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Smart energy revolution ‘could help to avoid UK blackouts’

September 2, 2016
tags: ,

By Paul Homewood


h/t Tomo 





Comrade Harrabin reports:


A "smart energy" revolution could help ensure that the UK does not suffer blackouts, according to National Grid’s new UK chief.

Nicola Shaw, its executive director, said technological advances will reduce the need to build new conventional power stations in the UK.

An "internet of energy" will allow fridges, washers and dishwashers to help balance energy demand.

Some commentators say the UK needs more gas-fired power to prevent blackouts.

Ms Shaw agreed that more investment in gas-fired power was needed, but argued that between 30% and 50% of fluctuations on the electricity grid could be smoothed by households and businesses adjusting their demand at peak times.

"We are at a moment of real change in the energy industry. From an historic perspective we created energy in big generating organisations that sent power to houses and their businesses. Now we are producing energy in those places – mostly with solar power," she told BBC News.

London-listed National Grid runs electricity and gas networks in the UK and the northeastern United States.

More and more people and companies were adjusting their energy consumption to use more when power was at its cheapest, Ms Shaw said. 

"All of that is a real revolution … a smart energy revolution that’s changing the way we think about energy across the country," she said.

This change was being driven by people and firms generating energy, storing it and using it flexibly through new controls and online software.

The move toward flexible energy use is supported by the National Infrastructure Commission. And the advances in energy software are described by the World Energy Council as the biggest change in 21st Century energy – along with solar power.

Price signals to consumers will be key to the change, as the UK relies on increasing amounts of intermittent renewable energy.

Already some firms benefit from using extra power when it is cheaper off-peak. That trend is spreading to households: a firm in Cornwall is offering a "sunshine tariff" that aims to persuade households to use cheap solar power when the sun is out, for example.

Energy experts say that in future consumers will be able to ask for their appliances to be connected online to the grid.

Peak hour

A signal could then turn on, say, a washing machine, when there was plentiful energy from wind power, or turn off a freezer for a few minutes to smooth out a spike in demand at teatime.

Prof Phil Taylor, professor of energy systems at Newcastle University, said: "People are used to the idea that they pay more for using the trains at peak time, or they queue more if they use the roads at rush hour.

"Technology has enabled us to bring this price flexibility to energy consumers. No-one will be forced to link their home to the energy internet, but if they do choose to use it, it will save them money, save pollution and save power stations needing to be built."

The challenge for National Grid is to attract more companies to adopt what is known as "demand-side response", or DSR. Some firms are nervous, others have not heard of it – and business models are changing at breakneck speed. Shaw acknowledged that some were anxious about the lights going out as the smart energy revolution progressed.

However, she said: "I don’t think people should fret. There’s an awareness of the issues. There’s lots of activity on the market that will solve this problem. Be enthusiastic – it’s a moment of change that should take us to a better place."

In response, the GMB union called National Grid "naively complacent". Justin Bowden, its national secretary, said: "Avoiding winter blackouts with a ‘smart energy’ revolution is fanciful nonsense. The smart grid is years away.

"What’s needed to guarantee the lights stay on over the coming winters are new power stations and the go-ahead for Hinkley Point C."

But the CBI’s head of infrastructure, Michelle Hubert, said: "Over the next decade, the UK’s energy system will see a profound shift towards a more flexible and dynamic system. Consumers – both businesses and households – will become much more engaged in how they use, manage, and even produce energy.

"This will play an important role in supporting the UK’s transition to a diverse energy mix, helping to meet our goals of affordable, low-carbon and secure energy across the country."

Wiring up

The big questions are how far smart technology can ease the burden on the grid and how quickly it can make its mark.

Deepa Venkateswaran, from Bernstein energy analysts, said: "The smart grid revolution is going to be exciting. However, there’s a time frame – we need some time to get wired up and respond dynamically, but in the short term we need new gas stations to replace some of our ageing coal stations which are going to close."

Ms Shaw agrees with the need for new gas power, but is wary of committing to new power stations while technology is producing unexpected improvements at a sharp pace.

The issue is central to the UK’s laws on cutting greenhouse gases. Under Ms Venkateswaran’s scenario, the UK will be locked into generating gas-fired electricity until well into the 2030s. This would wreck the government’s target of ending gas-fired generation in the early years of that decade.

Ministers are working on a long-term climate strategy, which was promised for last November but is now not expected until sometime before the end of this year.

The pressure is on the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to devise policies that will both keep the lights on and bills affordable – as well as carbon emissions down.


To be fair to Harrabin, it is a bit more of a balanced piece than we usually get from him.

But although the article does touch on the point, let’s make it abundantly clear. None of this smart grid will avoid the need for proper back up capacity, the most it will do is to reduce the amount required.

Given that demand for electricity is likely to increase in future years, as transport and heating are decarbonised, it may be that smart grids will achieve no more than to offset this increase.

But the real issue is that we simply cannot rely on this new technology working, or having any significant effect, in the near term. As such, we cannot afford to stop building conventional capacity now.

This capacity will be needed by the early 2020s, if not earlier, as coal capacity closes. If this conflicts with the government’s target of ending gas-fired generation in the 2030s, then hard bun!


I never thought I would say it, but it is the GMB union that talks most sense – “Avoiding winter blackouts with a ‘smart energy’ revolution is fanciful nonsense. The smart grid is years away.”

As I have commented before, it is the National Grid’s job to ensure that Britain is supplied with power, not to carry out the government’s climate policy. Where there is a conflict, they surely have a duty to challenge the latter. Failure to do so will endanger the UK’s energy security. 




There is one comment from Nicola Shaw that really stands out, and needs challenging:


From an historic perspective we created energy in big generating organisations that sent power to houses and their businesses. Now we are producing energy in those places – mostly with solar power.


Does she not realise that solar power only contributed 1.2% of the UK’s electricity generation between October 2015 and March 2016. During the depths of winter, this figure would be lower still. There is no known system which can store large amounts of power in summer for use six months later.

Ms Shaw is being extremely misleading by implying that solar power can replace existing conventional power in any way, shape or fashion.

For some reason, Roger Harrabin decided not to challenge her statement.

  1. September 2, 2016 5:06 pm

    That’s the first time I’ve agreed with a Trades Union leader in a very longtime!

  2. Joe Public permalink
    September 2, 2016 5:11 pm

    Price signals to consumers will be key to the change, as the UK relies on increasing amounts of intermittent renewable energy.”

    If they were to be price reductions, Comrade H would have headlined it.

    He didn’t, so his phrase can be added to the lexicon of euphemisms.

    • September 2, 2016 6:12 pm

      That’s right. If off peak rates fall, peak rates will have to rise to compensate.

      And who will suffer most? Older/poorer people who cannot afford all these fancy new gadgets

      • Bloke down the pub permalink
        September 3, 2016 10:47 am

        And during cold, dark winter days when electricity is most needed, it will be at its most expensive. This is just another gimmick for the chattering classes to be able to burnish their green credentials.

  3. September 2, 2016 5:27 pm

    It wont have much impact. The big retail users of peak electricity are lighting, heating including hot water, and cooking. People are not going to sit in the dark coming home after work waiting hours to cook dinner. They are still going to get up in the morning, washup, and eat breakfast. Smart meters don’t shift that kind of activity load. Infrequent clothes wash and dry is not a major electricity consumer.
    In the US, homes and commercial buildings will still run AC during summer days. Same smart meter failure, just season shifted. TOU billing has shifted very little demand where it has been implemented.

  4. John Ellyssen permalink
    September 2, 2016 5:56 pm

    Yet there is also a reason why we have “peak” times. We are trying to survive massive heat and heat strokes by running our A/C or trying to survive when it is extremely cold by using our heaters. The percentages of washers/dryers/refrigerators/freezers being deferred for a time does not seem to be our biggest energy saving arena. I would also be afraid of people in control of my freezer and wasting a lot of food or even my health if it was off long enough several times to partially thaw and refreeze contaminating the food. Of course I could just be paranoid. They might be smart enough to put in safety controls. They always have in the past right?

    • Billy Liar permalink
      September 3, 2016 7:10 pm

      I can’t believe any sane person would suggest it is OK to turn freezers off for any period. If I became ill through eating something out of the freezer, the electric company would be the first to get my lawsuit.

  5. Joe Public permalink
    September 2, 2016 6:02 pm

    Perhaps the BBC should be forced to broadcast its most popular programmes only during off-peak times?

  6. tom0mason permalink
    September 2, 2016 7:05 pm

    They’re putting all their eggs in one basket with the ‘smart grid’. Of course this internet connected system will be designed with security as a top priority, and redundancy within the system to ensure user reliability. The UK will control its power requirements by utilizing its ‘world class’ super-fast, 100% coverage broadband network.
    <i."Technology has enabled us to bring this price flexibility to energy consumers. No-one will be forced to link their home to the energy internet, but if they do choose to use it, it will save them money, save pollution and save power stations needing to be built."
    Price flexibility? Umm…
    Converting the majority of users and supplier to ‘smart grid’ and ‘smart meters’ will only cost many, many millions. I assume this ‘flexibility’ means that the customer will foot the bill again. But as very large IT projects for hospitals and the UK government have shown, Britain has a certain unique talent when comes to installing these sort of systems, always aiming to be on time, to specification, and to budget

    Another potential problem with these ‘smart’ devices is that they are reactionary. That is they can only ramp-up the power AFTER the demand is required. How long will you wait for the power to be available because on a cold stormy day you wish to have a warm house and hot food and water.
    It should also make an interesting future, trying to arrange a dental or hospital appointment and finding that having to consult an accurate weather forecast is an essential. It would be best on say, a warm, but not too hot or too cold, sunny, windy, slow news day.

    Nicola Shaw, its executive director, said technological advances will reduce the need to build new conventional power stations in the UK.
    Yes because we don’t need big expensive generator plant, we need big expensive, complex IT systems running our basic power requirement — batteries not included.
    How could this possibly go wrong?

  7. AlecM permalink
    September 2, 2016 7:08 pm

    The smart energy revolution is no revolution, just a way to rename power shortages and demand pricing, aka shafting the poor to enrich the windmill owners.

    The tumbrils are being made now.

  8. September 2, 2016 9:56 pm

    Smart energy? The latest green con for a “command and control” economy.
    I for one will NOT install, or allow “smart” meters on my property. These pathetic excuses for energy “policy” suck.
    Any sane Government would be building cheap, efficient and minimally-polluting combined cycle gas power stations.

  9. September 3, 2016 12:05 am

    fossil fuels could help ensure that the UK does not suffer blackouts

  10. Lezz permalink
    September 3, 2016 8:31 am

    Latest rubbish on BBC’s website today, cutting world CO2 emissions will.
    ‘ keep global temperature increase “well below” 2C (36F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C (27F)’.
    Does anyone in the BBC have a basic grasp of science or maths?
    I always thought (since I was about 8) that a 2C increment was equivalent to 2 x 9/5. ie. Less than 4 deg F. But hey ho, it is the BBC after all.

  11. CheshireRed permalink
    September 3, 2016 8:57 am

    I’m tired of this sh*t. Excuses for absurd ‘renewables’ abound, yet nobody in office has the will or nous to call out the REAL cause of why our energy is too expensive and why we’re too close to blackouts for comfort. It’s ‘renewables’, stupid.

  12. September 3, 2016 9:12 am

    “it is the National Grid’s job to ensure that Britain is supplied with power” … if only … as a private company their job is to make money for their shareholders, and what better way to do that than to advocate a “transition” or a “revolution”.

    The Green Blob has an unholy alliance with privatised monopolies to screw bill payers, determined to stop the construction of proper power stations, which would siphon-off a lot of the gravy.

  13. Derek Buxton permalink
    September 3, 2016 9:39 am

    climanrecon has it about right, we are to be rationed, by some illiterate jobsworth who will ensure he is all right , Jack. And who put this rather unintelligent woman in charge of the grid. She lacks all knowledge of what the People need, and in this century, a secure, affordable energy system is a necessity for everything that happens. Is she so stupid that she cannot imagine what would happen with wholesale blackouts. We did not elect a government to abuse their power to the point of killing their electorate, because that is what will happen. There is no reason for energy to be rationed, not one, just a jumped up green activist bent on the destruction of all we hold dear.

  14. johnmarshall permalink
    September 3, 2016 9:40 am

    When we all have smart metering they will allocate power as they see fit through meter switching.

  15. Martin Reed permalink
    September 3, 2016 10:10 am

    Anyone with a sound grounding in engineering or hard science knows this smart grid crap is pure unadulterated stupidity. Renewables are nothing more than a passing fad. The length of time this passing fad will take to disappear down the plughole of history in any given country will depend largely on the degree to which its rulers continue to exhibit crass stupidity and how long it takes them to see reason. In this country with its “arts educated” politicians it could literally take centuries. Many other countries never even embarked on that suicidal course in the first place.

  16. Malcolm permalink
    September 3, 2016 10:14 am

    I feel my Brexit instincts cutting-in. The BBC is running an all out campaign to prove that people who voted ‘out’ have much to be grateful for from the EU; their thrust seems to be that you really have not thought this thing through. Meanwhile it may now be that wiser councils could prevail. If this country is to be the democratic capitalist model, that Mrs May seems to have an instinct for, then energy is going to be a major element in securing future prosperity, but the chief elements will be the market, innovation and customer requirements.

    If all other factors in a capitalist society are governed by price, availability and reliability then why should there be a special case for energy? In an open market being ‘green’ should be the proposal of marketing which induces customer choice and not the unnatural advantage available through liberal leaning government. If it is that the energy companies can make a case for using eco-systems to produce power then more strength to them but, otherwise and foremost, they must be a competitive element in a sea of choice.

    It is the death of capitalism for it to be constantly reined in to suit propagandist government and gesture politics. We could vote ourselves all the freedoms in the world and still end up impoverished if that were the case. To think that green energy can only have a chance if it is adopted by the state is the sort of argument that made so many people vote for leave and it is the reason why the BBC is so feign to to let it go. It is to think that people are so dumb that someone will have to make the decisions for them and they certainly seem not to understand the threat of AGW so we must coerce the situation to nullify their dumbness. So many departures are based on such arrogant suggestions including the Brexit vote itself.

    The urbane metropolitan has come to believe that they are the only ones that purvey the truth, the only ones that have vision. They are deluded. British history, till now, has been premised on what the rest of the country makes London sells, a thing which has created an undeserved self-opinion in the capital which needs to be redressed. We should start with the free market and the subject of energy production, a reliance on the capitalist system which has fought our wars, given us good health and realised virtually every dream we have cared to conjure. The state makes nothing and yet appears as an arbiter amongst those that can and do. That was the European model now we need the British model, a dynamic governmental project that puts Britain, its wealth and survival, first.

  17. September 3, 2016 3:30 pm

    Smart Metering = Energy Rationing

  18. September 3, 2016 3:36 pm

    Someone phone the Advertising Standards Authority
    The LBC radio ad promote promoting the MAGICAL THINKING of smart meters says

    Do you know what Gaz and Leccy are upto all over your home ?.. Of course you don’t, know one can

    ..Em well ANYONE can look at their meters any time you like and see what their gas and electric usage is upto.
    ..Therefore the advert misleads

    (Today you can estimate individual appliance use from that just by switching it off, so the smart meter seems no big advantage)

    • Billy Liar permalink
      September 3, 2016 7:20 pm

      You can immediately tell an individual appliance use by looking at the label on it, the one with CE written on it in large letters.

  19. It doesn't add up... permalink
    September 3, 2016 3:47 pm

    Perhaps some of you might like to advise OFGEM on a smarter way of keeping tabs on what is driving energy prices from utilities:

    Their plan is to use a further level of abstraction – an index, instead of an estimated bill – to obfuscate the rising charges we face. My solution is to highlight the individual costs – fossil fuel prices, CFDs, FiT and market prices for power by generator/source type, grid and pipeline network costs, green charges and taxes, etc. and then show how green policies increase costs by taking up more of our bills and imposing consequential costs.

    Submission deadline 14 Sep.

  20. It doesn't add up... permalink
    September 3, 2016 4:31 pm

    From the CMA report into (lack of) competition in Energy Markets:

    To a small extent, consumers are also involved in making short-run decisions about whether to consume energy given a likely price. It is hoped that smart meters and intelligent control systems will increase the amount of demand responsiveness in the system. Large I&C consumers are metered half-hourly and a small number have flexibility to ‘load shift’ from periods of high price to periods of low price. Smart meters are being rolled out to all consumers by 2020 (see Section 8 and Appendix 8.4) and some increase in demand responsiveness is an important part of the anticipated benefits.

    No proof them – and if industrial customers have limited response to price signals (including triad risk), what do they expect householders to achieve?

  21. September 3, 2016 8:00 pm

    Remember for Industrial/commercial/publicsector the increased electricity costs are ultimately paid by Magic Unicorns …I mean the public.

  22. Coeur de Lion permalink
    September 3, 2016 9:55 pm

    Do I salivate if they ring a bell?

  23. marlene permalink
    September 4, 2016 3:31 am

    It seems to me that making electricity even more dependent on the computer also makes it more vulnerable to what may, or will, cause blackouts in the future.

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