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Can we keep the lights on?

The consultation for the scheme received a positive response from industry with a wide range of interested parties. The key findings being to keep it simple, add value but to be realistic and to take advantage of current compliance. This is something that DECC have taken into consideration during development and have enabled existing auditors to carry out assessments to minimise costs and allow discretion. Other decisions to be confirmed are to allow disaggregation to enable flexibility and to allow franchises to opt into a group report rather than go through individual audits. A key benefit to the ESOS is that it allows enterprises to really understand their energy usage and to be able to do something about it. Consumer understanding goes some way to keeping the lights on.

Charlie Lewis presented an alternative from DECC, the Energy Demand Reduction which is in its pilot stage. Lewis looked at where the industry is at the moment, looking at the Capacity Market which is providing financial incentives for companies to save energy, emphasising that companies should be paid to save energy rather than paid to waste it. The pilot scheme of EDR is similar to the Capacity Market in that it’s in an auction format providing subsidiaries for lasting reductions, primarily looking at efficiency projects. The pilot is due to start in June 2014 and last for two years. If successful the Energy Act 2013 has the scope to allow the scheme to be implemented fully. Currently £20m is available for eligible companies. To be eligible the company’s bid must be interested in lasting savings and must be relevant to Winter Peak as this is the highest stress period of the year. Installation of the scheme must occur within 9 months of project funding and must not be off grid supply or destroying demand. As a pilot DECC wants to be sure that the system works and understand how it can be implemented to a greater extent in the future. The benefits of the pilot for keeping the lights on are ensuring that sustainability is the key to safeguarding security of supply for the future rather than just right now.

Tim Oldershaw of J Brand Ltd had a different approach to keeping the lights on than either of the DECC solutions. Rather than looking at it from a national perspective, Tim looked at it on a much smaller scale, what individuals can do at a local level. As Tim highlighted energy reduction or efficiency doesn’t have to be centrally governed. Options like photovoltaic are available to home owners as well as big companies. Developments have also been made to allow such systems to work off and on grid; meaning if the grid ‘goes down’ the building still has access to electricity; ensuring power cuts are more manageable. Voltage optimisation is also another option that can prevent the lights from going out, although at grid level it’s not effective but at local level it works well and can create savings of up to 20%. Other options are available such as intelligent controls to monitor building energy usage and to better control our buildings, as well as the use of generators to allow business continuity and safe controlled shut down. Oldershaw’s presentation was an emphasis of what companies can do to, rather than rely on government support. Individual planning can’t dramatically influence the national grid but it can better prepare businesses for the worst case scenario.

Jeremy Towler of BSRIA picked up on the intelligent controls aspect of Oldershaw’s presentation and continued with the smart solutions to the lights going out. He started his presentation by looking at the five ways in which we can store energy including electrically and mechanically which we are most familiar with but also electro-chemically as well. Towler looked at how fast the energy storage market is set to grow as new technology emerges. By 2040 forecasts predict that the proportion of energy stored by these emerging technologies will be proportionate to that on the national grid. With the risks the grid faces in the future the benefits of this energy storage means less of society will feel the effects of the lights going out. He also spoke about micro-grids and their benefits; he described them as an island solution due to their autonomy, suited to power disruption management and the support for renewables which going forward needs to be the focus as coal and gas supply declines.

Towler looked at how Japan has dealt with power shortages after their nuclear power plants were closed due to earthquakes. Although they’ve faced a huge risk due to a loss of 25% power supply they have worked hard to avoid disruption with a $700bn investment in renewables and the uptake of smart meters in all buildings by 2025. Towler’s use of Japan shows that when facing huge risks Japan reacted with well thought out plans and a view to becoming a more sustainable future to avoid such risks in the future. Although total solutions for smart cities aren’t completely successful in the current time Japan is perhaps a country we need to watch to better understand how we can save ourselves from such disruption.

The event concluded with Andrew Eastwell, CEO of BSRIA, speaking at his last BSRIA event before stepping down at the end of April. Eastwell summarised the event by discussing its origins, in 2009 at a BSRIA council meeting the future of the UK’s energy market was one of concern and many problems were mentioned that still remain today, solutions were suggested and although some like smart metering have taken off, others like super grids from the Sahara desert have not. But one thing that Eastwell did stress about solutions is that the industry has an opportunity to provide the solution or to help other sectors understand the need for change. All businesses are committed to IT and therefore rely heavily on electricity supply. If the lights go out so do our businesses and therefore so does the UK’s GDP. BSRIA has a contingency plan, it relies on laptops so its power can continue for some time after a power cut and it has a UPS that will safely shutdown its systems. But BSRIA is a company in the know, others aren’t that fortunate. As an industry we should be educating and offering strategy plans for the worst case scenario. Eastwell also highlighted that it’s not just businesses that are at risk either, its individuals at home using generators without proper understanding therefore risking their lives. He concluded:

“As an industry with valuable knowledge and experience we should be sharing it and preparing other sectors for the possibility of the lights going out. Preparation can be a step towards prevention.”

About Caroline Hill

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