UK to use coal-fired power plants to keep lights on

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The power grid operator has warned that the utilities may be needed to ensure energy supply amid a cold snap

The UK’s electricity system operator, the National Grid, has put two coal-fired power plants on emergency standby, ordering them to be ready to launch production later on Monday.

This measure should give the public confidence in Monday’s energy supply. This notification is not confirmation that these units will be used on Monday, but that they will be available,” the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said in a notice. It added that putting the coal-fired power stations on standby does not mean it expects blackouts, and that the measure is merely a precaution.

The two power units in question, which are owned by Drax energy company, are capable of producing about 1.1 gigawatts of electricity. They operate under winter contingency contracts, meaning they can only go online if ordered to do so by the grid operator.

The standby order comes as temperatures across the UK dropped well below zero on Sunday, prompting yellow weather warnings for snow and ice for much of the country. The weather is expected to remain cold throughout the week, which would force households to boost their heating use, prompting an increase in demand for power and putting pressure on the grid.

The cold snap has also lowered wind power generation in the country, which provided just 3% of the UK’s electricity on Sunday. This left the grid to rely on gas-fired power plants and imports from continental Europe, mainly from France. However, the UK’s gas reserves are already very low, while France’s nuclear power output has been dropping in recent months, sparking fears that the country will soon be unable to meet its own domestic demand.

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