As Coal Plants Shut Down, United Kingdom Faces a Power Crunch
Thomas K. Grose in London
For National Geographic
Published August 29, 2013
British authorities have been issuing some dire-sounding warnings. In February, the man then in charge of Ofgem, Britain’s industry regulator, warned of an impending “near-crisis” of energy supply, calling the situation “horrendous” and likening it to being on a roller coaster headed “downhill—fast.” Deputy Minister Nick Clegg was quoted saying that he was working to “keep the lights on.” (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Electricity.”)
In June, Ofgem released a capacity assessment warning that “risks to electricity security of supply over the next six winters have increased since our last report in October 2012.” The report warned that Britain’s ability to provide spare electric power capacity could plunge to between 2 to 5 percent, about half what it is now.
The main reason for the possible crunch: Britain is closing a number of aging coal-fired plants—as well as some oil and nuclear ones—to meet European Union environmental laws. One fifth of the existing power stations are scheduled to close over the next ten years. According to Reuters, the U.K. is set to lose more than 12 gigawatts of generating capacity in the next two years. Currently, the country operates 13 coal plants, but nearly half are slated to close by 2015, and all of them could be shut down by 2023, according to government figures.
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