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National Grid better prepared for next winter than last, operator says

Britain’s electricity system will be better able to cope with high energy demands next winter as new generators have recently come online.

According to National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO), the margin of excess energy on the grid will be better this coming winter than the last one.

As well as the new generators that have come online since then, the margins have been increased due to improved data quality, the availability of generation units that were partially or fully unavailable last winter and the return to the capacity market of one of the coal contingency units used last winter, which will now operate in the normal electricity market for this year.

The UK has pledged to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2025, but last winter, three coal plants that are ready for retirement were placed on standby in order to make up for potential energy shortfalls in the wake of high prices.

Following a request from the government, the ESO is continuing to have discussions on the availability of two of the five coal contingency units that were used last winter.

In light of the continued risks and uncertainties relating to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ESO said it was continuing to explore the potential availability of additional generating options.

It is also proposing the return of the Demand Flexibility Service, used last year to incentivise consumers and businesses to reduce their electricity usage at specific high-demand periods.

In total, 1.6 million households and businesses signed up to participate in 22 service events across the winter, although it was only used twice for “live events” in January 2023 to support the management of the network. While only deployed on a trial basis this winter, it saved over 3,300MWh of electricity at peak times – roughly the amount of electricity that 9.9 million households would use at peak times across a single hour.

A formal consultation process has just begun to determine the final terms of this years’ service.

Across the 2022/23 winter, balancing costs were around 20 per cent lower than the preceding winter of 2021/22, though these costs remained higher than other previous years, driven principally by gas wholesale prices, the ESO added.

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