A warning from the UK’s energy regulator, Ofgem, on 27 June 2013, that the ‘buffer’ capacity of spare electricity on the UK’s national power grid could drop to as little as 2% of national supplies by 2015, has raised concerns in relation to the possibility of widespread disruptions in service. This spare capacity currently stands at about 4%.

The warning was linked to an extensive Electricity Capacity Assessment Report, also published by Ofgem that same day. Revised studies have indicated that power supplies will shrink considerably by 2015, as electricity demand in the United Kingdom is not decreasing in the manner previously foreseen by successive governments. This is due to a variety of factors, among them, the low uptake by residential households of environmentally friendly incentives and energy-efficient practices.

Ofgem recommends the implementation of far-reaching market changes proposed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Among other things, DECC stated in a report, also published on 27 June 2013, that the UK electricity sector will require approximately £110 billion of capital investment in the next decade to modernise its infrastructure. This would create opportunities for investment which a range of market players are likely to monitor with interest.

DECC has also emphasised the need for a ‘Capacity Market’ - essentially an insurance policy against the possibility of future blackouts - which would work by providing financial incentives to generators to keep a certain percentage of energy capacity in reserve to cope with spikes in demand.

The British government has been quick to retort to concerns of service disruption, downplaying the risk of blackouts to domestic consumers and, while it is unlikely that blackouts reminiscent of those experienced in the United Kingdom in the 1970s will be relived, the very publication of a formal warning from Ofgem highlights the potential significance of the concern.

David McDonnell