Tonight, as the cold snap raises the risk of blackouts, emergency coal plants are being fired up

Amid a cold snap sweeping Britain, power plants in the country have been directed to generate more electricity and emergency coal generators have been activated as a precautionary measure against the risk of blackouts tonight.

The National Grid has issued a second warning that there will be a tight margin between electricity supply and demand from 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm on Tuesday. This effectively indicates that the grid requires more generation capacity to come online this evening.

As an additional contingency measure, the grid has warmed up four of its five backup coal power stations as temperatures in London plummeted to 5.1C below the normal overnight. However, the grid has clarified that firing up two units at EDF’s West Burton A site and two units at the Drax power station in North Yorkshire does not necessarily imply that they will be used.

Although the risk of blackouts is considered to be low, a spokesperson said that the grid is adding extra capacity to be cautious. The expected shortfall this evening is up to 980 megawatts, which is higher than the current contingency requirement of 700 megawatts. The margin notice, issued by the Grid manager’s control room, exceeds the automatic warnings that have been triggered multiple times this winter.

The notice explains that “An electricity margin notice (EMN) has been issued to the market. This is a routine tool that we use most winters and means we are asking generators to make available any additional generation capacity they may have. The EMN does not mean electricity supply is at risk.”

Regarding the warming of the coal units, a spokesperson for the National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) clarified that “The ESO has issued a notification that we will warm four of our five winter contingency coal units for potential use on Tuesday 7 March. This notification is not confirmation that the unit will be used on Tuesday, but that it will be available to the ESO if required. The ESO, as a prudent system operator, has developed these tools for an additional contingency to operate the network as normal. This does not mean electricity supplies are at risk.”

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