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Will the Christmas lights go out next winter?

With the continuing debate on the capacity of the existing grid and the reducing supply margin, forward-thinking major energy users are securing the future of their energy supply by planning ahead and taking steps to be less dependent on our aging National Grid. By adopting a flexible approach they are experiencing operational, commercial and carbon benefits. Will the Christmas lights go out next winter, or will you take control of your own power supply?

13th April 2017    |     Graham Waring: Director

In a report called Electric Shock: Will The Christmas Lights Go Out Next Winter?, published by the British Infrastructure Group (BIG) of MPs, it is claimed that government targets for closing coal power stations and expanding renewable sources has rapidly reduced the UK’s generating output.

Findings claim that in recent winters the UK’s spare electricity margin has fallen from around 17% during winter 2011-12 to around 1% during winter 2016-17. The long recession that the country has experienced will have limited the impact of this due to falling output and associated reduction in power demand, however, it is still a concerning state of affairs.

Steve Holliday, the man who ran National Grid for a decade, said that stories raising fears about blackouts should stop based on the government’s Capacity Market Auction, where firms will bid for subsidies to provide back-up power when needed. Much of the back-up power will be provided by gas and coal plants that would otherwise be decommissioned.

National Grid has confirmed that it has secured sufficient electricity capacity up to 2021, but at what cost and how – using “dirty” energy?

What is clear, and widely recognised, is that flexibility is required in both demand and supply. Demand side response and electricity storage will have a big part to play in achieving successful energy delivery, as well as decentralised energy generation to reduce major investment in generation assets.

This is where forward thinking organisations are currently at; taking control of their power. First and foremost by reducing energy consumption through the introduction of efficiency measures and devolving responsibility for energy to the users rather than the energy manager or financial controller.

When combined, electricity storage and decentralised energy generation will provide a host of benefits in their own right, however, a further advantage is on offer in the form of demand side response. National Grid is seeking energy users who will turn down their power demand at times of grid shortage and at these times, storage and decentralised generation could be utilised to minimise energy supply impacts for the energy user, whilst receiving the bonus of a financial contribution from National Grid.

What’s more, electricity storage via battery technology is now commercially viable and can be used on its own to mitigate the impacts of TRIAD charges and red period costs, by replacing the grid supply at the applicable time, whilst being charged overnight using cheap rate electricity. Decentralised power generation (most commonly via solar PV, wind turbines or energy from waste) will provide both commercial and environmental benefits, as well as base load resilience from “brown outs”.

The debate about the grid supply capacity will continue, though what is needed is an increase in flexibility in both demand and supply. Some forward-thinking companies recognise this and are taking control of their power, experiencing operational, commercial and carbon benefits while crucially planning ahead to ensure their energy demands are catered for – it won’t be their Christmas lights going out next winter!

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