"The Future of Britain's Electricity Networks"..Is microgeneration the solution ?
Britain’s electricity system is facing serious challenges..Local Energy Generation is one of the solutions..
Britain faces "oil crunch" within five years, Richard Branson warns
An oil crunch more serious than the financial crisis threatens to strike Britain within five years, Sir Richard and other business leaders have warned
"..we face a situation during the term of the next government where fuel price unrest could lead to shortages in consumer products and the UK'S energy security will be significantly compromised.."
Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security, Feb 2010
Energy watchdog Ofgem has warned "..electricity and gas may become unaffordable for an increasing number of households unless drastic action is taken.."
Britain’s electric system is facing serious challenges. Major questions exist about its ability to continue providing citizens and businesses with relatively clean, reliable, and affordable energy services. The recent downturn in the economy masks areas of grid congestion in numerous locations across the country, so microgeneration (generation by small, local, power points) is being propsed as the solution
The "information economy" requires a reliable, secure, and affordable electric system to grow and prosper. Now, unless substantial amounts of capital are invested over the next several decades in new generation, transmission, and distribution facilities, service quality will degrade and costs will go up. These investments will involve new technologies that improve the existing electric system, and advanced technologies that could revolutionize the electric grid.
UK’s electricity demand is supplied by fossil fuels - gas, coal and petroleum - burnt in central generating stations. Two problems have developed that will cause supply to be unable to meet demand within very few years - because the level of CO2 emissions that result from burning fossil fuels is no longer acceptable and because fossil fuel reserves are becoming rapidly depleted.
Significant interruption in the supply of energy
Rolling blackouts throughout UK have now been confirmed officially, by Ofgen, (and reported in the UK press) as likely to happen in just a few years' time, if solutions are not found and put in place.
New ways to generate electricity must be found, and found rapidly - an energy crisis is predicted from 2012. Central-generating stations will not produce enough electricity to meet the ever-increasing demand because a third of the UK infrastructure in place to generate and distribute electricity needs to be replaced
A fundamental restructuring of the whole of the UK’s energy system is unavoidable. The last major investment in the UK’s electricity infrastructure was in the 1970s and much of the equipment installed then is reaching the end of its service life or does not now comply with the latest directives to control emissions/pollution.
To put alternative ways of electricity generation into place in time, a new installation and transmission system is required…the scale of the engineering challenge is massive and will require significant investment in new energy infrastructure
But the need for renewal coincides with the possibility for major enhancements because of new technological developments, offering a unique opportunity to develop state-of-the art infrastructure based on :
- generation of electricity locally at the point of consumption, in the community
- generation of electricity from renewable installations, e.g. wind and solar
Action at local community level can help to ensure that the worst case scenario does not develop.
Local communities are taking steps to look to themselves to ensure continuation of supply of electricity in the event of a blackout or other restriction. Demand reductions across all sectors of each community will be essential through a combination of increased efficiencies and behavioural change.
Attention is focused on setting up installations, powered renewably using solar pv panels, at the point of consumption. The home itself of the citizens in the community, public buildings such as schools, libraries and village halls, can also become micro-generators. Business and farms are positioned to play an important role in providing each community with the ability to generate, and distribute, its own electricity, as they have both the space and resources to be substantial contributors
The House of Commons Energy & Climate Change Select Committee examined during 2009 the role of the UK’s electricity networks within the context of Government energy and climate changes issues
The inquiry, entitled ‘The Future of Britain's Electricity Networks’, had a deadline of 18 March 2009 for the submission of written evidence, and with oral evidence sessions submitted in late April to late May 2009
The Committee has said that:
‘We are at a critical junction in the development of our energy infrastructure. This inquiry will look at how Britain's networks will need to adapt in response to future changes in the generation mix, and the role of the Government and Ofgem in facilitating this, and the potential for a 'supergrid' ‘
The Committee wanted to know what the Government's vision should be for Britain's electricity networks and set out key questions that focused on how the regulatory framework can allow the network operators to deliver on Government energy and climate change objectives given that the networks are increasingly seen as a key component of delivery of these
The questions include:
- How do we ensure the regulatory framework is flexible enough to cope with uncertainty over the future generation mix?
- What barriers need to be overcome?
- What are the challenges for the networks of embedded and distributed generation?
- What are the estimated costs?
- How can the regulatory framework encourage network operators to innovate?
The Committee also anticipated that the inquiry would feed into Ofgem's long-term RPI-X@20 review of the regulatory framework for Britain's energy networks. Key issues will clearly be transmission - both offshore and onshore, decentralised energy, electric vehicles, planning, security of supply, renewable heating and cooling, smart metering, geo-pressure, bio-methane, gas storage, CCS and gas networks and ‘green jobs’ and the skills agenda
Govvernment policy on microgeneration
Conservative Shadow DECC Secretary, Dr Greg Clark, presented his vision of future energy policy - especially following the Labour Government’s Green Paper on the ‘Electricity Internet’.
“He sees the network’s role as vital in delivering the energy future he wanted to see and clearly understands the idea of turning our networks from a more passive to a more active type of technology in order to integrate renewable energy effectively. He seems to acknowledge this as crucial in exploiting the full potential of smart meters and he also sees a more resilient network as at the heart of addressing intermittency. He believes that investment in the networks needed to be ‘appropriate and enabling’ "
Microgrid contribution to energy supply
"Microgrids (de-centralised electricity generation combined with on-site production of heat) bear the promise of substantial environmental benefits, brought about by a higher energy efficiency and by facilitating the integration of renewable sources such as photovoltaic arrays or wind turbines. By virtue of good match between generation and load, microgrids have a low impact on the electricity network, despite a potentially significant level of generation by intermittent energy sources - but there are barriers that have to be overcome if microgrids are to make a major contribution to the UK energy supply.
We find that there is no fundamental technological reason why microgrids cannot contribute an appreciable part of the UK energy demand. Indeed, an estimate of cost indicates that the microgrids considered...would supply electricity at a cost comparable with the present centralised electricity supply if the current support mechanisms for photovoltaics were maintained"
Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
University of Southampton