Will Britain See a Return to the Dark Ages in the Near Future?

by LisaSanderson

Ofgen has warned that Britain faces blackouts in 2015. Could this happen?

Incessant blackouts constantly annoy the Nigerian people, and they also cause businesses to collapse from the strain. One community in the country only received power for up to 10 hours throughout the year, making work almost impossible for business people and students. Students even turned to candles, torches and generating sets to enable them to study. The blackouts angered the community so much that they decided to sue the relevant organisation.

Blackouts in Britain in 2014?

Could this type of worrying scenario happen in Britain?  Ofgen, the energy markets regulator, recently warned that Britain may face energy shortages in the middle of the decade, and that the risk of blackouts in 2015 trebled from one-in-12 to one-in-4 recently, according to the Ofgen report.  These warnings caused many people to fear a return to the dark days of the 1970s when crippling strikes caused blackouts at dinner time, and a three-day working week was even imposed.

Ofgen made these warnings for several reasons, including the closure of old and unprofitable coal and gas plants and nuclear power stations, high energy demand and lack of investment in renewable energy sources.  All of these problems are worsening, creating high risks of blackouts in 2015.

Several power stations fired by coal or oil are likely to close by 2015.  If these power stations can’t comply with the large combustion plants directive of the EU, a measure designed to prevent air pollution, they will be forced to close.   Unprofitable power stations are also likely to close by 2015.  New plants fired by coal or oil are unlikely to be built before 2016.

Britain’s nuclear power stations will also close by 2020 because of their age.  Nuclear power now only provides 18 per cent of the country’s electricity.  This percentage has declined heavily since 1997 when nuclear power provided 27 per cent of electricity, and the percentage is likely to drop further. 

The lack of power caused by these closures is unlikely to be solved by renewable energy sources. For example, wind farms cannot supply the extra electricity that is needed, and many critics argue that they are unreliable, because they either supply too much electricity or too little.  At certain times, wind farms need electricity from the National Grid, so that they can keep their basic power supplies running.  This occurs when wind is lacking, and it is known as ‘parasitic consumption’.  Some wind farms also produce very little energy at certain times.  At other times, however, the National Grid has actually paid wind farms to shut down, so that the electricity system is not overloaded.  These payments reached over £7 million this year.

High energy demand and the failure of households to take up ‘Green Deals’ also increase the risk of blackouts.  Energy demand is not falling as much as the government expected, and people are not turning to renewable sources of energy to replace reliance on the usual electricity sources.  The government is offering attractive deals to help people to ‘green’ their homes.  Only four households had signed up for these heavily advertised ‘Green Deals’ by June.

If energy shortages become desperate, the government may even force blackouts.  Factories and large businesses may be paid to switch off their power in energy emergencies, or they may be given compensation to reduce their energy usage in times of high demand.  Power plants that have closed may also be paid to come back online during energy shortages.


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The British government has downplayed the risk of blackouts.  However, the government obviously needs to consider this situation extremely carefully, and most British people think that it should make every possible effort to reduce the possibility of a ‘Dark Age Britain’.

Updated: 09/04/2013, LisaSanderson
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jptanabe on 09/13/2013

Important issue - one that people with authority need to address realistically.

frankbeswick on 09/10/2013

A supply of computer batteries and a portable generator might be the only answer.

JoHarrington on 09/10/2013

I've got so many candles here! I'd be alright for light, but not for working. I need the internet to earn my livelihood.

frankbeswick on 09/10/2013

We are assured that it will not happen, but remember, there was once a time when we were told that nuclear power would give us energy too cheap to meter.

The answer is self-reliance. All families should have a back up system. You need a supply that contains torches and candles for light. A heating system that does not rely on the grid is essential. My wife and I have been considering getting a multifuel burner. For us it would not be a source of hot water, but it would provide heat, It would go some way towards my goal of self-reliance in retirement, where I grow my own vegetables and make stuff rather than buying it.

Some houses can be retrofitted to make them greener and more energy effiicient. Mine is a hundred years old terrace, so there are limits as to what can be done to it.

zteve on 09/09/2013

It would be political suicide for any government to allow it to happen but it could. Maybe politicians, businesses and people need to rethink their priorities but doubt there is the will.
Good thought provoking post on an important topic, well done!

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