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Major industry in UK plays guessing games with electricity, warns of shutdowns in winter

Somewhere in the country that led the Industrial Revolution, hundreds of the best and brightest most-productive workers work full time at predicting, gaming, marketing and compensating for the complex modern laws of electricity. And during winter months, thousands of other productive workers have to stop work because the electricity they need might be too expensive. With the UK’s spare electrical generation capacity down to a razor thin 4% this winter, UK manufacturers are warning they will have to shut down even more often than they already do.

Someone thought it would be a good idea to use the UK electricity grid to control global weather, which turned out to be expensive. In a plan to contain electricity costs, someone else had the bright idea to trim back electricity peaks by charging a lot lot more during the worst three half hour periods of energy demand, known as triads. The mysterious triad spikes are subject to the weather and human circadian timetables and hit a bit randomly, though most often on a Monday to Thursday from 5 – 5.30pm.  By definition they occur in winter months,  and must be separated from the last triad by 10 days (though I didn’t think the weather worked like that?).

No one is exactly sure when the next dreaded triad will hit and contractor services and online calculators have sprung up to try to predict them. Even after they’ve hit, no one can be sure they had a triad, because they won’t officially find out ’til the end of February when those peakiest of peak winter days can be identified. When businesses guess that a triad might be about to happen they can shut down or crank up the spare diesel generators. By doing this a large corporation might save £50,000 of its electricity bill.

In a mild winter, when electricity demand is flatish, the expensive triad times are only little spikes and are very hard to predict. So, this genius of bureaucratic planning creates a situation where mild winters with lower electricity demand may mean more shutdowns. Go figure.

 Green Britain: UK Manufacturers Warn Of Shutdowns Amid Energy Emergency Measures

Date: 23/11/14    Tanya Powley, Financial Times

Britain’s heavy manufacturers have warned they may be forced to shut down more often this winter to avoid high power costs because of emergency measures to cut demand.

The National Grid launched its Demand Side Balancing Reserve [DBSR] scheme – which pays participating companies to reduce their demand during peak winter weekday evenings – to combat the risk of blackouts.

 It is also keeping three power stations on standby to supply more power if needed after the country’s cushion of spare generating capacity sank to 4 per cent, compared with 17 per cent three years ago.

The DBSR scheme would work on top of the current “triad” system (which is a way of figuring out which big-user pays what). Sounds fiendishly complicated.

According to Npower, the energy company, the DSBR could make triads more difficult to predict by effectively “flattening” demand – making it harder to pinpoint when they will occurred. […] Richard Warren, senior energy and environmental policy adviser at the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, agrees the initiative could result in more production reduction and shutdowns. “Last winter’s mild weather had a noticeable impact on triad predictability, and likewise we can expect increased demand reduction activity to contribute to uncertainty,” he said. Last year, Celsa UK, a steel manufacturer, shut down daily for up to three hours at peak times to avoid a triad.

Financial Times  via GWPF

When is your modern electricity supply not modern? — When it’s post-modern.

UK readers — Do help me make sense of it if I’ve got it wrong. None of it seemed very sensible to me this afternoon.

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