Coronavirus and the power system: Keep calm and put the kettle on


Energy companies have moved to reassure the public that our power system can cope with any impact from the coronavirus.

Fears were raised earlier this week that networks were anticipating the worst, working up emergency plans to keep the lights on should they lose 80 per cent of their staff.

In response, National Grid ESO director Fintan Slye wrote that, while the system operator has asked staff that can work from home to do so, “nobody should be concerned about their electricity supply”.

Fintan Slye: Have a cuppa

Slye said the system operator had “well developed procedures” in place and had modelled likely impacts of a pandemic.

More people across the UK working from home should actually reduce demand on the power system, “largely owing to a decrease in energy use from industrial consumers, which is likely to be greater than the increase in domestic demand as people stay at home”, said Slye.

He added that people should carry on normal. “Boil that kettle, tune in to your favourite TV show and enjoy a hot shower…  there are teams of people working 24/7 committed to making sure you can do just that”.

ENA makes official statement

The Energy Networks Association (ENA), which represents regional and national grid operators has also sought to reassure a public grappling with the removal of routine and societal norms. It wrote:

“We have one of the most reliable energy networks in the world. There are over 36,000 of us working hard to keep your power on and your homes warm. As you would expect, we’ve taken steps to make sure that we keep your energy flowing: minimising access to our control rooms, splitting teams to reduce risk of cross-infection and by preparing to bring in additionally trained colleagues if we need them.”


Professor Phil Hart: minimal risk

Professor Phil Hart, director of energy and power at Cranfield University, echoed that view.

“The risk to power supply is very minimal, unless all the work force in our power stations are off sick or basic fuel supply is interrupted. We obviously have maintenance regimes which have to be kept up at all of our power stations. If those are not met then there is a risk that some may have to be withdrawn from service if the crisis goes on for a long time.”

However, he said the ongoing decentralisation of the UK power system actually breeds resilience.

“The advent and scale of renewables in our supply system is helpful here as the size of renewable plants is generally much smaller, and the national power system will be better able to handle withdrawal of multiple smaller sites.”

For larger thermal plant, international supply chains for gas and biomass will need to be monitored for signs of disruption, said Hart, “but certainly for oil and gas the pricing wars currently underway seem to indicate a glut of supply, not an interruption, is most likely short term.”

Related stories:

Fintan Slye: Inertia has been taken for granted, it will become much more important

National Grid outlines plans to go 100 per cent renewables by 2025

National Grid: Two generators cause big frequency drop

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