National Grid warns of lowest spinning reserve for nearly a decade

The UK’s National Grid has today warned that its spinning reserve this winter will be at a seven-year low due to generator closures and breakdowns. The organisation claims that spare electricity capacity will be at just 4% this year. Last year it ran at 5% during the winter months which is a significant drop as just three years ago the margin was 17%.

If bad weather hits the UK this winter it could result in the biggest risk of blackouts for nearly a decade.

Today has also seen the UK’s Shadow Energy Secretary, Caroline Flint, tell the viewers of Good Morning Britain, that the closure of old power stations and a lack of investment could result in power shortages. She advised that the increase in demand for power was putting enormous pressure on the ageing grid and reducing the nation’s spinning reserve.

This follows a report by the Guardian that claims fears of an energy crisis during peak months have significantly risen following a third fire at a fossil fuel-fired power station this year. Last week the output of Didcot B, a power station near Oxford was halved by fire. The 1.4 gigawatt power station, owned by RWE npower supplied about 1m homes in the densely populated Thames Valley region.

EDF Energy also took two of its nuclear plants out of service in August for inspections after a fault was found.

In June, prior to the fires and shutdowns, Ofgem announced that the risk of blackouts within 18 months had doubled from a year earlier. But energy analysts claim that the fires and closures have removed about 7% of Britain’s conventional and nuclear energy capacity.

This should come as a stark warning to organisations (such as data centres, hospitals, banks and military bases) that depend on reliable and consistent power. But many organisations are unaware of the hidden danger lurking within their fuel storage tanks.

Typically these organisations will rely on secondary generators (otherwise known as diesel rotary uninterruptible power supply (DRUPS) units) should the mains supply decrease (brownouts) or fail completely (blackouts). But if the back up generators fails the results can be catastrophic as discovered by the Government of New Brunswick in Canada when their systems completely failed halting all local government computer systems.

Fuel Conditioning reduces the risk of DRUPS failure

Typically a system will have enough fuel to power the load for hours or days in the event of mains power problems. But this fuel, which is often stored for long periods of time, actually comes with a limited shelf life.

In 2011 biofuel was introduced to improve the environmental impact of using diesel but this also introduced a limited shelf life. If stored under normal conditions it can be expected to stay in a useable condition for 6-12 months. Engine manufacturers (such as Cummings) even suggest that fuel should not be stored for longer than 6 months without a fuel conditioning programme. As it gets older it will suffer from contamination that includes:

  • Microbial growth (a.k.a. the ‘diesel bug’)
  • Water contamination
  • Solid particulate contamination

Depending on the type and severity of the contamination this can clog filters, damage engine injectors or cause total DRUPS failure.

Prevention is always better than a cure for clean fuel

The key to maintaining fuel quality is good housekeeping. IPU recommend that organisations employ a regular fuel maintenance programme to ensure that diesel-powered equipment runs reliably and economically.

This may sound complicated but it doesn’t have to be. IPU can assist you at every stage from initial fuel testing through to tank cleaning and ongoing maintenance. It’s the simple cost effective alternative to replacing an entire DRUPS unit.