National Grid’s View Of Avoiding Winter Blackouts With A ‘Smart Energy’ Revolution Is Fanciful Nonsense Says GMB
National Grid is naively complacent with claims a smart energy revolution is the saviour to blackouts when the power stations close says GMB.
GMB, the union for energy workers, commented on National Grid claims that a ‘smart energy’ revolution could help ensure the UK does not suffer blackouts with an ‘internet of energy’ allowing fridges, washers and dishwashers to help balance energy demand. See notes to editors for BBC news report.
Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary, says "Avoiding winter blackouts with a ‘smart energy’ revolution is fanciful nonsense, the smart grid is years away. What is needed to guarantee the lights stay on over the coming winters are new power stations and the go-ahead for Hinkley Point C would be a start given that the coal fired stations are due to close next week.
It is well known that National Grid's dual role of owner and operator of the electricity transmission system has been under scrutiny and GMB has been calling for the government to take responsibility for some time.
However, the electricity supply balance is delicate and the government needs to stop the whispering and come clean with a fully worked strategy that ensures short and long term energy security.
There are simply too many jockeys on the horse in terms of the responsibility for the UK power supply systems. National Grid is a private company and natural monopoly with the aim to make profits. National Grid has to be told by the UK Government what to do in the interests of consumers.
Lessons still need to be learned from 4th November 2015 when National Grid had to invoke special measures to keep the lights on. This happened on a not particularly cold day and took place before nine power stations close in 2016. We also have the position where National Grid is using consumers' money to pay firms to stop work in order to avoid winter blackouts, a bonkers policy that only a natural monopoly would dare to implement.”
Notes to Editors
Smart energy revolution 'could help to avoid UK blackouts'
A "smart energy" revolution could help ensure that the UK does not suffer blackouts, according to National Grid's new UK chief.
Nicola Shaw, its executive director, said technological advances will reduce the need to build new conventional power stations in the UK.
An "internet of energy" will allow fridges, washers and dishwashers to help balance energy demand.
Some commentators say the UK needs more gas-fired power to prevent blackouts.
Ms Shaw agreed that more investment in gas-fired power was needed, but argued that between 30% and 50% of fluctuations on the electricity grid could be smoothed by households and businesses adjusting their demand at peak times.
"We are at a moment of real change in the energy industry. From an historic perspective we created energy in big generating organisations that sent power to houses and their businesses. Now we are producing energy in those places - mostly with solar power," she told BBC News.
London-listed National Grid runs electricity and gas networks in the UK and the northeastern United States.
More and more people and companies were adjusting their energy consumption to use more when power was at its cheapest, Ms Shaw said.
"All of that is a real revolution … a smart energy revolution that's changing the way we think about energy across the country," she said.
This change was being driven by people and firms generating energy, storing it and using it flexibly through new controls and online software.
The move toward flexible energy use is supported by the National Infrastructure Commission. And the advances in energy software are described by the World Energy Council as the biggest change in 21st Century energy - along with solar power.
Price signals to consumers will be key to the change, as the UK relies on increasing amounts of intermittent renewable energy.
Already some firms benefit from using extra power when it is cheaper off-peak. That trend is spreading to households: a firm in Cornwall is offering a "sunshine tariff"that aims to persuade households to use cheap solar power when the sun is out, for example.
Energy experts say that in future consumers will be able to ask for their appliances to be connected online to the grid.
A signal could then turn on, say, a washing machine, when there was plentiful energy from wind power, or turn off a freezer for a few minutes to smooth out a spike in demand at teatime.
Prof Phil Taylor, professor of energy systems at Newcastle University, said: "People are used to the idea that they pay more for using the trains at peak time, or they queue more if they use the roads at rush hour.
"Technology has enabled us to bring this price flexibility to energy consumers. No-one will be forced to link their home to the energy internet, but if they do choose to use it, it will save them money, save pollution and save power stations needing to be built."
The challenge for National Grid is to attract more companies to adopt what is known as "demand-side response", or DSR. Some firms are nervous, others have not heard of it - and business models are changing at breakneck speed.
Ms Shaw acknowledged that some were anxious about the lights going out as the smart energy revolution progressed.
However, she said: "I don't think people should fret. There's an awareness of the issues. There's lots of activity on the market that will solve this problem. Be enthusiastic - it's a moment of change that should take us to a better place."
The big questions are how far smart technology can ease the burden on the grid and how quickly it can make its mark.
Deepa Venkateswaran, from Bernstein energy analysts, said: "The smart grid revolution is going to be exciting. However, there's a time frame - we need some time to get wired up and respond dynamically, but in the short term we need new gas stations to replace some of our ageing coal stations which are going to close."
Ms Shaw agrees with the need for new gas power, but is wary of committing to new power stations while technology is producing unexpected improvements at a sharp pace.
The issue is central to the UK's laws on cutting greenhouse gases. Under Ms Venkateswaran's scenario, the UK will be locked into generating gas-fired electricity until well into the 2030s. This would wreck the government's target of ending gas-fired generation in the early years of that decade.
Ministers are working on a long-term climate strategy, which was promised for last November but is now not expected until sometime before the end of this year.
The pressure is on the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to devise policies that will both keep the lights on, bills affordable - as well as carbon emissions down.