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Reserve margin

A balancing act

Managing a country's electricity supply is a complex balancing act. Utilities are heavily reliant on a rolling long term forecast of demand. This allows for planning of generation, maintenance and distribution schedules.

For 24 hours a day, every day of the year, there must be enough power on hand to meet anticipated demand, with a small amount in reserve in case of emergencies. Getting the amount of the reserve right is the difficult part. Too much is a huge waste of money, putting upward pressure on electricity prices, Too little is disastrous, leading to blackouts and customer dissatisfaction.

Managing the reserve requires constant, highly complex, detailed planning and modelling programmes. At regular intervals, experts from many disciplines gather to study national demand patterns, see how they have met or exceeded expectations, and debate how they will change in the future. Sales and marketing people tell of new demand expected from the various sectors. Engineers list transmission equipment and power stations scheduled for maintenance or upgrading. The controllers know how much plant can be taken out for maintenance or repair at any time and when to call for maximum generation.