The UK’s Energy Crisis - a boost for Smart Grids - 09 Sep 2009

Both the government and the Tory opposition have committed the UK to a number of measures aimed at facilitating moves towards smart grid infrastructure. Among them is a commitment to install 26 million smart meters in very home and business, as well as 20 million gas meters, starting in 2010. This project alone is expected to cost up to £10 billion.

The plan is in line with increasingly stringent EC rules on energy conservation and the broader requirement for Member States to procure a greater proportion of their energy needs from renewable sources.

Recent reports on the UK's looming energy crisis indicate that the country's smart grid infrastructure could not be completed too soon.

The government's projections suggest that by 2017 (and perhaps earlier according to some models), the power shortfall between supply and demand may reach 3,000 megawatt hours per year, increasing to 7,000 megawatt hours by 2025. This implies that half of the UK would have its power cut off for parts of the day. It is a practical solution recognised the world over where demand exceeds supply, albeit rarely in developed economies, and not in the UK since the mid-1970s when the three-day week was introduced to conserve coal stocks.

Part of the UK's current (and future) difficulties lie in its own energy commitments, and in EC regulations. About 40% of electricity will need to come from low-carbon energy sources including clean coal (including carbon capture and storage), nuclear and renewables. At the same time, the EC has determined that nine oil and coal-fired power plants will need to be decommissioned by 2015 to meet pollution targets. In addition, four existing nuclear power plants are also expected to be closed, though it is likely that some of these at least will have their operating life extended to help meet the power shortfall.

Given that no additional nuclear power stations are being planned, and that the UK will inevitably develop a deeper reliance on gas sourced from often volatile regions, there should be more immediate consideration placed on smart infrastructure itself as a way to manage demand more efficiently. Smart meters can do much of this work at the consumer level, and further up the chain the National Grid, responsible for the transmission network, will be able to show greater flexibility in meeting demand as consumption changes, whether daily or seasonally.

Smart meters and an intelligent grid may not make up for network mismanagement, and power outages may well occur as forecast. If so, the intelligent grid can at least be expected to cut off power to consumers more efficiently.

Henry Lancaster

Senior Analyst, Europe

Paul Budde Communication Pty Ltd

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