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Blackout Britain or Backup Britain... What can we take away from the powercut on 9th July?

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Unless you have been hiding in a cave over the last week or so you will have seen various write-ups and articles from the media, suppliers, consultants and other parties about the power cut which affected about 1 million people on 9th July. 

Without wanting to go over old ground, just to explain briefly and simply what happened on the day…. there was an issue with two power generation facilities, a gas-fired generation plant, and a wind farm. The issues experienced at these two facilities whilst not unusual (or a major problem) on a standalone basis for the grid to deal with are a major problem when they happen in quick succession. This is exactly what happened on that paticular Friday, within minutes both facilities went from producing consistent and significant volumes of power to virtually zero. 

National Grid has an obligation to keep the frequency of the grid within a certain range and when these two facilities tripped it created a huge shockwave to the system which sent the frequency well below acceptable levels. Over the next 45 minutes or so, various methods were used to bring the system back into a healthy position, one of these methods, unfortunately, involved cutting power to approx. 1 million people. 

What this highlighted was the need for additional reserve from facilities able to offset any deviation in frequency as quickly as possible. The likeliness of this kind of situation occurring again grows more likely as more renewables come on grid, which are more difficult for the system to manage in terms of frequency levels. During the event on 9th July, several batteries were called upon to quickly restore the frequency deviation but there is certainly a requirement for more reserve to restore balance faster.  

 There is currently an investigation underway, looking at the action taken by all the players involved during the event and many believe this will lead to National Grid releasing more schemes to minimise the impact of such events going forward.

Despite many media outlets focusing on the very negative impact that the blackout had (particularly as it was during peak rush hour on a Friday), I believe National Grid made the best of a bad situation and prevented the event becoming a more widespread and very serious situation indeed. 

There is no escaping the fact however that many businesses were affected across the country, resulting in a loss in production, wasted man-hours and potentially product and data loss. This brings to light the ever-increasing need for resilience for businesses. Whether this resilience is simply planning for such events or investment in some form of on-site generation or backup power (battery or quick response generator) now is the time to seriously consider the impact that such an event could have on your organisation. 

If investment in onsite generation is a consideration this event should be taken into account commercially as well as part of the overall justification for a move towards having more flexibility on site. Naturally, if the likeliness of events like this is going to become more frequent then becoming “off-grid” is a desirable objective. As always with brand new projects within any organisation start small. I recommend you analyse what can be done in terms of cost savings through optimisation of electricity load, avoiding charging structures such as TRIAD’s and Red Band DUOS and then you can start to get an idea and a flavour for other Demand Side Response schemes and how to manage and commercialise this within your day to day business operation. 

The event on 9th July in my opinion is a wakeup call, an opportunity to take a step back and look at what this means for your business not only for National Grid and the other players involved but for any organisation where resilience is important and any forward-thinking organisation that wants to future proof their business by learning valuable now, not when your hand is forced!!


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 23, 2019

The event on 9th July in my opinion is a wakeup call

No better way to describe it-- such blackouts in areas of large population can be catastrophic if it affects hospitals, critical services, or vulnerable populations for too much, so the fact that the prevailing impacts were more inconvenience than catastrophe underscores the importance of not taking this lightly.


Louis-- do you think there will indeed be mobilization on a wider scale as a result of this wakeup call, or will it be left behind and forgotten too quickly?

Louis Fairfax's picture
Louis Fairfax on Aug 27, 2019

Hi Matt, thank you for your comments. I beleive that National Grid will be under such scrutiny that there will have to be mobilization around this very quickly indeed as another event such as this will prove very embarassing if nothing has been done to limit this potential issue going forward. 

Louis Fairfax's picture

Thank Louis for the Post!

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