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National Grid ‘should be broken up’

June 17, 2016

By Paul Homewood 




Quite a few outlets have picked this up today. From the BBC:


The UK’s energy system needs major reform, with the National Grid replaced by a US-style independent operator, a committee of MPs has said.

National Grid, which owns and operates the UK’s gas and electricity networks, faces "conflicts of interest", said the Energy and Climate Change Committee.

Despite its "technical expertise", it should be broken up, the MPs said.

But National Grid said there was "little evidence" that switching to the US system would bring any benefits.

The committee said that the change was necessary because more power was being generated by regional networks, making energy flows more complicated.

The committee complained of "legislative and regulatory inertia" and said small-scale generators, such as solar power producers, faced problems in connecting to the grid.

"The UK needs clean, renewable power, but it won’t be built if it’s too costly or difficult for generators to connect to the electricity grid," said committee chairman Angus MacNeil.

"Distribution networks have been overwhelmed at times by the challenge of integrating small-scale renewables."

The Independent System Operator (ISO) system advocated by the committee is used in the US. An ISO oversees the electrical power system in one or more states. The committee would like to see it adopted for energy transmission at a national level, while regional operators would control power flows locally.

"The Independent System Operator model has worked in the USA. It is time for it to be brought to these shores," said Mr MacNeil.

National Grid, a private company listed on the London Stock Exchange, rejected the committee’s findings.

"There is little evidence that an Independent System Operator model would provide any benefits that would justify the cost to households, potential disruption to much of the energy sector, and the risks to security of supply such uncertainty could create," a spokeswoman said.


I’m not really clued up on how the US system works, so don’t have any strong views either way. But it seems to me that all the proposals will do is create a set of regional monopolies instead of a national one, with the added complexity of a bureaucratic layer at the top.

A bit like the regional water companies in fact.

It is true, as I pointed out a month or so ago, that there is potential for conflict of interest, with for instance their involvement with the building of interconnectors to the continent. However, it surely cannot be difficult to prevent the National Grid from such involvement.

The National Grid’s role is clear – to ensure the reliable delivery of power around the country. This involves moving power from those areas in surplus to the rest of the country. I fail to see how a bunch of regional outfits will do any better.

What will happen, for instance, if power supply is tight. Will one region be prepared to share its power with another that is short?

There is a danger that we end up with a pig’s ear for all the wrong reasons, just to make life easier for renewables.

If we really believe that the Grid is an inefficient monopoly, the answer is simple. Nationalise it.

  1. martinbrumby permalink
    June 17, 2016 4:49 pm

    Let there be no doubt. I have very little faith in The National Grid as presently constituted. But I have several orders of magnitude more faith in the National Grid than I have in Angus MacNeil and his bunch of numpties and clowns.
    I suggest that any rational person would have long concluded that ANYTHING this committee proposes is extremely likely to be a disaster in the making.
    The lot of them should be impeached for gross incompetence.

  2. lapogus permalink
    June 17, 2016 5:04 pm

    Agreed, McNeil and his numpties don’t have a clue. But I also wonder about the people who are now running National Grid – do any of them have expertise and experience in transmission, and how to keep the grid stable and balanced – I fear not. Closing baseload Longannet on the grounds of distance from consumers when the station was less than 50 miles from 75% of Scotland’s population and when it provided more grid inertia than every wind turbine and solar panel in the UK combined, is beyond comprehension.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 17, 2016 7:58 pm

      I don’t think it was National Grid’s decision to close Longannet, but rather the vain politicians in the DECC and SNP/Holyrood.

      • June 17, 2016 9:49 pm

        Dead right!

        It was a simple case of economics forced on them by various govt edicts

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        June 18, 2016 10:17 am

        Why weren’t the National Grid kicking and screaming? At least when the crush comes their backsides would have been covered, now they are a ready made supine scapegoat.

  3. June 17, 2016 5:47 pm

    National grid gets paid more for more poles and cables, hence why they embrace “going green”, and Ofgem have a legal obligation to look after the consumer’s presumed desire to “go green”. The govt are in the happy (for them) position that bill payers tend to blame the electricity companies for ever rising bills, and the whole system is so incredibly complex that nobody has a clue what is going down.

    Maybe the UK should fully embrace renewables and put “greens” in govt to deal with the outcome.

    • Gus permalink
      June 17, 2016 8:55 pm

      Get the government out of the electricity supply business and let business run business’.

      Ronald Reagan said that the best minds are not in government. If they were business would steal them away.

      “Green energy” is nothing more than a myth. The government is just taxing the ordinary household so that they can give themselves and their friends nice “little earner” and the sooner every one wake up to that fact the better we all will be. Saving the earth by reducing CO2 is a joke. CO2 is nothing more than plant food and if one does not believe that then one might go back to school and study a little basic biology.

  4. Vernon E permalink
    June 17, 2016 5:52 pm

    Spot on. Pure displacement activity. In management speak “apparent effectiveness”.

  5. Roger Cole permalink
    June 17, 2016 6:01 pm

    Nationalise it? I presume you are jesting. Nationalising an inefficient monopoly only results in an even less efficient monopoly with the profits going into government coffers to be frittered away elsewhere with the monopoly suffering investment starvation. We should have learned that at least from our experience between WW2 and 1980.

    • Diogenese2 permalink
      June 17, 2016 7:00 pm

      “with profits going into government coffers”

      Except that there are never any profits. However you are quiet right but it is the revenue that is “frittered away” hence the starvation of investment.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      June 17, 2016 11:54 pm

      And speaking of previous experience in the UK, didn’t A certain King fail to control the tide?
      This committee was made up of know nothing Silly Cnuts.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        June 18, 2016 10:21 am

        Cnut was demonstrating to his sycophantic courtiers that a monarch, no matter how powerful, couldn’t control nature.

        The renewables industry is demonstrating to idiot politicians that relying on nature to run a modern economy is the route economic distaster.

    • Russ Wood permalink
      June 18, 2016 8:22 am

      Well, the entire generation and distribution system in South Africa is run by the Government-owned ESKOM, whose charges are set by a Government committee. So, the prices go up regularly, and ESKOM makes a profit out of its consumers, which goes back to the Government, and the ESKOM board award themselves huge bonuses for making a profit, and then ask for more from the consumers to build more power stations… And… and… and…
      Monopolies can be a pain – but at least in UK, it seems that it’s the right thing – at least for the National Grid.

  6. Tom O permalink
    June 17, 2016 6:37 pm

    I will admit I am confused by the statement made in part from the BBC. First, I don’t understand why it would be up to the grid to find a way to “integrate” small outputs such as a roof of solar panels. The way it works in the US is that the company gets “subsidies” to find a way, if you will. But as for the parting comment that implies that switching to a “US style” operation would be a cost to the consumer – well, you only wish you had my electric rates. You might be “whole house” warm in the winter and comfortable in the summer. And my rates have been jacked up because of “integrating small, continuously variable generators.”

  7. June 17, 2016 7:03 pm

    Don’t blame the failings of your renewables cash cows to deliver energy for the nation on the national distributer.

    The UK’s E&CCC is more stacked with vested interests than the European Commission.

  8. bruceofnewcastle permalink
    June 17, 2016 8:11 pm

    The graphic the BBC used is quite unfortunate in light of this article today…

    EU lightbulb SHOCK: Households will be forced having to pay £275 on replacements by 2018

    A new EU law will ban the sale of many halogen lightbulbs and homes will have to be fitted with energy saving LED bulbs instead, which cost around 25 times more.

    Homes in Britain have an average of 11 spotlight bulbs, which means it would cost up to £275 in replacement costs, according to the Association for the Conservation of Energy.

    This latest piece of bureaucracy is set to take effect in 2018.

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      June 18, 2016 10:47 am

      The edict doesn’t mean we all have to rush out and buy replacement spotlights and throw the halogen ones away, just replace them as they fail. Couple of points then

      1. The life of a 50W halogen spotlight is relatively short. Their LED equivalent consume about one 10th of the power and last considerably longer. I had 8 spotlights in my kitchen after replacing 4 halogens when they failed with LED about 2-3 years ago I replaced the other four with very cheap internet bought LED equivalents. Since then I have had to replace two. Remember this is a living kitchen with lights on several hours a day.

      2. The cost of these spotlights was about £3-4 each so replacing 11 would cost about £50. For my 8 and 2 replacements at 4-5 hours a day I save about 1.6KWh per day, over 2.5 years is about 1500 KWh. The unit cost per KWh in the UK is about 10p (exc VAT) so the saving in energy cost is about £150 plus VAT as a conservative estimate, for an investment of £50. So even if the failure rate doubles I’d still be in profit.

      3. Where did the BBC get their prices? B&Q charge £1 for an own brand halogen 40W GU10, and £3 for a Philips 50W equivalent LED GU10. 25 times more is totally ridiculous scaremongering.B&Q GU10 Bulb selection

      Changing to LED spotlights should be a no brainer in terms of economics. There may be other good reasons why not to, but cost isn’t one.

      • catweazle666 permalink
        June 18, 2016 10:47 pm

        A few years ago my wife changed about a dozen halogen bulbs in her kitchen and bathroom for LED bulbs. Apart from not being as effective lights – despite claiming the same output – the next thing that happened was a rash of burst pipes in the space above the ceiling due to lack of heat.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        June 19, 2016 6:46 am

        Better insulation on pipes? They would’ve been vulnerable if you were away from home in cold spell, unless you left the lights on.
        Agree that earlier versions weren’t as bright as their claimed halogen equivalent but current ones are much better and higher outputs are available.

  9. It doesn't add up... permalink
    June 17, 2016 8:33 pm

    Almost all the US regional grids are somewhat larger than the UK – the smallest being New York State.

    Several of them are effectively largely isolated by geographic features.

    The reality of the UK grid is that the pricing regime is set by OFGEM, and therefore MPs should be criticising that regime rather than the Grid in the first instance. Of course, the regime is mainly set at the behest of trying to put square pegs into round holes by trying to use the grid to subsidise renewables via the back door, in accordance with its green mandate set by Miliband’s 2010 Energy Act. Thus distant Scottish windfarms get heavily subsidised access to send power South to England while Longannet was being penalised to make up for it, and consumers are quietly soaked to pay for it all without it even counting as green subsidy at all. Rather like the EU, the Committee’s solution is “more subsidy”:

    “The UK needs clean, renewable power, but it won’t be built if it’s too costly or difficult for generators to connect to the electricity grid. Distribution networks have been overwhelmed at times by the challenge of integrating small-scale renewables.”

    Perhaps even more worrying was the Select Committee’s blind faith in the potential of storage solutions and interconnectors to solve the problems with renewables.

    “Innovative solutions—like storage and DSR— to 21st-century energy problems have been held back by legislative and regulatory inertia. The Government has committed to addressing these issues, and we will hold them to account on making good on this promise. DECC must also learn lessons from these policy lags so as to be better prepared for ongoing changes.”

    They really could do with learning some energy economics and physics basics:

  10. June 17, 2016 9:12 pm

    ‘Distribution networks have been overwhelmed at times by the challenge of integrating small-scale renewables.’

    But that’s as predictable as the day is long. Renewables are inherently unpredictable and unreliable – everyone knew, or should have known, that right from the start.

  11. tom0mason permalink
    June 17, 2016 10:26 pm

    The National Grid should be broken-up a week after the BBC is broken-up!

  12. stuartlarge permalink
    June 18, 2016 12:52 am

    OMG NO.
    The national grid has never suffered a country wide blackout (not even during world two blitz)
    It was a major step backward when the CEGB was privatised, all our problems are based on that decision.
    Going to a US type grid would be another major mistake.
    Dont get me wrong I am more right wing than left, but some utilities should nationalised, electricity, NHS, British rail, water and sewage etc.,

    • June 20, 2016 11:15 am

      Must agree with Stuart, the break-up and sell off of the CEGB is now proven as a historical disaster for the UK. The “unreliables” used to be penalised and “reliables” rewarded and the CEGB had a legal duty of care for power availability and prices.

      The free-market (i.e. foreign ownership) and Governmental interference have led to an expensive, subsidy controlled power system that destroys UK industry.

  13. AndyG55 permalink
    June 18, 2016 2:19 am

    They should separate the grid..

    Break it down to tow parts:

    a coal, gas, nuclear grid..

    and a separate “renewables” grid.

    Let people and businesses choose which one they want to hook up to.

    • AndyG55 permalink
      June 18, 2016 2:26 am

      two…not tow !!!

    • duker permalink
      June 18, 2016 5:22 am

      Impossible to ‘choose your own grid’, as it needs to be interconnected for very good reasons. All the public networks such as power or water or phone phone rely on having seamless single distribution system. Once there were separate firebrigades who only served their customers that disnt make sense then and having a grid along those lines wont work either

      • saveenergy permalink
        June 18, 2016 7:54 am

        • Impossible to ‘choose your own grid’, •

        But you could with smart meters !!!

      • AndyG55 permalink
        June 18, 2016 9:47 am


        A DC renewable component, and an AC real energy component.

        Smartmeters that only accept one or the other.

        Let the renewables “wanters” use just the DC component..

        I DARE them.

      • AndyG55 permalink
        June 18, 2016 11:32 am

        darn, change that “t” to a “k”

      • AlecM permalink
        June 18, 2016 1:02 pm

        Reply to AndyG45: you can’t have an offset DC component in a synchronous grid because as transformer would work there could be no change of voltage to allow long distance, low energy loss transmission**.

        It’s this kind of technological ignorance that has seriously threatened the West’s economic health, with a steep fall to third world economics and perhaps 60% death toll in the UK if it happens.

        **Superconducting cables in star configuration excepted, but that’s a leap of faith. The only real alternative is to convert energy at electrical source into hydrogen and pipe it away as a National gas grid. Or nuclear!

      • AlecM permalink
        June 18, 2016 1:03 pm

        No transformer would work!

      • duker permalink
        June 18, 2016 11:58 pm

        The closest I can think of was the German Bundesbahn which used to have a single nuclear power station generators operate at its preferred frequency rather than that of the domestic system (50Hz). While they have their own railway network they didnt use that for long distance transmission but the nuclear station could provide stability to their system whilethey tapped the single national grid where required.

  14. AlecM permalink
    June 18, 2016 9:13 am

    Most people who discuss the National Grid haven’t a clue about the real engineering issues. And of the posters here, only lapogus appears to have that knowledge (writing about ‘Grid inertia’).

    The simple fact is, PV solar cells and windmills are asynchronous so the lead and lag over grid frequency causes energy loss in the rest of the system. A simple empirical rule of thumb is that >10% windmill energy causes more fossil fuel use than the windmill-generated power in our kind of grid mix.

    However, on a few good days, defined as a steady wind speed, the windmills can produce real net energy. There are two ways out of this mess. The first, recommended by the late David MacKay to the (idiot) Ed Davey in 2012 is massive pump storage.

    This would use deep reservoirs in Scotland and the Lake District to store excess wind energy in periods of steady wind power excess then, when we have winter gales they would act as conventional hydro to react very quickly as a power sink for high energy spikes.

    Davey went for polluting diesel STOR, a cloud computing approach by desperate Siemens.

    The second approach, one that will be increasingly necessary, is to form local grids, disconnected much of the time from the main grid. It can be as small as a single dwelling with natural gas powered CHP via a fuel cell built into a condensing gas boiler. This is nearly at the stage of mass production. The methane to electrons efficiency is the same as a CCGT but the CH part mean it is far more efficient overall, using about 40% less gas than windmills plus CCGTs.

    The side benefit is that it will solve the nuclear gap and slash grid prices, rendering most wind farms uneconomical so they will be sold off then funded by a very different subsidy regime. Bring on the consumer revolution and the end of the smart meter scam – very high peak time pricing to maximise profits for the elite oligopoly, also freezing the poor to death in the new Little Ice Age!

    • June 18, 2016 1:12 pm

      What you propose sounds to me like a very expensive solution in search of a very big problem to solve. What is this very big problem? The only very big problem I can see is the one caused by the very expensive solution.

      • AlecM permalink
        June 18, 2016 3:57 pm

        The capital cost of the decentralised, micro-generative fuel cell power system is about the same per kWhr as nuclear power, without being subsidised Indeed it is the logical replacement for the now defunct big nuclear projects.

        The advantage is that by using the gas distribution system in parallel with the electrical Grid, the latter’s takeover by the renewables’ oligopoly is at an end and we end up with the ability of 10 million homes plus perhaps 2 million businesses being able to bypass the smart grid plan, which is to jack up electricity prices by shortage.

        It’s all about countering the elite’s plan to shaft the customer: this is the way the customer fights back. The other advantage is a 40% improvement in fossil fuel use efficiency and the new windmill operator contracts will have a requirement that they are responsible for standby, not the ‘Big 6’.

        They, just like in Germany, have gone on strike. I say have because on May 9th, the Grid almost failed, which seriously scared government greenies. It was done by taking out most coal plant for ‘maintenance’.

        Micro-generation is the only way to keep the lights on AND stop what is a 25 year plan by our elite to gain control of this utility for massive profit WITH NO EMISSIONS’ SAVINGS. It’s all been a giant confidence trick.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 19, 2016 8:08 pm

      There are ways to modify wind turbines so that some of the rotational inertia in their blades can be made available for grid inertia purposes. Not popular, because they add to costs, and reduce power output so that a reserve is available to provide the inertia – and in any case, only of much use when the wind is blowing enough to have the blades turn at almost full tilt before the inertia demand slows them (and the limited rate of rotation compared with a normal generator doesn’t help either, given that the stored energy is proportional to the square of the rate of rotation). The result is that turbines are not made to do this.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 19, 2016 8:17 pm

      You are presuming they allow us the gas. I’ll believe that when I start to see some serious investment in fracking, and in further spread of the gas grid.

  15. Graeme No.3 permalink
    June 18, 2016 10:29 am

    What about the Shetland solution? Use the variable output of a wind farm to heat a large tank of water, which is then circulated for household (and district) heating. Eliminates problems with inertia, timing, integration, load balancing, finding suitable pumped storage sites etc.) so long as heating is required for 12 months a year as in Shetland. Works fine in Lerwick but economics unstated.
    And by the way, don’t you think it unfair to compare hard working ( as best they can ) well meaning idiots with Ed Davey?

    • AlecM permalink
      June 18, 2016 11:43 am

      Graeme No.3: converting wind energy to thermal energy is a variation of the water brake I and the then Chief Engineer of a large Multinational devised 40 years ago. We proposed using scrap Borg-Warner automatic transmission units to convert about 10% of the water energy from a stream with a water impeller, to heating oil, to pump around a house!

      I agree; choose whatever approach is necessary. However re: Ed Davey, he deliberately over-rode his Chief Scientist and created immense NOx pollution in cities as all those government owned diesel back up generators kick in on cold, still winter nights. As they were subsidised at up to 12 times grid power cost, it was a very useful revenue as well as electricity generator! Going after diesel cars won’t help much when we enter this winter.

      The problem is that the political lunatics have taken over the asylum. There is near zero CO2-AGW, easily proved theoretically and by experimental data. This is because the science has been fraudulent for 40 years . Indeed the only present data ‘proving warming’ is clever fiddling of past data. The real AGW was the burst of Asian aerosols in the 1980s and 1990s reducing cloud albedo, until the planet reacted. I’ll tell you why soon!

      This problem goes back nearly 15 years: in late 2001 I was on my way to the HoC to hear then Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, History and Psychology graduate, talk on environment. I was waylaid by some FoE people who told me of the marvellous Virtual Power Station; replace all central steam turbines by an EU-wide windmill system. I told them it would not work for >20% power because windmills are asynchronous, and that was with pump storage.

      The present German Grid with 21% renewables is on the verge of complete failure. The FoE people ignored me and in 2003 the other main idiot, Prescott pushed through the White Paper which has nearly destroyed our Power System s a Utility.

      Put some bloody engineers in charge of decision making and have an emergency 10 GW microgeneration plan in place in 4 years, otherwise we become a third world country with millions of deaths as we enter the new LIA. Don’t think it’ll happen? In the 1690s, 25% of the Scots died from cold and malnutrition as their economy collapse in that LIA, which is generated every 179 years by astrophysical effects..

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        June 19, 2016 7:02 am

        Alec M
        Their situation wasn’t improved by a series of civil wars Bonnie Dundee/Bluidy Clavers, and not least the Darien Scheme of the late 1690s.

        Does investing a huge part of the nations wealth in what turns out to be a financial disaster sound familiar? Although the theory of Darien had more sense than “renewables” as the Panama Canal has since proved.

      • AlecM permalink
        June 19, 2016 11:27 am

        Our investment in windmills and solar parks is driven by what is essentially fascist politics; to concentrate power (geddit) via the elite controlling this major public utility. The CO2-AGW scare is false.

        H G Wells, a Fabian socialist warned of this in an essay in 1926; the rich owning the sources of energy for the cities and forcing the poor off the land to die in the inner cities as that power was reduced through cost. Fabianism led to 1930s fascism through its pioneering of eugenics.

        Another variant of this game is the 1973 film ‘Soylent Green’, used as a blueprint for the takeover of the EU and the USA by Corporatist fascists. Its practical manifestation is in the associated literature of the Optimum Population Trust’, now renamed ‘Population Matters’.

        Another dystopian prototype is in the film ‘Escape from New York’ – such films were highly influential in the simple minded elite audience.

        ‘Population Matters’ patrons include eugenicist Paul Ehrlich who has called for poisoning of public water supplies to reduce birth rates, antidote only available to the elites. His Stanford sidekick John Holdren is O’barmy’s Chief Scientist.

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