The energy-workers trade union has described National Grid’s view that it can avoid winter power cuts with a ‘smart energy revolution’ as ‘fanciful nonsense’.
Nicola Shaw, National Grid 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.
But she 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.
Howver, Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary, said: ” The smart grid is years away. Avoiding winter blackouts with a ‘smart energy’ revolution is fanciful nonsense,
“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 4 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.”
In response, Dr Alastair Martin, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Edinburgh-based Flexitricity, said: “After eight years of using demand-side response (DSR) to fill in when nuclear power stations fail, I do not understand why the GMB believes that Hinkley C nuclear power station and DSR are competing alternatives. They’re not.
“Whether or not Hinkley goes ahead, active, flexible customers will be a vital part of a secure, affordable and sustainable energy future. For a start, Hinkley C is about energy. Demand-side response is about flexibility.
“If built, Hinkley’s job will be to churn out as much electricity as possible, round the clock. It won’t be flexible. But in electricity, supply and demand have to match every second. It’s the job of demand-side response to deliver that, by moving consumption around, away from times of stress and towards times of excess. That makes the whole grid more economical, more secure, and greener.
“Secondly, demand-side response is needed whether Hinkley C is built or not.
“Building Hinkley does change the shape of what DSR has to achieve. Hinkley will be the single biggest element in the national transmission network, so a sudden failure at Hinkley would be a big loss to the system. Failures like that do occur; they’re part of real-world engineering. At Flexitricity, we’ve been using DSR to support the Grid during failures for eight years now.
“We’ve also shown that small flexible generators – like the energy-efficient Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems found at many community energy schemes – can back off their generation to make space for wind and solar. They’ll do the same for Hinkley. That’s just as much part of DSR as dealing with peaks and power station failures.
“And thirdly, National Grid’s recent announcement is about a push into a new area: DSR in homes, while Flexitricity concentrates on commercial, industrial and public-sector premises.
“Since we kick-started the DSR industry in 2008, we’ve developed a power-station sized portfolio out of a remarkable range of sites – retail, manufacturing, community energy, healthcare, and many others. More recently, National Grid has started actively promoting this sector through its Power Responsive campaign.
“Other companies have tried to develop similar activities in the domestic sector, and have found it very difficult. There are a number of reasons for this – the ways in which people use electricity in their homes, the capabilities of the appliances, and the relatively small value of demand response at individual household level.
“However, Flexitricity would certainly agree that there is untapped potential here. Experience has shown that it isn’t going to be opened up by some new-start technology company; this needs leadership. It’s perfectly reasonable for National Grid to take on that role. In fact, it’s hard to see anyone else doing it effectively.”
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National Grid’s estimate of savings to consumers can be found at: goo.gl/gPhSQ0