Power station fire shows why we need a new national energy saving programme now

A serious fire at Didcot B power station underlines exactly why we need a comprehensive national energy saving programme right now.

The blaze, fought by around 100 firefighters with 25 fire engines disabled half of the Oxfordshire power station that supplies a million homes with electricity and will remain “non-operational” indefinitely, according to owner RWE npower.

The incident means yet more pressure on the energy generating capacity in the UK and consequently potential great strain on the National Grid over the next two winters. It would not take much more for the risk of blackouts and more phased power cuts in industry to become very real, with associated big price rises.

The margin in productive capacity is now very thin, perhaps under 5% now, whereas we are comfortable with margins of 15%.

We cannot quickly provide substantial new power generation and so the only way to ensure the lights stay on and the wheels of the economy keep turning smoothly is for the Coalition to promote a national energy saving programme.

LED lighting project

What better way to head the initiative than with a UK-wide energy-saving lighting project. There are still many millions of electricity-guzzling lightbulbs installed across homes and businesses throughout the country. By replacing these with quality LED lights, the drain on electricity should be reduced by as much as 85%.

It almost seems too simple but our research and work with both businesses and households shows that these savings are easily achievable. LED lights, built by trusted manufacturers, are straightforward replacements for bulbs, downlights, spotlights, tubes, panels, floodlights and emergency lights.

As well as burning only around 15% of the energy used by a traditional light, they also have a very long life – easily more than a decade. The saving on the electricity bill means that the LED lights pay for themselves within 18 months usually and then go on keep bills under control for many years.

Don’t take just our word for it – the Guardian quotes Sir Colin Humphrey, director of research at Cambridge University advising that LEDs are “are so efficient that if the UK switched over to LED lighting, the nation could save 10% of its electricity bill and do without eight new power stations.”

Yes – eight new power stations. That’s good news for the National Grid and the purse and wallet.

The situation this winter has however deteriorated further following a series of fires and other incidents, including the temporary closure of two nuclear power plants for safety checks.

The Didcot power station fire comes at a bad time, with winter approaching and the effects of other fires which knocked out capacity at Ironbridge and Ferrybridge coal-fired power stations this year.

Energy supply crisis

According to Reuters, one or two more unexpected events – such as power plant closures – could cause a serious security of supply event, and a probable surge in wholesale prices.

Liberum Capital utilities analyst Peter Atherton said that the fires might be an unusual run of events or perhaps indicate that the aging power station fleet is becoming more vulnerable to accidents.

Mr Atherton said: “The odds are still that UK will escape a security of supply crunch this winter. But the mere fact that a security of supply crisis is a material possibility is in itself a sign of huge policy failure in our view.”

Carbon reduction policy means that two more power plants are due to close by next winter under EU rules. Littlebrook oil plant in Kent is scheduled for decommissioning in March and the damaged Ironbridge plant will also close.

In past two years, coal plants such as Kingsnorth in Kent, Didcot A in Oxfordshire, Cockenzie in East Lothian, part of Ferrybridge in Yorkshire have gone off-stream under the Large Combustion Plant Directive together with oil-fired plants at Fawley in Hampshire and Grain in Kent.

There is one gas power plant due to open in Carrington in 2016 and the Hinkley C nuclear power plant in Somerset is unlikely to start generating until 2023.

Ofgem forecast recently that the capacity margin would be reduced to between 5pc and 10pc even before the unexpected fires and safety outages.

We think it really is crunch time for our energy future. We need to move very quickly to ensure every household, business and organisation cuts electricity consumption substantially and sustainably.

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