At 4:52pm on Friday 9 August 2019, the UK suffered its first wide-scale blackout in more than a decade. More than 1.1 million consumers were plunged into the dark as rail lines screeched to a halt, traffic lights failed and even airports reported problems. Liam Stoker looks at the root causes, and how battery storage came to the rescue in an article which first appeared in PV Tech Power Vol.20.
16:52:33.490. Those nine consecutive digits won’t mean much outside of the UK’s energy sector, but they’re likely to be etched into folklore. It’s the precise timestamp for when, on 9 August 2019, a single lightning strike sparked a cascade of events that caused the UK’s first major blackout in more than a decade.
More than one million people experienced power outages and significant disruption, with not insignificant swathes of the country’s rail network taken out of action, albeit temporarily. The incident made national headlines for days after, as theory and rumour abounded.
A cyber attack? No, the UK’s transmission system operator National Grid quickly dismissed. Were renewables to blame? Earlier that day wind had provided more than half of the country’s power,
a feat which had the renewables lobby celebrating. That just hours later the lights had gone out was a fact not lost on a number of climate change sceptics.
But those theories were also dismissed by National Grid in the days after the event. While there was indeed marginally less inertia on the grid that day, courtesy of less synchronous generation, this was not something that ultimately contributed to the blackout.
The true cause, National Grid’s preliminary investigation, released on 19 August, was perhaps both simpler and more complicated at the same time.