put enormous strain on the power network. The grid operator asked two units at Drax in Yorkshire and one at West Burton in Nottinghamshire to be fired up, putting in a request just before midnight on Wednesday. While the West Burton unit was stood down at 5.13am, notifications delivered to the industry indicated that the Drax units are still warming.

It comes amid fears Britons could be plunged into darkness as part of an emergency plan in which National Grid implements organised blackouts in an “unlikely worst-case scenario” during January and February as temperatures plummet.

With Europe grappling with its own supply constraints, the network operator warned it may need to limit the amount of power flowing across parts of the grid to prevent an overload during periods of high demand (such as during cold weather).

The firing up of the power stations is one of National Grid’s operational tools it is using to prevent the worst-case scenario plan, included in its Winter Outlook, from coming into effect. While supplies may be “tight”, as the operator admitted to earlier this week, the tools are designed to keep the power flowing “as normal”.

The units, which run off the dirtiest fossil fuel, were set to go back into retirement this year. But the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy asked them to remain on standby until after the winter amid warnings that power supplies would be tight amid the European energy crisis.


The Demand Flexibility Service (DFS) was also activated for the first time this week, which asked consumers who are signed up to the scheme to switch off their energy-guzzling appliances for an hour, and 1.5 hours, to take pressure off the grid.

The scheme was activated earlier this week on Monday and Tuesday and also saved customers between £1 and £15. Over the five-month duration of the service, a typical household that signed up to the scheme could save approximately £100.

In total, National Grid is expected to dish out just over £3million to suppliers for the service for the Monday and Tuesday that the scheme was active, with around £850,000 on the first day, and £2.1million for the longer session on Tuesday.

According to data released by Octopus Energy, OVO and EDF, customers who signed up collectively generated enough electricity to power 654,000 homes for an hour.

Preliminary data shared with showed that on both nights (Monday and Tuesday), more than 400,000 customers from Octopus Energy had signed up, marking its highest participation rate ever.

Almost half of Octopus Energy’s customers with smart meters who were eligible (600,000) for the scheme signed up for its Saving Sessions.

On Monday, Octopus reduced the UK’s energy usage by around 200MWh, followed by 250MWh on Tuesday, the same amount of energy needed to power 653,000 homes.

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While steam can be seen seeping out of the units as Britain scrambles to keep the lights on National Grid ESO said they may not necessarily be used.

A National Grid ESO spokesperson said: “The ESO has issued a notification that we will warm winter contingency coal units for potential use on Thursday 26 January.

“This notification is not confirmation that these units will be used on Thursday, but that they will be available to the ESO, if required. The ESO as a prudent system operator has these tools for additional contingency to operate the network as normal.”

Have you signed up to the Demand Flexibility Service? We want to hear about your experience. Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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