As a result of an unprecedented crisis in the British electricity system, London was brought to a near blackout last week. The National Grid’s Electricity System Operator was forced to pay £9,724.54 per megawatt hour to Belgium to avoid a catastrophe, as the government shoots down a request from the mayor of London to address the issue. This came following growing concern about whether the UK will be able to generate enough electricity to keep supplying power this winter, with a “tight” gap between maximum supply and maximum demand.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) has now informed developers that it could take more than 10 years for electricity grid capacity to rise to a level at which it can sustain new homes in the boroughs of Hillingdon, Ealing and Hounslow.
According to the Times, as of 2019-20 these areas account for around 11 percent of the capital’s housing supply, approaching 5,000 homes.
This disruption runs the risk of making existing issues for meeting demand even worse.
A warning from the GLA, seen by the Financial Times, said: “Major new applicants to the distribution network… including housing developments, commercial premises and industrial activities, will have to wait several years to receive new electricity connections.”
The message added that an applicant to the distribution network had been told there was not “sufficient electrical capacity for a new connection” until 2035.
Several data centres built in West London in recent years have put extra pressure on the electricity grid.
The GLA message explained that data centres “use large quantities of electricity, the equivalent of towns or small cities, to power servers and ensure resilience in service.”
The area is home to a number of tech companies including Google, Amazon and Microsoft – some of which reported ‘cooling problems’ during last week’s heatwave. It is believed that at least 25 units would be affected by the GLA’s warning.
The Electricity System Operator has already indicated the situation across the UK could be particularly difficult in the first half of December later this year.
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London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is “very concerned” about the impact of the shortage on the delivery of new homes.
A spokesperson said: “[The mayor] wrote to the government weeks ago requesting a meeting to discuss electricity capacity in west London but the request was declined.”
David O’Leary, policy director at the Home Builders Federation, told The Times: “Our understanding is that you just can’t build them.”
A spokesperson for the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said: “This is an issue with connection agreements at a local distribution network level. The ESO is actively working with all the parties involved to find solutions to make the connections happen.”
The electricity crisis emerges as Vladimir Putin takes revenge on the West by limiting the flow of gas to Europe via Nord Stream 1. Many countries have been forced to draw up contingency plans to cut gas and electricity use by 15 percent to conserve supplies.
These include turning off street lights, not heating public swimming pools and shutting down production at some major manufacturers – but more drastic measures may yet be necessary.
Any increase in the wholesale cost of gas is pushed through to electricity as it is used as fuel in around 40 per cent of UK power stations. The German city of Hanover became the first big city in Europe to ban hot water and central heating in public buildings on Thursday in response to Putin’s weaponizing of gas supplies.
The drastic step comes as Germans have been told to expect sky high electricity bills and sweeping gas rationing measures that will affect their day-to-day lives.