Derek Simpson, the general secretary of Amicus, has warned that there are serious problems blighting the UK’s electricity generating capacity and that blackouts affecting large parts of the country are a real possibility, as European Directives start to take effect.

Amicus says that the European Carbon Emissions Trading Directive and the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive are curtailing the lifetime of existing power stations. This, combined with the reduction in nuclear generating capacity due to the closure and decommissioning of the Magnox nuclear power stations, will reduce the UK’s ability to generate its own dependable energy supply.

The union is calling on the government to prioritise a wide-ranging review of the UK’s future energy requirements. It also says it is vital that the government take action to invest in clean-coal fired power stations, the best option for providing flexibility in the UK’s electricity supply.

Amicus say that electricity generation from nuclear- and gas-fired power stations is not flexible enough to deal with severe fluctuations in demand during winter months.

Simpson said: “If action is not taken we could be suffering routine blackouts in the next few years and the sort of energy price hikes we have seen in recent weeks because of the increasing reliance on foreign energy supplies from unstable countries.”

Scientists have demonstrated a simple method for improving the current densities of superconducting coated conductors in magnetic field environments. The discovery has the potential to increase the already impressive carrying capacity of superconducting wires and tapes by as much as 200 to 500% in motors and generators, where high magnetic fields diminish current densities.

In research reported in the journal Nature Materials, University of Cambridge scientist Judith Macmanus-Driscoll and her Los Alamos colleagues discovered that when the compound barium zirconate is deposited simultaneously with the yttrium-barium-copper-oxide superconductor it naturally forms nanoscale particles embedded in superconductor films. The result is a two to five fold increase in the current densities of coated conductors in high magnetic fields operating at liquid nitrogen temperatures.

Superconducting wires and tapes carry hundreds of times more electrical current than conventional copper wires with little or no electrical resistance. Much of the excitement caused by this discovery is due to the fact that the process can be easily and economically incorporated into commercial processing of superconductors.

(For more on this story, see the September issue of Electrical Review.)

Four organisations have joined forces to develop wave and tidal power in response to the government's £50m marine development fund. The University of Edinburgh, Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney and the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Northumberland have formed the UK Centre for Marine Renewable Energy to tap into the £50m.

The partnership aims to provide properly equipped research, development, test and certification base to help the marine energy industry provide significant renewable energy from naturally occurring wave and tidal movements.

Minister for energy, Stephen Timms, said: "I was confident that the government's announcement of the £50m marine development fund would stimulate this industry because wave and tidal devices are very promising.”

A distribution centre in Runcorn is helping turn around international trading group and creating 100 new jobs in the process. The Netherlands-based operation suffered a number of commercial setbacks last year and was forced to refinance.

The 37,000 sq ft operation, which replaced a Warrington site, stocks 45,000 different products for the electrical industry and supplies 170 branches of Hagemeyer’s Newey & Eyre and WF Electrical trade outlets.

Systems problems at the £20m site lost customers and saw UK profits slump by £150m. When the site originally opened it created 250 jobs and now employs 350.

Amec, an international engineering and project management services company, has secured a $1.9m (£1m) contract to design a $24m (£13m) alternative fuel production plant for Biox Corporation in Hamilton, Ontario.

This will be Canada’s first commercial-scale biodiesel production facility and Amec will provide engineering services and procurement assistance on the project.

The facility should produce 60 million litres of biodiesel a year and increase north American biodiesel production capacity by 50%. It will convert vegetable oils, agricultural seed oils, waste animal fats, greases and recycled cooking oils into biodiesel. Biodiesel can be used as an alternative fuel or blended with regular petroleum diesel at any level in any unmodified diesel engine. It creates 80% fewer hydrocarbons, 60% less CO2 and 50% less particulate matter than petroleum diesel.

Construction is scheduled to begin in late autumn and Biox plans to build plants elsewhere in Canada before expanding across the globe.

A single electricity market for the whole of Britain took a step closer after National Grid was appointed GB System Operator under the British Electricity Trading and Transmission Arrangements (Betta).

The electricity market in Scotland operates under different arrangements from those in England and Wales. Under Betta, the England and Wales trading arrangements will be extended to Scotland, creating a single wholesale electricity market.

The transition from the existing to the new arrangements will be phased in, with April 2005 the completion date.

Troubled nuclear power firm British Energy came under more pressure yesterday when Polygon Investments joined other shareholders calling for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to derail management attempts at a restructuring deal.

British Energy fell into difficulties two years ago when wholesale power prices plunged, leaving it £1.3bn in debt.

A rescue package, put together last year by the generator and backed by the government, would leave shareholders with only 2.5% of the company’s equity. Creditors would acquire the bulk of the group under a debt-for-equity swap.

Polygon, a 5.6% shareholder, wants to see shareholders given 30% of the company and, in the light of improving economics at British Energy, an EGM set to discuss alternative rescue plans.

A spokesperson from Polygon said: “Surging power prices now mean this is a solid business and nuclear power is looking increasingly attractive. British Energy is very far from being on its knees.”

EDF Energy has spent £6m in an upgrade to electricity supplies for customers in the London Docklands area. An electrical switch house has been constructed as part of a new nine-storey apartment complex beside the Docklands Light Railway at Brunswick Wharf.

The equipment should provide a better service for over 100,000 homes and businesses in the East End of London and should allow EDF Energy to restore power quicker in the event of a fault.

The project manager for EDF Energy, Paul Morgan, said: “The new building incorporates some of the most up-to-date switch gear available. This technology enables us to switch customers to an alternative 132kV circuit in the event of a fault and will allow us to carry out planned work on our underground network without inconveniencing our customers.

“As well as giving us greater remote control over the network, the switch house will provide us with spare capacity for further developments in the area should the need arise.”

The building replaces a 1950’s switch house on the same site, which was decommissioned earlier this year.

British Energy will be split into three separate companies to win European Commission approval for its £5bn rescue deal. The company was rescued by a British government financial package in 2002 after a slump in UK power prices.

The three companies will be jointly owned but must be financially independent with separate accounts. These will be a nuclear power generator, a coal power generator and an energy sales firm.

The nuclear company will receive British government aid for decommissioning plant between now and 2086 but will be barred from sharing this money with the other businesses. The coal firm, solely comprising Eggborough power station, will not expand.

The parent company will be barred from building any additional generating capacity unless it is from renewable energy sources and the sales company will sell electricity produced by the other two firms.

The Carbon Trust has announced new developments to the Energy Technology List, which includes additional qualifying technologies. Amendments have also been made to criteria in some technology categories:

New Technologies and sub-technologies:

Air to Air Energy Recovery

Compact Heat Exchangers

HVAC Zone Controls

Boilers -- Gas fired Condensing Water Heaters

Heat Pumps - Gas Engine Driven Heat Pumps

Heat Pumps - Ground Source Heat Pumps

Refrigeration - Air Cooled Condensing Units

Amendments to existing criteria:

Heat Pumps

Boilers: Burners With Controls

Refrigeration: Packaged Chillers

Refrigeration: Commercial Service Cabinets

Refrigeration: Refrigerated Display Cabinets

Refrigeration:

Warm Air and Radiant Heaters:

Overhead Radiant Heaters

Warm Air and Radiant Heaters: Packaged Warm Air Heaters

The Energy Technology List details the energy-saving products that can qualify for Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA), a tax relief that allows businesses to deduct 100% of their qualifying capital expenditure against their taxable profits in the period of the investment.

The list currently includes over 6,000 products, which meet published energy saving criteria.

Further information is available from the ECA website www.eca.gov.uk/etl

After recently acquiring two large coal-fired power stations – Fiddlers Ferry and Ferrybridge – Scottish & Southern Energy is poised to complete the £2.5bn purchase of two gas distribution networks from National Grid Transco.

NGT invited offers for six of its eight gas networks last September and has said it hopes to agree the sale of up to four soon. Analysts expect the deal to generate £5bn-£6bn.

SSE has teamed up with two players from Canada’s pension fund industry to buy the networks. Favourites to buy the other two are United Utilities, bidding with Cheung Kong Infrastructure, and Dutch investment bank ABN AMRO.