Update 1st Nov 2016: End of British summer time triggers National Grid warning system
Whilst MPs focus on storage and cutting demand, the need for reliable back-up power intensifies
As the UK’s government struggles to balance the ever rising demand for electrical power with the realities of an ageing power grid and a commitment to lowering the country’s carbon footprint, it appears that their solution may result in a less robust power distribution system that will be more vulnerable to brownouts than at any time in recent history.
As investment in new large-scale power stations has dropped and the power grid is becoming much more seasonal with its reliance on renewable energy sources, MPs tell us that the stability of the power grid depends on schemes designed to store energy on the short term and subsidies intended to get industry to reduce peak demand on a voluntary level.
Power providers across the country are paid subsidies to ensure that enough electricity is available to meet peak demand, and that has historically meant keeping diesel generators and other back-up supplies in reserve, to be run only at leak times, especially when the conditions for solar and wind power generation are poor.
Much of that subsidy money, they tell us, should now be diverted to programmes intended to store power generated at off-peak times, or to reward business and industry for shifting their power demands to off-peak times.
These schemes, collectively referred to as ‘the capacity market’ will, MPs tell us, ensure a sable, reliable and fairly priced energy supply. They say that storage options like Elon Musk’s new lithium ion battery system or pumping water uphill at night to flow back downhill by day turning turbines are the answer to a greener, low carbon energy future.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy tells us that the technology these methods relies upon is not yet fully mature, and is not currently in a state where it can be safely relied upon to meet peak demand. This uncertainty has left many in the industry looking at on-site options for back-up power generation to supplement the national grid.
As more fossil fuel power stations (once held in reserve to meet peak demand) are decommissioned without replacement, alternative means to avid brownouts are being explored. The most promising are ‘smart’ technologies which will allow productivity to remain high without placing increased demands on the power grid at the times when power is most in demand.
One method involves upgrading the power grid itself to convey data as well as energy. In an odd parallel to the ‘internet of things’, this system would link all smart devices hooked into the grid, informing them when power is plentiful in order to shunt demand. Water tanks could heat themselves when demand was low to supply hot water all day. Washing machines could be set to turn on whenever power is cheapest, and so on.
The drawback with this system is consumer uptake – until a critical number of home users buy new appliances and equipment that could use this system, it would cost much more to run than it would save. Also, the smart devices don’t actually exist yet.
MPs assure us that they will, that people will buy them, and that the system will be cost and energy efficient in the long run.
Business and industry are also urged to take part in ‘demand-side response systems’, where those organisations that use the most power will be incentivised to use less during peak demand. MPs tell us this is ‘strongly preferred’ over the traditional alternative of building more large scale diesel generation facilities.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change will soon be merged with the Business Department to form the new Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. So it is not entirely clear what reforms, if any the new Department will champion.
The overall picture is one of confusion, and an unclear energy future for Britain.
One thing we know is that an uncertain power supply is bad for business. Many organisations, from large corporations to SMEs, are making sure they have sufficient on-site power generation capacity to endure productivity no matter what state the power grid might be in. In addition to brownouts, having your own diesel genset makes you all but immune to power cuts due to inclement weather and downed power lines.
If you’d like to know more about making your business immune to power cuts and brownouts, call Advanced Diesel today at +44 (0)1977 658 100
Address:14 Langthwaite Business Park,South Kirkby, Pontefract, WF9 3AP, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 (0)1977 658 100