Back in August 2009 there was an article in a well-known newspaper warning that the demand for energy supplies in the UK would exceed supply from the National Grid. The time scale was 8 years. There was statement about the actions needed to address this and talk of cleaner fuels as Britain’s nuclear and coal capabilities dwindled. There was also some suggestion of doubt about whether renewable energy could bridge the gap, along with an acknowledgement that one third of British power generating capacity needed to be replaced with cleaner fuels.
There was a plan, outlined by the then Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, that stated that 40% of UK electricity needed to come from low-carbon energy sources. The plan also warned of power shortages, the first short fall to be expected by 2017.
October 2014 and the Energy Secretary’s speech to the Energy UK Conference is saying much of the same thing, at least as far as the need for wide ranging reform of our energy infrastructure. However the good news is that we, the UK, are more energy secure than any other European country in the EU and it seems we are in the lead in the race for low carbon, new nuclear capture and storage… apparently! All of this and the delicate balance between energy provision and reducing carbon emissions, means that the risk of blackouts this winter is at its highest for 6 years. The closure of coal based power plants due to EU legislation and plans being suspended for some gas fired plants, due to economic pressures, along with uncertainty with gas supplies and a drop in wind power, have seen UK reserves drop from 16% to just 5%.
The Royal Academy of Engineers offered this suggestion via The Institution of Engineering and Technology back in 2011, by way of considering the very complex multidimensional issue of energy security:
We apparently have to create a diverse range of energy sources using various feed stocks (or a diversity of sources of the same stock). We must have robust technologies that can convert primary energy supplies into usable or transportable forms of energy and robust, resilient networks that enable us to get the appropriate form of energy to where it’s needed. Of course what one man sees as a positive, another will see as a negative. Think wind farms, fracking and so on! If cost were not an issue we could buy what we need or develop the means to develop new sources, however the price of energy impacts on everyone and creates political and economic tensions. The sage advice also contained in the report from which this information comes, is that one of the best and cheapest methods to improve energy security is… use less! Not rocket science but whilst the politicians discuss and debate the investment needed in renewables, the grid, the need for stock building and the transport of power, we can all make our own contribution towards reducing the risk of the lights actually going out. Small measures by individuals at home and in the work place throughout the UK, can help reduce the aggregate demand for energy at those peak times and over the course of a year could make substantial differences to demand.
It’s almost Christmas!
In the 1970s the lights going out was a reality the country had to live with. The circumstances that brought it about were different but the impact was significant. Demand now for energy, especially over the next couple of months in the UK will be high. Cooking, heating, Christmas lights on 8 million Christmas trees and striking street displays, not forgetting dropping temperatures, will all put extra demand on the national grid. We can still do our bit though. Turning thermostats down by a couple of degrees, putting the heating on a bit later in the morning and switching it off a bit earlier in the evening, less time in the shower, energy saving bulbs and quality good insulation for our homes. Not only will the national grid benefit but it can and will save all of us money. Let’s help keep the light on!
Save energy, save money, save our world